BORN TO RUN (A TEAM) : UCLA's Richardson Doesn't Score Big, but He Wins Games and Respect

Times Staff Writer

This is how to make Pooh Richardson angry. Start a conversation with him about the best point guards in the Pacific-10 Conference. Whisper two words in his ear.

Kevin Johnson.

To get Richardson really steamed, say two more words to him.

Gary Payton.

What about another name? Pooh Richardson? Don't mention it.

Of course, the situation isn't all that serious and Richardson certainly has nothing against his point guard peers. But Pooh's view is that this whole subject seems to have a definite personality disorder. It suffers from an identity crisis. His.

Pooh who?

"I'm starting to get an attitude, man," Richardson said.

UCLA's sophomore point guard isn't crying about it, yet, but he's got this nagging feeling that he isn't receiving either the respect or the recognition that's been lavished on Cal's Johnson, the Pac-10's leading scorer, and Oregon State's Payton, the Pac-10's leading passer.

That sort of thing seems to run among point guards. Johnson thinks he is being slighted and told Richardson so after Saturday's UCLA-Cal game.

"I said, 'Believe me, Kevin, no one is overlooking you,' " Richardson said. " 'I have that problem before you do.' "

Johnson doesn't believe him for a second.

"I can't say (Richardson) has been slighted at all," Johnson said. "He's gotten all the credit he deserves the last two years."

Richardson begs to differ. He believes that in any discussion of the Pac-10's point guards, the last word isn't Johnson and Payton.

You've got to say Pooh, too, Richardson said, so for the first time since he came to UCLA, Pooh is not dishing off. He is going on the offensive.

"When you get to hearing over and over again, 'Payton gets 20 a game, you supposed to get 20 a game,' I think that's disrespect for my game," Richardson said. "On this team, you don't want your point guard shooting more than Reggie (Miller), Montel (Hatcher) or Dave (Immel). Come on now, let's be for real.

"Maybe it's because I don't get 18 to 24 points a game that I get overlooked," he said. "I don't have to do that for us to win. Look at Reggie. You're a guard and he's basically a guard. Then Montel, then Immel. Where's room for me to shoot?

"So I penetrate and dish off to them and we win," he said. "If I shot as much as some other point guards did, I'd have that many (points), too. Then I guess people would say what a great player I am. Game in and game out, I have my numbers, even rebounds. I never like to talk about it, but this is time."

Really, it's not easy to find a Pooh detractor. Shooters on his team such as Miller think of Richardson as a vital piece of equipment.

"Pooh gets you the ball wherever you are," Miller said.

Richardson said that the shooters have grown accustomed to his pace. "Believe me, they know where to be," he said.

Richardson doesn't always give up the ball to someone else. Going into tonight's game against Arizona in Pauley Pavilion, Richardson is the Bruins' No. 2 scorer, averaging 11 points a game, and has shot more times than anyone besides Miller, the No. 1 scorer.

Richardson is tied with center Jack Haley with 4.8 rebounds a game, which is second to Miller's 5.1 average, and he leads UCLA in assists at 6.7, and steals at 1.9.

But in Berkeley, Johnson is entertaining bleachers full of NBA scouts who admire him not only for his manner of pushing the ball upcourt in a hurry, but also for his scoring ability.

Johnson, who like Richardson is 6-1, leads the Pac-10 in conference scoring with a 21.5 average. Unlike Richardson, though, Johnson is his team's primary point producer, which is the distinction Arizona Coach Lute Olson draws when he compares them.

"Pooh does as good a job as anybody in the conference when it comes to running the fast break and delivering the ball," said Olson, who will take another look at Richardson when Arizona plays UCLA at Pauley Pavilion tonight. "If you want a combination of scorer and (ball) handler, then I think you'd have to look at Kevin.

"Cal needs Kevin Johnson's scoring, but UCLA needs Pooh's handling," Olson said. "He can score if you need him to, but when you have people on the wings like Pooh does, you don't need him to very often."

The third member of the group is Payton, who was an Oakland high school teammate of UCLA center Greg Foster last year. Payton is expected to set an Oregon State record for assists in a season.

Payton also leads the Pac-10 in assists, averaging 8.6 for conference games and 8.4 overall. Oregon State Coach Ralph Miller has said Payton is already the best defensive player he's ever had, but Payton also averages 12.4 points a game, which is second on the team behind center Jose Ortiz.

How good is Payton?

"I'm doing O.K.," he said. "I'm not up to superstar level or a candidate for All-American. I've got to shoot better from the outside and stop making stupid mistakes.

"Everyone is saying I'm playing good, but I want to hear that at the end of the year, after we've accomplished something."

Richardson's assessment of Payton?

"He's a fine player, but I know Kevin Johnson is better than Gary Payton," Richardson said. "There's no question. Totally, flat-out. I've never played a guard as good as him.

"But you know, it's so easy to get a lot of numbers like he does when basically his team depends on him for points."

UCLA Coach Walt Hazzard doesn't really need points from Pooh. He's got plenty of scorers. But Hazzard wouldn't mind another shooter, if Pooh decided he would be one.

"That's the biggest problem we have with Pooh," Hazzard said. "He won't look for his shot. He just won't do it."

When Richardson was in high school in Philadelphia, Coach Ken Hamilton made a team rule that Pooh would always take the first shot of the game, just so he wouldn't forget to do it every once in a while.

Hazzard said that if shooters get more recognition and that is what Pooh wants, then Richardson is just going to have to shoot more often.

"That's his fault," Hazzard said. "It's not coaching."

Miller, one of the most respected coaches in the Pac-10, has coached major college basketball for 35 years. He has occasional dizzy spells and is hard of hearing, but after 630 victories, Miller's sense of how the game should be played remains unimpaired.

"Pooh is certainly not unappreciated by coaches," Miller said. "Everybody on that team has some kind of role and Pooh carries out his role in the offense very nicely.

"People have always emphasized scoring, and that's just the way it is. The way I look at it, from my personal standpoint, a person may score only 10 points, but if he dishes off 10 assists, well, that's 30 points.

"For somebody in Pooh's case, a Reggie Miller scores 20-plus or 30 points a game, well, he is naturally going to get more publicity and notoriety than a person like Pooh. But let me tell you this: You can never take away the importance of passing the ball. And in the coaching fraternity, Pooh is highly respected."

So, Pooh, you're not unrecognized out there after all. You've got your respect, all right, maybe even if you don't realize it. Besides, next year, you won't have to worry about all this stuff that's happening in the present tense. Next year, UCLA may be conjugating in the Pooh-perfect tense.

"It's going to be a different thing next year," Richardson said. "I'll be the Reggie. I'll be the Montel and everybody else will be passing the ball to me.

"But be real. Now, I see a guy open, man, and I'm supposed to pass the ball. That's the rule of basketball. And every time I make a move, somebody's open because I will beat my man consistently and somebody has to pick me up."

And then what will he do? Pass off or shoot? Will he become more like Johnson and Payton or is he going to be true to Pooh? What's it all about?

"Basically, it's about winning," he said. "Look at the results. The results say I'm not scoring 30 points and I'm not taking 20 shots, but look where we are in the conference."

Bruin Notes

Game time is 8 p.m. at Pauley. Lute Olson's Wildcats, who lost to UCLA, 84-83, a month ago in Tucson when they blew a 14-point lead with just over six minutes to play, are still only a half-game behind Pacfific 10 co-leaders UCLA and Oregon State, both 9-3. Arizona is 8-3 and 13-8 overall. . . . According to the Orange County Register, former Bruin basketball player Jerald Jones told Pac-10 and NCAA investigators looking into the UCLA basketball program last month that he and his teammates accepted $17 each from someone connected with the school. The money was in the shape of roses, Jones said, who told the Register: "The roses were given to the whole team like a present. That was the only thing I told them (the investigators) I received." Jones, who left UCLA after last season for lack of playing time, is enrolled at Diablo Valley Junior College in Concord, Calif., and plans to play for USF next season. Jones also told the Register that UCLA has a number of powerful and influential alumni boosters for its basketball program, but he did not mention any by name nor did he allege any improprieties.

Jones and Corey Gaines, another former Bruin who is sitting out this basketball season after transferring to Loyola, were interviewed as part of a routine Pac-10-NCAA procedure for transfers. Gaines said he was questioned closely about the UCLA summer jobs program for basketball players, but said he knew of no irregularities in the UCLA basketball program, which is also under scrutiny for the recruitment of Fairfax High School star Sean Higgins. The Pac-10 is conducting an unofficial investigation of Higgins' signing with UCLA. Higgins has asked for, but has not received, a release from the letter of intent. It was learned that UCLA has not been asked by any other schools for permission to talk to Higgins. The proper format is for any interested school to contact Higgins, who would then ask permission of UCLA to pursue another school. It has also been learned that neither Athletic Director Peter Dalis nor Coach Walt Hazzard have been interviewed yet by the Pac-10's NCAA investigator. In addition, UCLA has not received either a letter of preliminary inquiry or a letter of official inquiry from the NCAA's investigatory branch in the Higgins probe. Although the NCAA would neither confirm nor deny that UCLA was even the subject of an investigation, the Pac-10 began looking into the Higgins matter and conducted its interviews of Gaines and Jones in early January. A spokesman for the NCAA said that if UCLA receives a letter of preliminary inquiry, it would indicate that "the information we secured was halfway credible and we would have to do some follow-up if we intended to come forth with some allegations."

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World