GREENVILLE, S.C.--It's no secret that Furman has had a long road to getting back to respectability for a program that once regularly competed for Southern Conference titles to one that struggled to find its way out of the bottom half of the league for the past couple of decades.
Furman heads ito a little bit of a break in the conference schedule, as the Paladins will have a week to mull over what were two heartbreaking losses on the road to Mercer and The Citadel, as Furman dropped to 9-10 overall and 3-3 in the Southern Conference after wins over Chattanooga and Samford in convincing fashion last week.
But winning on the road has not come easy in now Richey's fifth season on the Furman sidelines, however, Richey has made plenty of inroads in resurrecting the program much like Niko Medved was beginning to do before Larry Davis left to become an assistant coach at Cincinnati.
The current senior class, which includes Stephen Croone, Kendrec Ferrara and Larry Wideman will be looked back upon as a class that started the trend upwards for the Furman basketball program. The trio won just 11 conference games in three seasons prior to the 2015-16 campaign, but this season has seen a resurgence for Furman and with already three wins in six SoCon games, the Paladins appear to be well on their way to easily surpassing the five league wins in league play from last season
It was the class that accounted for the Paladins' move back to respectability and the SoCon, and one that only last March start to reap the benefits of their hard work and dedication on the hardwood. It had been a tough three years for a trio of players that Richey originally believed in, but with the way the 2014-15 season ended, those players' willingness to trust Richey during the recruiting process finally seemed to be paying off.
Already in this each of the aforementioned players' senior seasons, the Paladins notched maybe their biggest win in SoCon play since the 2010-11 season, with a 70-55 win over then RPI No. 33 Chattanooga at Timmons Arena.
Richey began his extended rebuilding project in the final season of the Jeff Jackson era, and he was a large part of seeing the improvement of this program over the previous four years, seeing all that hard work nearly come to fruition last March, as the Paladins made that magical run to the Southern Conference title game last season before a 67-64 loss to Wofford end the dream of making the NCAA Tournament.
That run to the title game came after just eight regular-season wins for the Paladins. In fact, Richey is now only starting to see the fruit of his hard work as a part of Niko Medved's staff. In fact, Richey didn't even know if he would be retained as a part of head coach Niko Medved's staff when Jackson was let go at the end of a disappointing 2012-13 season, which saw Furman win just seven games and it would be Jackson's seventh and final season at the helm of the Paladins, as Furman suffered to just a 3-15 conference record.
The Paladins would bow out of the Southern Conference Tournament in the quarterfinals in 2013, dropping a 74-60 loss to former SoCon member Appalachian State following a first-round upset win over Samford. In the postgame interview with Furman play-by-play broadcaster Dan Scott, Richey was in a tough situation, though it hadn't officially been announced that Jackson would not be asked to return as Furman's men's basketball coach, the writing was seemingly on the wall.
Richey spoke of recruiting and was candid with Scott about the future, and it was that interview that will stick out in my mind as one that defines the kind of person that Richey is. A straightforward, honest and likable personality, Richey's words in a situation that was out of his control would speak to his dedication to the program he had just joined, positively talking about the things that he would be doing in the weeks moving forward in terms of recruiting and he spoke of other improvements that would need to be made for Furman to be a relevant factor on the SoCon hardwood once again.
A little over two months later and with Jackson out and Medved in as head coach of the Furman basketball program, Medved would get the relieving news he was waiting for, as it was announced he would be retained as Furman's assistant and would be the remain the recruiting coordinator for the Paladins moving forward under the new head coach. Richey had been named the interim head coach by Furman, and would be in charge of keeping continuity and helping maintain order while Furman interviewed Jackson's successor.
When Medved was hired, when considering whether he would keep Richey or whether he would hire another assistant and recruiting coordinator, however, it hit close to home for Medved, who would undertaking the project of rebuilding the Furman basketball program in his first-ever head coaching job.
In 2006, Medved was Bob Richey. He was the interim coach when Larry Davis left for Cincinnati, and Medved also interviewed for the head coaching job, but he was willing to stay on as an assistant under Jackson, however, Medved would not be retained.
Interestingly, Medved would find himself in the same position in 2013 as Furman's new head coach the same way Jackson had in the summer of 2006. Possibly, it was Medved that remembered that feeling he had some seven years earlier after not only missing out on the head coaching job and not retained as an assistant by Jackson, but most of the reason Medved retained Richey on staff had to do with all the positives he brought to several areas of the program, with his most unique talent being connecting with kids.
The most important opportunity that Medved awarded to Richey was the opportunity to continue on course for some day becoming the head coach of a program.
Medved wisely recognized Richey's unique gift for connecting with people, especially 18-22 year-olds and it was that would not only be a relief to Richey and his family, but also would allow him to have the confidence to go forward and help Furman to sign a couple of high-profile classes.
Prior to Medved taking the helm, Richey served an important role for the Furman basketball program, which was keeping things together, while at the same time bringing in and developing a class of four players that would account for 40% of Furman's scoring, 35% of the team's rebounding and 47% of the team's assists during the 2012-13 season.
Part of that class includes three of the seniors on the squad this season, including a player, in Stephen Croone that already ranks 10th in program history in scoring with 12 games remaining in the regular-season. All told, Richey has now recruited and coached at least six of the top 11 scorers in the histories of both Charleston Southern and Furman, and that number will only surely rise.
When Richey helped locate players like Croone and Sibley, it wouldn't be the first time Richey had helped find a big-time scorer in his career as an assistant, as he also helped bring in five of the top 11 scorers in Charleston Southern history as an assistant under former Furman assistant coach Barclay Radebaugh in his five seasons in North Charleston.
Richey had helped locate Jamarco Warren (1,968 career points, 2nd in CSU history), Saah Nimley (1,866 career points, 3rd in CSU history), and Arlon Harper. Richey's recruiting efforts had been crucial to the success.
"We are very fortunate that Bob decided to stay at Furman," said head coach Niko Medved. Bob is a talented young coach and an outstanding recruiter. He has a gift for connecting with people and will be an intricate part of helping Furman basketball reach new heights."
Martin Luther King Day Interview With Furman Assistant Coach/Recruiting Coordinator Bob Richey
When I stepped into Richey's office for the interview about 20 minutes after Furman's first practice of the week on Martin Luther King Day, as the Paladins prepared for Wofford, I noticed a bookshelf in coach Richey's office that was neatly designed with an assortment of books, with a myriad of choices, spanning from books on basketball, psychology and war. Richey expressed his interest in history, and one subject in particular--the revolutionary war. "I am a big fan of George Washington," Richey quipped.
His interest in history and psychology help him with what he does on a daily basis--dealing with 18-22 year old kids, spending most of the time during the hot recruiting period making phone calls.
He said in his chair leaned back with an ease that made me think that he just loves this job. Everything about it, and I got the feeling I could have stayed there for two or three hours and talked basketball with him. It's no wonder he is a hit with players and most importantly, with their families.
His easy-going, carefree approach gives you a certain peace. It's kind of like he knows something you don't about the situation at hand, and that gives you a calmness. Maybe it's those psychology books, or maybe it's just that Richey exhibits a shrewdness seen in someone much older than himself, and I would imagine that the 32-year old assistant coach is rattled by little even in the most adverse of situations.
I asked Richey about his own adversity, which he had back in the spring of 2013, serving as an interim head coach while Furman determined who would succeed Jeff Jackson. His reply was just a little of the wisdom that I was able to glean for my own life from the interview--hadn't planned on that, but I was glad to hear him talk candidly about it and learn a little about him as a person.
"During times of adversity, I was brought up to pour out myself for others to forget my own situation," Richey said.
"It was important for me, and I went to so people and asked them how I should handle it and how I should go about managing keeping these kids interested in Furman, while maintaining my focus. I had to really dedicate myself to getting those players who had committed to Furman during the recruiting process here and making sure that they got here and didn't de-commit, while helping urge the other guys like Stephen (Croone), Kendrec (Ferrara) and Larry (Wideman) not to transfer. I was able to keep it intact, and that's not often that it happens like that when there is a coaching staff change, so I was fortunate and it says a lot about who those kids are as people to stick it out," he added.
He literally fascinated me with some of the things he told me, some of which will be left off the record, however, I finally had to end the interview or I would have stayed there all day I was enjoying him talk hoops. He has a vast knowledge of all things recruiting, and he is intelligent. Not just from all those books, but from the fact that he graduated from North Greenville College Summa Cum Laude in May of 2006, with a degree in Business Management.
Richey has a way about him that's hard to describe, but it's a way that makes you comfortable. The kind of guy that you know is a stand-up guy, and the kind of guy that has a lot invested in these players. Over his first four-plus seasons, Richey has had to do a lot of heart surgery in terms of building these players' confidence back up after it had been badly wounded by losses and at times, for the first few years, having trouble believing that they could do it.
Then came last season, and that breakthrough, but as great as that was, it's sometimes the mental battles players fight with themselves on the floor in a game that has been hard to know how to solve. He mentioned how special the three seniors were this season--the ones that were the original signees for Richey.
"Those three guys are special to me because when there was a change at head coach and I was the interim, all three could have transferred, yet they stayed and trusted what we were trying to do here. Seeing those guys break through and make the championship last year and get that big win over Chattanooga this year makes me feel good, but you know we still have a long way to go this season and I hope to see them do even bigger things this year before it's all said and done.
"When I say they all had offers, Kendrec (Ferrarra), Larry (Wideman), and Stephen (Croone) had the opportunity to elsewhere, but it's a testament to those guys believing us and believing what we were trying to do here that makes this class special. They didn't have to stay, but they stuck it out and I know I speak for the rest of the staff when I say we are so grateful they decided to stay," Richey said.
Still, when Furman wants to be, it is one of the best teams in the SoCon. The games are much closer now and thte talent level much better, as each player has seen improvement with each passing season. That hasn't always been the case with Furman basketball.
Richey had a positive outlook for the future of Furman basketball, citing the program had been successful on the recruiting trail of late, especially with the past two recruiting classes.
"We have had some success getting some kids in the past two classes, and the one big recruit we were able to beat out three reputable programs in our league teams to get Jordan Lyons, and for us to get him it's a testament to the run that we were able to put together in the tournament last year," Richey said.
Richey would know a little something about taking steps forward in a program, as that's exactly what he was able to help Charleston Southern do--take major steps forward in the five years he was there. Not only did he have three dynamic players in one class, as the Buccaneers' Associate head coach. In his five years, Richey would help the win total increase from 9-10-13-16 while he was apart of Barclay Radebaugh's staff.
The increase in wins has been similar for Furman, as the Paladins went from 7-8-9-11 in Richey's four seasons at Furman. The Paladins would seem to be in line to take yet another inevitable step forward this season, having already won nine games this season.
One of the funnier recruiting stories concerned Devin Sibley out of Karns High School. Sibley, who set the Karns High School record for scoring, was the big prize that Richey was ready to reel in, and confident enough in that, he probably sat down in the bleachers with head coach Niko Medved thinking smooth sailing.
It was coach Medved's first time seeing Sibley play. But when Sibley picked up two early fouls, he sat nearly the entire remainder of the opening half. Richey admitted in an interview with Furman play-by-play voice Dan Scott that he was trying to impress his head coach, but when Sibley failed to score in the opening half because of foul trouble, Richey, if you can believe it, was a little bit nervous.
Fortunately, there was a second half and Sibley didn't disappoint Richey's belief in the player he had spotlighted, nor did it damage the young assistant coaches and knack of being a good assessor of talent was not damaged, as Sibley poured in 30 points in the second half to lead Karns to the win.
There are many differences in the worlds of college football and college basketball, as Richey would explain to me in our interview. I assumed one of the things that both sports did was talk shop. In the college football world, I pretty much thought that the sharing of information was the same in both sports.
Game of Secrets:
In college football, you even see coaches visiting other programs during the spring to glean ideas, and there's pretty much an open door policy when it comes to sharing information among non-conference foes. But unlike the college football coaching world, according to Richey, it was much different in college basketball, as it was one where secrets weren't shared among the coaching fraternity. I had originally asked who some of his mentors were as college coaches, which Richey provided somewhat unexpected answer.
"The college basketball world is a little different. Things are much more secretive than say the college football world. There's not a whole lot of shared information between programs, but I will say growing up I always admired coach Don Meyer. Some of the things he did and the way he taught the game are some aspects of that have stuck with me from my days as a young boy growing up and playing the game until now in my role as an assistant coach," he said.
"I will say the other real big influence on me as a coach is head coach Rick Byrd at Belmont. He's been incredibly successful as the head coach there, and I've alwys had a lot of respect for that program and the success they have had there. In many ways, the school's are similar, both are very good schools academically with an established program that consistently wins and makes NCAA Tournament appearances, and in many ways, we're trying to model what we do here at Furman after the success they have had over the years. We recruit the same kind of player and Belmont is a team that I have followed throughout my career as an assistant coach, " Richey said.
The building process starts with runs like the one Furman had in last year's Southern Conference Tournament in Asheville, and with wins like the Paladins had against Chattanooga. But the fact is, there is an urgency to win like there hasn't been in the past. Now that Furman has tasted the success of winning, the hunger to take the program to the next level.
That was evidenced in Furman's practice earlier in the day, which I had attended prior to interviewing Richey. Assistants Richey, Dwight Perry, Jay McAuley and Bailey Miles were all active and all urging with caution for the players to get their work ethic to a higher level. They warned of the danger of the opponent next on the docket, which is of course Wofford--the defending Southern Conference champion.
Richey is going to be a very successful head coach somewhere some day, and I am pretty sure that prediction will stick. So many times you here about coaches being invested in the kids they recruit, and on Martin Luther King Day, I got to see that.