Catching Up With Pooh Richardson

Jonah Ballow with Pooh Richardson

Jonah Ballow: Welcome to Timberwolves.com, I'm Jonah Ballow sitting next to Pooh Richardson, who is back in town after 20 years. The first draft pick by the Minnesota Timberwolves 20 years ago. First, let start off: What is the biggest change you've seen in the NBA since your playing days.

Pooh Richardson: Good things, and then not-so-good things. The good things are, that you have a great deal of talent, some guys who can do some amazing things athletically. The thing that's not so good is that you have very few, far few and between, good basketball players, guy who actually know how to play basketball and bring a good style or good brand of basketball where people enjoy watching people play because they share the ball, make plays for each other, and stuff like that. Just the whole concept of basketball is different.

JB: Let's talk about the NBA. When you turn on the TV, who do you like to watch?

PR: I like to watch Chris Paul play. I like to watch Kobe. I like to watch Steve Nash play. LeBron is winning me over right now.

JB: You say 'winning me over', what does that mean?

PR: I'm starting to like LeBron now a little bit now. I thought he was big, very athletic. You know how you look at a guy and you see how athletic he is and see how skilled he is. Quite naturally, superstar, top three player in the league if not number one, and then you wonder why his team didn't win as much in postseason and what have you. I know that's a lot of pressure to put on a young kid, but as they start putting pieces around him and he's started to rely on those pieces and trust in those pieces around him because he has confidence now in the guys he's playing with. At first, he only had confidence in Delonte West, now like Mo Williams, and things are coming together for him as far as his supporting cast. Now he's showing like what kind of player he actually is. I don't even think he's tapped his potential yet. It's very scary.

JB: Comparing the 80s basketball style to now, who would you say is a player that can transcend time--could play in the 80s, could play right now, could do it at any time and he would still be successful?

PR: In the 80s, probably all of them, because they all knew how to play basketball. If I throw out some names right now, you're going to say yes. Like if I say could Charles Barkley play today? Could Magic Johnson play today? Could Michael play today? Take a guy like Kevin McHale, could he play today and be effective? Of course he can. You take those guys from the 80s, they can play today and be very successful. A guy like Dominique Wilkins would fit right in to what they do today, jumping around and dunking on everybody.

JB: Who were your favorite players back in the 80s?

PR: My favorite players. Magic Johnson was one of my favorite players. I thought Larry Bird was a great player, I loved Larry. Charles of course, I love Charles. I liked Chris Mullin, I loved Mullin. Mitch Richmond. I would like teams, because back then you had teams. You had at least three or four guys on a team that would just play good basketball. Just fun, good basketball.

JB: Going back to your days with the Minnesota Timberwolves, you came in, this franchise was struggling in their inaugural season. What do you think of the Minnesota Timberwolves at this point? Right now, they're much better basketball in the month of January and rebuilding this team.

PR: Well, in the case of rebuilding, I think they have a great nucleus, some great parts, some good parts to start building off of. I think Kevin's got them playing pretty good right now. They have a lot of chemistry that's developing. One of the key things is going to be that as Randy Foye continues to get better at the point guard position or keep getting a better understanding of it, and that's going to come with time also. Once that started really coming to fruition, then all the guys are going to start depending on each other and having good leadership. Any time you have a young team, you want to have leadership, a guy who's going to take control. Not in a ballsy manner, but take control in a manner where, you know, this is our game plan, this is what we have to do, and if you don't do your job, I'm going to tell you about not doing your job, because I'm on the hook for having to do my job, so you're definitely going to have to do your job. Once you start doing that, and doing it in a respectful manner where a guy's not offended, you're just letting them know, hey, you have to do your job. You do that; we're going to be ok. Normally that comes from the point guard position, but it can happen in any position, but for the most part it's normally a point guard, because he's your quarterback out there.

JB: How do you deal with a losing season? It's an 82-game year, and these players right now are struggling, developing talents and their young guys, how do you get through that? At the end of the day, these guys care about winning, and you can see it on their faces in the locker room.

PR: Of course they care about winning: they're competitors. Most of them probably come from winning programs in college or even in high school. If you're going to lose games, at least I felt that you couldn't have better support than you had here. I haven't been here in a while, I don't know what it's like as far as day-to-day with the guys, but I know through our inaugural season and after, our fan support was tremendous. That picked us up a lot. Then we won games we probably shouldn't have won, we were close in a lot of games we shouldn't have been close in, and a large part of that was the fan support.

JB: Let's talk about what you're doing now. Obviously you went to UCLA and you're back in the LA area now working with some youth basketball players, getting them ready for the draft and life in the NBA. You see a lot of young guys, 20-year-old guys in the NBA right now. How difficult is that transition?

PR: The difficulty in that transition in monumental, because you have guys who feel that basketball is basketball. It's a little different when you're in the NBA. It's basketball man-style. You have a lot of time on your hands. You make a really decent income. You have to be very careful and selective with your time and the people you associate yourself with, that's one of the most important things. Another thing is have to keep the motivation, you have to keep the hunger of going into the gym and work hard and get better, because [just] because you made it to the NBA, doesn't mean that you cannot get better. Every year you should try to come in and do something a little better than what you did last year.

JB: You're excited about stepping on the floor tonight at the Target Center? Can you tell me your thought process and what that's going to be like emotionally for you to step back here in Minneapolis and hear the fans?

PR: It's going to be fun. I'm looking forward to it. I've never shied away from a crowd. I'm looking forward to it man, for sure.

JB: I watched you in shootaround, and you're draining that jumper just like it was in the early 80s, so do you get out there and play much?

PR: I play all the time. I play at least three or four days a week. I'm not slow, but I've never been the fastest guy in the world anyway. I'm not as fast as I was when I was 20, but I can still run up and down, make shots, make plays and do stuff like that on a high level. Through my career, I never suffered any major injuries, so I was able to keep my limbs and stuff in working condition. I never really stopped playing basketball at all. In LA, you get a lot of great pick-up games, so I'm able to run up and down with the college guys, pro guys, and still maintain a touch with basketball.

JB: Good deal. Tonight, put on your analyst hat and give me a thought on the matchup between the Hornets and the Wolves.

PR: The Wolves come out playing hard, playing very aggressive. I know the Hornets are hurt right now. I think Tyson Chandler is hurt and David West is out. That should help the Wolves in a lot of ways, but also it can be dangerous, because now they go small, and New Orleans small guys are really small skilled guys. Naturally you know that Chris Paul is always going to be a factor. He's the brains behind the ship. He's surrounded by tremendous shooters: Stojackovic and Rasual Butler can really drain the three. That keeps the floor spread for Chris to kind of penetrate and make plays. It's going to be a tough cover tonight, but I think if the Wolves can play aggressive, use their youth, run the ball back at New Orleans, put a lot of pressure on them to play some defense, I don't see why the Wolves wouldn't really even win this game or really be close to winning this game.

JB: I think we might have to call you off the bench to hit some of those threes.

PR: I think Randy and them can handle that.

JB: That's Pooh Richardson, 20 years since you were the 10th overall pick by the Minnesota Timberwolves back in the house tonight, 7pm against the New Orleans Hornets. Thanks so much for your time Pooh.

PR: No problem, thanks for having me.