Wiedmer: Hogs' Nolan Richardson gets due in Hall of Fame

Wiedmer: Hogs' Nolan Richardson gets due in Hall of Fame

April 8th, 2014 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

Former Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson talks with former NBA player Mitch Richmond, right, during the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame class of 2014 announcement, Monday, April 7, 2014, in Dallas.

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

ARLINGTON, Texas - As Kentucky and Connecticut readied for Monday night's NCAA basketball title game, the sport they play has spent most of the season being beaten down for all that's wrong with it. The one-and-done debate. Too many games. Too much television exposure. Questionable officiating. Dwindling crowds.

Given such problems, it's a wonder that more than 79,000 fans -- the largest Final Four crowd ever -- filed into AT&T Stadium on Saturday night for the national semifinals.

But Monday morning also brought a reason to admire college basketball. The fab four of Alonzo Mourning, Nolan Richardson, Mitch Richmond and Gary Williams were all officially voted into the Hall of Fame, their admittance -- particularly for Mourning and Richardson -- exemplifying the positive power of opportunity.

Mourning's path was obviously easier than that of Richardson, who grew up in a three-room home with eight other children in El Paso, Texas. Mourning came to Georgetown in the late 1980s, after fellow big man Patrick Ewing had brought the school a 1984 NCAA title and national acclaim.

But the impact college has had on his life stretches far beyond his professional basketball riches or NBA championship ring he won with the Miami Heat. Mourning is also on the board of trustees of his alma mater.

"Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought as a freshman that I would be sitting on the board of that university," Mourning said Monday. "Now I'm rubbing elbows with CEOs and billionaires and individuals who've helped change this world."

Yet of the four, almost no one has helped change the college basketball world for blacks more than Richardson, who guided Arkansas to the 1994 national championship -- only the second black coach at that time to win a title (after Georgetown's John Thompson) and the first black from a Southern school to do so.

From strictly a coaching standpoint, it should have been expected. Now 72, he remains the only coach to win a junior college championship, NIT title and NCAA crown. He took the Razorbacks to two other Final Fours in 1990 and 1995, losing in the '95 title game to UCLA.

Fired by Arkansas in 2002 after a dust-up with the administration, Richardson never received another chance to coach at the major college level.

That he remained in Fayetteville, tending to his farm, still cheering on the Razorbacks, was a show of loyalty undeserved. That Arkansas finally brought back former Richardson assistant Mike Anderson after two coaches failed to engender the excitement of Richardson's "40 Minutes of Hell" full-court pressure was as close to an apology as the old coach is likely d ever to receive.

"I'm still here," he said a couple of years ago. "That should tell you something. My problem wasn't with a lot of the fans. Most of them were good to me. It was with the people in charge. But I still love Arkansas."

He loved proving he could coach as well as the bluebloods in Armanis and cufflinks.

"When I went in and talked to those [recruits'] parents, they kind of knew my plight in life," Richardson told the media Monday. "I didn't have to trick them and fool them and buy this. What you see is what you get. 'You send me your son and I'll send you back a man.'"

Now the most important man in Razorbacks basketball history is in the Hall of Fame 20 years after his NCAA title, better late than never.

Said Richardson after being handed his No. 14 Hall of Fame jersey, an Arkansas red necktie around his neck: "If I had it to do all over again, I'd do it the same."

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com.