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Editor’s Note: Former Arkansas basketball coach Nolan Richardson was inducted into the Arkansas Multi-Ethnic Sports Hall of Fame last Friday in Little Rock. Prior to the ceremony, the current WNBA coach sat down with Evin Demirel to recap his first year coaching women’s basketball.
LITTLE ROCK - Although Nolan Richardson was recently inducted into the Multi-Ethnic Sports Hall of Fame primarily for his accomplishments as a men’s college basketball coach, his new gig wasn’t far from his mind.
In late August, Richardson, who coached Arkansas to three Final Fours and an NCAA championship in 17 seasons at the school, wrapped up his first season as the head coach of the WNBA’s Tulsa Shock. He went 6-28, his worst season in a head coaching career that includes championship-winning stints at Western Texas Junior College and Tulsa University, in addition to the Razorbacks.
At each stop he developed his trademark “40 Minutes of Hell” style, which emphasizes full-court pressure defense. But with constant trades changing the Shock’s team this summer, it made it harder to set a tone and teach the method’s intricacies. Another major factor in the disappointing season was learning the difference between how men and women are wired when it comes to basketball, Richardson said before the hall of fame’s Arkansas Induction Ceremony in downtown Little Rock.
Richardson said he didn’t stress the “us-against-the-world” mentality he used so often to fuel his Razorbacks squads.
“But I am into ‘We work harder than anybody else and we deserve to win,’” Richardson said. “If you work harder and do the things that are asked then our chances of winning should be better than those who just come out to play.”
Richardson, 68, added that while he feels like professional women can adopt his style as well as collegian males, he has found it difficult to instruct them to play in a “controlled chaos” system demanding constant spurts of improvisation.
“(Women) don’t play pickup games; you don’t have off-season type play,” Richardson said he told his players. “You just play in Europe and you come over here, and you’re structured all the time. We’re going to show you how to use your instincts, too, to be a better ball player. That’s what I think guys do.”
Finally, professional basketball playing opportunities abroad can siphon some players’ energy, Richardson said.
“The sad part about the females is they play in Europe, they come straight here and play again, then they go right back,” Richardson said. “The body never ever has a chance to rest. Here I am trying to implement my game? It’s a little tough … The reason they don’t buy into that is they’ve got to save themselves to go overseas.”
Indeed, Shock point guard Deanna Nolan signed a contract for $750,000 annually in Russia last season, Richardson said. As of 2006, the average
WNBA player made $45,000 a year, according to an ESPN.com article.
Richardson believes the Shock will improve next summer with more roster stability, more comfort with his system among returnees and an influx of talent through the second and seventh picks in the 2011 WNBA Draft next spring.
Richardson wasn’t the only one with University of Arkansas ties honored or inducted at the ceremony, held last weekend.
Darrell Brown Sr., who was the first black athlete to attempt playing for the Razorbacks when he returned kickoffs on practice squads in 1965 and 1966, spoke to the more than 70 attendees. So did Betty Fiscus Dickey, who became the only Arkansas female to score more than 2,000 points during her career in the early 1980s and was the first athlete – male of female – to have a jersey retired by by the university.
Still, it’s likely nobody has spots in more halls of fame than Richardson.
“This is my ninth hall of fame,” Richardson said. “That’s a very deep blessing. I take very, very deep pride in being here.”
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