Akeem Richmond would get the ball on the wing, square his shoulders, rise up and be ready to let the jumper fly.
Only it wouldn’t get anywhere. Except backward.
In his first college practices a couple of months ago, Richmond, for so long a sharp-shooting star in Sanford, quickly found out that the jump shot he brought with him hundreds of miles north to Rhode Island wasn’t going to be good enough at the Division-1 level.
Instead of panicking, though, Richmond used the collection of blocked shots as the first real sign of positive feedback. He knew he had to change, and used the time and effort needed to improve his jumper to, among other things, ward off the pangs of homesickness he was feeling in the first few months of his freshman year at college.
In front of 86 family and friends on Saturday, back on a court in his home state for the first time, the state in which he ranks second on the career prep scoring list, Richmond unveiled the new and improved jumper that has him averaging 8.7 points per game as the top scoring reserve for the 4-0 Rams.
“It felt great,” Richmond said moments after scoring 11 points and hitting three 3-pointers in Rhode Island’s 75-65 win over Davidson. “Words cannot describe what that was just like. It just felt great.”
Saturday was the third straight game Richmond has scored in double figures, and the third out of four games in which he has had at least one steal, numbers that helped him earn A-10 Rookie of the Week honors. The high-octane scorer some figured would be too small at 6-foot-1 to excel on the defensive end in college already has six steals on the young season and ranks third on the team in thefts despite logging just 16 minutes per game.
But that’s a number, like most of his others, that’s on the ascent as the season progresses. Richmond played a season-high 23 minutes against the Wildcats, a sign as sure as his improving J that Richmond’s game is sticking.
And as the numbers rise, so do Richmond’s spirits. He admits to having serious bouts with homesickness in his first extended stay away from his hometown, but credits basketball and God for pulling him through the darker times.
“It’s been extremely hard, that’s true,” Richmond says. “But I deal with it one day at a time and let the good Lord lead me. I know that at the end of the day, it will all pay off. That’s what I keep telling myself.”
Still, the flood of homegrown well-wishers on hand to see Richmond play on Saturday tugged on his heartstrings.
“I hadn’t seen my mom in over a month,” he says, gushing at the mere mention of the family’s matriarch. “I mean, that’s my mom. My mom.”
For a while, though, all Richmond saw was rejection. He felt fast on the court, and soon found that he could still get a first step on a defender and drive to the hole. But he was brought to Rhode Island to shoot, and to shoot often. Imagine the horror then when the prep star couldn’t do the one thing he’d never had a single problem doing.
“My release was kind of slow,” Richmond says now, looking back. “In high school, that was never a problem. I could always get a shot off. But I had to quicken up my release, and that’s been the toughest thing. All of a sudden, everybody was blocking my shot.”
But talent plus hard work has always been a winning equation, and the immediate payoff was on display in Davidson.
But this day wasn’t only about basketball. A convincing win out of the way, Richmond was allowed time to bask in the attention bestowed upon him by the family and friends. Four hours after the final horn though, it was time to head to the airport and head back to his new, albeit temporary, home in Kingston, R.I. The Rams aren’t scheduled to play in North Carolina again this season.
But don’t worry about Akeem. He’s doing fine now.
“This has always been my dream,” he says, eager to catch up to the most familiar of faces as his time near home ticks down. “I’m living my dream, and knowing that helps out a lot.”
And with that, he’s gone.
He’s got that quick release now, you know.