All-Around ‘Baby Ray Allen’: Science Lover, Piano Player and Key Rookie Playoff Threat

Josh Richardson #0 of the Miami Heat shakes hands with his teammates during the game against the Charlotte Hornets in Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs on May 1, 2016 at American Airlines Arena in Miami, Florida. (credit: Issac Baldizon, NBAE via Geetty Images)

Josh Richardson #0 of the Miami Heat shakes hands with his teammates during the game against the Charlotte Hornets in Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs on May 1, 2016 at American Airlines Arena in Miami, Florida. (credit: Issac Baldizon, NBAE via Getty Images)

By Jared Zwerling,

Heat rookie Josh Richardson’s college practices at Tennessee were as grueling as they get.

They involved drills with weighted vests; defensive slides with heavy medicine balls while requiring you to keep your head up the entire time; post work with defenders using boxing gloves for extra contact; and two-ball dribbling exercises the length of the court with a bungee cord behind the player for resistance and even more in front of him with a defender pushing against him.

So if you’ve heard of the legendary physical demands of Pat Riley and Erik Spoelstra’s practices, Richardson, who played four years for the Volunteers, was well prepared as the Heat’s second-round pick last year. In fact, the team, according to Andy Elisburg, the Senior Vice President of Basketball Operations, tried to trade up to grab him for his defense, physical tools, shooting potential and work ethic.

“The thing with Josh is he’s a worker,” said his former college coach, Cuonzo Martin. “He’s not a guy who’s going to do a lot of complaining. He gets it done. He’s going to do his job to the best of his ability. He’s not going to make a lot of excuses about it.”

After Beno Udrih got injured in mid-February, when Tyler Johnson was already out, Richardson got the call to fill in at point guard. It was a position he first handled well when he was about four years old. When he was bringing the ball down the court in a game, before rushing the last shot, he looked up at the clock to manage the last few moments.

“I thought, The floor awareness to be able to do that,” his mother, Alice, said. “That’s one of my greatest memories because it just showed that this is a place for him; he’s really getting it.”

With his new Heat assignment, Richardson went on to become the NBA’s best three-point shooter after the All-Star break, earning the nickname “Baby Ray Allen” from Inside the NBA analyst Shaquille O’Neal. Richardson worked tirelessly with the Heat coaches on reworking his shot, and Alice credits his son’s fast development by him being “very teachable and coachable.”

“We look for guys who are competitive and hard working, and guys who want to win and who are willing to do what it takes to win,” Elisburg said. “You see how Spo really trusts him and he’s able to put him in a lot of different areas, and you see that players want to play with him because of how he plays.”

Speaking with the NBPA this week, Richardson reminisced about his basketball journey and different talents, including science, sketching and skateboarding, and reflected on his rookie season and first playoff experience. His conversation with the NBPA is presented below in a first-person perspective and edited for clarity and length.

I didn’t go to college thinking I was going to go to the NBA.

I went to college thinking I was going to do four years at Tennessee. I wanted to be an orthopedic surgeon. Growing up, science interested me and I would watch doctor shows, and I went to a big medicine forum at UCLA when I was 15 with other high school students. That’s where I dissected some cadavers and studied hearts and brains. I was actually at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center when Michael Jackson was brought in before he died.

I think that experience helped me a lot with basketball, learning how to perform and stay level-headed, and then just with attention to detail. Any science major takes a lot of precision, so it definitely got me prepared. My focus now has changed to basketball, but I still think science is all interesting.

Years later at Tennessee, playing for coach Cuonzo Martin and Donnie Tyndall definitely helped me a lot to get ready for the NBA. Coach Martin is a real hard-nosed coach and everybody can’t play for him. Me and my teammates had a saying, “If you can play for coach Martin, you can play for anybody.” So coming from that has just made everything else so much easier.

That’s why I think the Heat is a good fit because coach Erik Spoelstra actually says this a lot, “Our program’s not for everybody.” The up-tempo of Tennessee and Heat practices are pretty similar, and both are based around defense. That’s what Pat Riley is known for, and it’s been great just being around him. He told me at the beginning of the year just to put my head down and stay focused. He thought that I could help the team in some way this year, so it’s great to be able to do that.

Discipline was a big part of my life growing up.

My mother, Alice, is a retired lieutenant colonel with the U.S. Air Force and former Division I women’s basketball referee. She played college ball at Oklahoma Christian University. Now, she’s a Baptist minister and chaplain for the Oklahoma City police department. And my father, Michael, is a retired firefighter who runs his own remodeling business.

My mom was in the Air Force for 25 years, so coming from a military background was really not easy. She was really hard on me in every area of life. She taught me to be well-balanced and even more disciplined.

Richardson's mother, Alice, was honored this season during the Heat's "Home Strong" program, which has honored more than 1,000 troops and their families at more than 400 games. (Photo courtesy of Alice Richardson)

Richardson’s mother, Alice, was honored this season during the Heat’s “Home Strong” program, which has paid tribute to more than 1,000 troops and their families at more than 400 games. (Photo courtesy of Alice Richardson)

Refurbishing homes with my dad definitely taught me a lot about discipline, work ethic and perseverance, because there were a lot of days I did not want to go. And he always made me go. But once I got into it and got going—painting, working on a backyard, whatever it was—it wasn’t so bad. I’m pretty handy now with different things. I mounted my TV in my house in Miami.

My time with my dad just shows that you’ve got to work on days when you want to go, and you’ve got to get out there on days when you don’t want to go. So I think that’s definitely helped me a lot my rookie year on off days when I feel tired and I don’t want to go to work. I just have it built into me that I just have to get work in at some point in the day.

My parents also stressed academics and having different interests. My mother was actually the valedictorian of her high school class. I started playing the piano at our house when I was really little. I stopped playing years later because of athletics, but after my grandmother passed away in 2006, I started again to honor her because she loved when I played. I play by ear a lot now. I don’t really read music.

I also liked to draw when I was a kid. I even used to sketch designs of basketball sneakers, visualizing ones that I wanted to play in one day. I also learned to skateboard and I used to ride around Tennessee’s campus. I always tell people I’m versatile. I like a lot of stuff that people wouldn’t expect me to, like rock concerts and FIFA video games. I tried wakeboarding this year, but I couldn’t get out of the water.

Richardson at a little more than one years old playing the piano at his family’s house. (Photo courtesy of Alice Richardson)

To be able to play as well as I’ve played this year with the Heat was a little surprising at first. I didn’t know what to expect or anything. It was awesome when freakin’ Shaquille O’Neal gives you a nickname, “Baby Ray Allen.”

My shooting comes from working hard with the Heat coaches. When I got drafted, the coaches would work with me on my shot and made some tweaks to it. I was leaning my head to the left real bad at times, and then my hips would twist a lot when I would shoot and my elbow was out real far. I also sped up my release by not dropping ball too low below my waist after the catch. So I almost reconstructed my shot, and it made it a lot more comfortable to shoot.

I’m also learning to play point guard after playing that position in the D-League. It helped me see the plays from that standpoint, and with my confidence a lot. Not getting consistent minutes in the beginning of the year with the Heat didn’t really shake my confidence that bad, but it was good to see that I could still play basketball and be effective in a game situation in the D-League. So it just helped me a lot coming right back up to the Heat.

When Beno Udrih got hurt in mid-February, Justise Winslow sent me a text, “We need you to step up.” I texted him back, “I’m ready to do it.” When I started playing, I started knocking a couple shots down. The veterans did a good job of just staying in my ear about staying focused. They told me to keep shooting when I had an off game or something like that.

I’d probably say three or four games after the All-Star break when I started getting consistent minutes, the games started slowing down a lot for me and I was starting to see stuff a lot better. Dwyane Wade, Goran Dragic and Joe Johnson draw so much attention when they have the ball, and they’re good about hitting the open guys when they draw people.

Dwyane has been helping me a lot on the court with small stuff that I need to do, or helping with play calls. Off the court, he’s just keeping me focused and into it, and just making sure I’m watching all the film I’m supposed to be watching. All of the veterans have just told me to prepare for a dogfight every night in the playoffs. They tell me that every game you’ve got to play like it’s an elimination game, and that’s how I’ve been approaching it.

The biggest thing about the playoffs is how much more attention to detail you have to pay now. Every tiny mistake counts, so there’s so much more magnitude on everything. The film sessions and all the shootarounds have definitely picked up. Just everything went to another level.

Me and guys like Udonis Haslem, Tyler Johnson and Hassan Whiteside talk about how thankful we are to be here—how people definitely overlooked all of us. This season has been crazy, a series of events that had to happen for me to step on the court. And I’m just trying to take advantage of it as best I could. Now I feel like I can play at a high level every night I go out there.


By: Jared Zwerling,

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