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WAC Preview Q&A: Kareem Richardson talks fresh faces and new opportunities

NCAA Basketball: UMKC at Iowa Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

UMKC is coming off, without question, the best season of its Div. I life.

The Roos had plenty to celebrate. Despite the dismissal of former WAC POY Martez Harrison in November, a senior-heavy team rallied to finish the season on a 9-5 run, which included wins over Grand Canyon and Utah Valley. They then won a game in the CBI, the first time the program had appeared in a Div. I postseason tournament.

The positive momentum, however, will need to continue without the players that keyed that run. All-league first team guard LaVell Boyd and four other important seniors ran out of eligibility.

Kareem Richardson was kind enough to spend time with us discussing fresh faces, a “year one” feeling and the WAC in general.

On whether it feels like four years at UMKC have flown by:

[Richardson is entering year five at UMKC and is coming off his best season at 18-17 (8-6).]

“A little bit of both. Some days you look at it, and you’re like, ‘man it’s just flown by,’ but then when you’re in those dog days it does seem like you’re going into year five. But we’ve enjoyed it and time has flown.”

On whether he and his staff have arrived at an offseason routine, or are still re-evaluating and tinkering:

“We’re still re-evaluating. I think all coaches have their philosophies that they hope to accomplish, and we’re no different than that. We have our set core values that we try and stick by and recruit to that. This year will be a challenge with so many new faces, so it’s almost like ‘year one’ with all these new faces. But we have our principles and core values that we’re sticking to, and holding this new group of guys to that. With so many new faces, and even our returning guys, they played some minutes but someone like Jordan Giles [and Aleer Leek] didn’t play a ton. Xavier [Bishop] and Isaiah [Ross] and Broderick [Robinson] did, but our experience is going to be a challenge. So we’re going to have to throw guys into the fire and see what it’s about, very similar to taking over a new program.”

On whether the big moments some of his returners played in last season have paid off during the summer:

[Broderick Robinson (22.7 MPG) and, to a lesser extent, Isaiah Ross (17.2 MPG) and Xavier Bishop (17.1 MPG) cracked the senior-heavy rotation last season.]

“This part — the culture part — is certainly different than year one, because we feel like we’ve established it, and those guys have done a great job of coaching and teaching and leading the newer guys in terms of expectations. For example, from the type of uniform to the weight room, in year one we had to monitor all the little things that add up to big things. But those guys have done a great job of taking care of those small details that make up our culture.”

On what Isaiah Ross needs to do to take the next step:

[Ross flashed big-time scoring potential as a freshman and had no fear taking the outside shot. The guard put up 170 three-point attempts despite limited minutes, and had outbursts against Green Bay (11 points in 14 minutes), UTRGV (17 points in 19 minutes) and Seattle (16 points in 19 minutes).]

“Two things, offensively he’s going to have to be a guy that can score the basketball for us. It’s no secret, we lost a lot of scoring, and he has the ability to score in bunches and showed that in the CBI game when he helped us beat Green Bay. He went on a 9-0 mini-run practically by himself. He’s got that ability, and we’ve been challenging him. He’s also got to guard the ball. He’s so focused on his offensive game but we need him to guard. We’ve got to get him locked in, and he’s more than capable of being a good team defender for us.”

On whether Broderick Robinson has assumed a leadership role after being an important but likely overlooked player last season:

[Robinson (4.7 PPG, 3.7 RPG) often marked the opposition’s best perimeter player for long stretches last season, and was a floor spacer on offense (40.9 3P%). He and Northern Iowa transfer Robert Knar — who has yet to suit up for the Roos — are the only seniors on the roster.]

“He has, he’s not a super vocal guy but he’s gotten himself out of his comfort zone. He’s another guy that has been through the fire, and he was very overlooked, that’s a great way of putting it. He stepped into that role and took over being one of our lock down defenders for us. He brings a toughness, rebounds the basketball, take charges. He and Isaiah have the ability to score the basketball. He made some big shots for us in many key games, and now he’s going to have to step up his role on the offensive end.”

On the impact Brandon McKissic can have as a freshman:

[McKissic is one of four scholarship freshmen seeking minutes on a seemingly open roster. The 6’3,’’ 195 pound guard had interest from DePaul and Missouri State, per Verbal Commits.]

“He’s more than capable. He played in a very good league in St. Louis coming from SLU High School and then being on his AAU circuit. He played high caliber basketball being on that EYBL tour, so he’s seen competition and he’s not going to shy away from it. He’s going to be good for us because he’s a bigger guard, something we need to complement [Xavier Bishop]. He’s strong, physical and can guard, and is a very willing passer, so he’s a guy that can help set up Broderick for some plays, and be able to slide Xavier off the ball. It’s pretty neat, he’s already kind of a vocal, natural leader, and has a very high basketball IQ.”

On whether Municipal Auditorium and its history is a selling point to recruits:

[The historic arena, which opened in 1936, is steeped in college basketball history. It has hosted nine Final Fours, all between 1940-1964. John Wooden won his first NCAA title on its floor.]

“Yeah, when we’re recruiting it’s absolutely a big selling point for us. Sometimes the history doesn’t translate to those guys when we’re talking about people like Lew Alcindor and they’re looking at you like, ‘who is Lew Alcindor?’ But no, we can sell that and it’s a great selling point, right in the heart of downtown. We’ve got some new things coming, a brand new floor coming this year and keep having some renovations there. It’s an awesome place to play and guys can feel that when they come on their visits and see us play.”

On what he expects from Utah Valley this season:

“I wouldn’t be surprised if they won it to be honest be with you. The league is going to be as good as it’s been in my five years. They have just as much talent and experience as anybody, of course most publications are talking about New Mexico State, Grand Canyon; Grand Canyon, New Mexico State. But with Utah Valley, Mark Pope has done an outstanding job there and they have just as much talent to win it as anybody.”

On what makes Grand Canyon’s Josh Braun so difficult to guard:

“He’s tough, tremendous toughness about him and really good size, especially at our level, at the guard spot. When you can shoot the ball the way he can, he’s not a blazing quick guy, but you’ve got to respect his shot and next thing you know you’ve got a reckless close out and he’s driving, straight-lining it, and he’s so physical on his drives. I don’t know this firsthand, but I would guess he’s probably leads the league in free throw attempts, and he shoots those at a high level. So when you can shoot the three the way he can, with his physicality if you put a smaller guy on him, Dan Majerle with his pro experience exploits mismatches very well and runs those pro sets. He’s a mismatch problem at our mid-major level.”

On what makes CSU Bakersfield’s defense so effective:

[The ‘Runners finished 20th nationally in defensive efficiency per KenPom last season.]

“They’re tough, I mean, the majority coaches, and I’m one of them, talk about defense wins championships, but Coach Barnes has been doing it a long, long time. I’d love to be a fly on the wall and figure out what he does to make his teams buy into that. They haven’t been a juggernaut offensively, but now they’re a juggernaut defensively because they are freaking tough. Two things besides their toughness: they’re very good one-on-one defenders, and the few times you do beat the first guy, they take charges. I would bet anything they lead the league in charges taken. They put their noses in there.”