Former College Standouts still have Hoop Dreams
by Nicholas Lozito
University of San Francisco graduate LyRyan Russell still dreams of one day playing in the NBA.
The 6-foot point guard lit up Sacramento on Wednesday night for 24 points. Russell, however, wasn’t sporting a professional jersey as he would have liked, but rather one that read EA Sports across the chest.
Russell’s EA team beat Sacramento State 83-80 in an exhibition game, and Russell’s 18 second-half points led the way.
With just over one minute remaining, and the Hornets hanging on to a 80-78 lead, former Vanderbilt star Pax Whitehead converted a three-point play to give EA Sports a lead they would never relinquish.
A victory over a Division I opponent is rare for an exhibition team. The Hornets defeated a similar EA Sports team by eight points last preseason.
The victory is even sweeter considering the EA team doesn’t earn a penny from the game.
Russell hopes his time with the EA team is just a stepping-stone for better things to come.
“This is a way to stay in shape and get some tapes to send to people,” Russell said. “In a couple of years, hopefully I’ll have a shot at the NBA.”
At USF, Russell averaged 7.0 points while leading the Dons with 4.5 assists his senior season.
Since graduating, Russell has suffered through injuries, but still managed to get a tryout with the Idaho Stampede of the Continental Basketball Association.
“I’m still waiting,” he said. “They still might need a point guard later in the season.”
As Russell heads into a profession where most don’t make it, and many of those who do make it often find themselves in a foreign country, he has a Plan B.
“I got my degree in physical therapy, so I have something to fall back on if this doesn’t work,” Russell said. “But I feel I should be able to play somewhere.”
On Wednesday, Russell proved he could not only play, but also dominate at the exhibition level. The 23-year old guard picked apart the Sacramento State defense, recording six assists and nine rebounds to go along with 5-for-8 shooting from behind the arc. His 24 points were a game high.
After the game, Russell receives praise from his teammates.
EA forward Jay Richardson congratulates Russell on a solid performance, and advises him to take a pick to his ‘fro, which, according to Richardson, is a little too unkempt.
For Richardson, Wednesday’s game pinned the forward against a team he had played for only eight months prior. Richardson averaged 4.1 points and 3.6 rebounds last season as a senior with the Hornets, and still takes classes at the Sacramento campus.
Richardson scored three points against his former team in the exhibition game, while pulling down four rebounds and blocking three shots.
“It’s weird,” Richardson said. “I’m on the bench wanting to cheer every time they scored.”
The former Hornet approaches freshman point guard Deshawn Freeman as he comes out of the home team locker room. Freeman struggled at times in his first-ever game in a Hornet jersey, committing a pair of fouls in his first two minutes on the floor.
Richardson has nothing but support and advice for the young freshman.
He offers Freeman some tips on running the offense, and tells him to utilize his lateral quickness, which big men, including himself, can’t keep up with.
With four years of college basketball experience — two in junior college and two at Sac State — Richardson isn’t shy about sharing his basketball knowledge.
After almost quitting the sport following his senior campaign with the Hornets last season, Richardson spent his summer working out with NBA players Jerome James (Seattle Supersonics), Tremaine Fowlkes (Los Angeles Clippers) and Bobby Jackson (Sacramento Kings).
It’s a year-round quest to stay in shape for Richardson and Russell, because there is no telling when the next professional tryout might present itself.
After the three-game exhibition tour with EA Sports, Richardson will turn his focus onto getting his degree from Sacramento State. He will stay in shape by practicing with his former teammates.
In July, he hopes to play in a Los Angeles Pro-Am league.
Richardson has the same dream as Russell.
“I’d like to see myself playing for an NBA team,” Richardson said. “But more than likely, I see myself overseas making a good living.”
Chances are you will never again read about Jay Richardson or LyRyan Russell. The same goes for the rest of the EA Sports players.
But as long as there is a court to play on, there is always the chance that the right scout is watching.
And as long as there is a chance, there is always the dream.