Ryan Richards always dreamt of making the NBA, always wondered what it would be like for a kid from Kent to hear his name called out on Draft night from that stage within Madison Square Garden.
Last night, it came, eventually. “With the 49th pick of the 2010 NBA Draft, the San Antonio Spurs select…” And there he was. Chosen. Wanted. In.
Not quite. As many second-round picks before him have found, this doesn’t mean the automatic offer of a contract and a place in the rotation. Remember Sergiy Gladyr? Or Richard Hendrix? They were the No. 49s of the past two years. Neither has yet surfaced in the league.
What Richards has to do now is exactly what he had to do for over two hours on Thursday evening.
Listen. And Wait.
Even at 19, the England Under-18 international has already made a lifetime’s worth of dubious choices, relying on (often) questionable advice. Like when he left the productive academy in Gran Canaria two summers ago after being seduced by an offer to join Great Britain coach Chris Finch in Belgium. He could have stayed put and continued his basketballing education. Or accepted a college scholarship to Kansas. Or if he really wanted to turn pro, gone to Real Madrid. Instead, he ended up spending a wasted year sitting on Finch’s bench before heading back to the Canaries.
In recent days, Richards has been telling all and sundry that he will not return to Europe – that he is determined to stay Stateside and play in the D-League if necessary.
“People will say you need to wait out, play for a high-level team in Europe and then go to the NBA,” he told Hoopshype.com. “But you look at guys like Tony Parker or (Thabo) Sefolosha and they didn’t play in great leagues. They worked hard and they had the talent and potential. If you get a great coach on a good team, you can come to play in the NBA.”
The exceptions don’t make the rules. And while scouts have raved about Richards’ talent, two months in the Swiss League does not make you ready to take on Tim Duncan, even in practice. “He's young, he's played very, very little, so this is a developmental project," San Antonio general manager R.C. Buford said. Regardless of poor counsel or youthful bravado, it is time instead to take stock. And if the Spurs believe he should go back to Spain, sign a two-year deal, and start acquiring experience, then that’s exactly what he should do.
The Spurs GM has a peerless track record of playing the long game with his team’s European recruits."He's a gifted athlete, and a pretty good shooter," Buford declared. "That shooting '4' role for us has been pretty important. We'll see how long it takes him to get ready for this opportunity.” Time, thankfully, is still on the young Englishman’s side and the ACB remains a better proving ground than the NBA’s developmental league. He’d earn more money in Spain, too. And as a second-round pick, the rookie salary scale will not apply when the NBA finally comes calling. He will be quids in, either way.
It’s good to have a dream. Richards could yet be the UK’s first NBA superstar. He could yet pull on that Spurs uniform and hear his name announced on the court. But if achieving his goals means a detour back across the Atlantic to serve his apprenticeship, then so be it.
He waited for two hours. Despite the voices in his ear, he can wait a little longer.