A Brooklyn reunion for ex-Pittsburgh teammates who are still friends
The adjustment from seeing someone nearly every day for two years to only seeing them twice over the course of the next two years could hurt a friendship, but if the tackle Lamar Patterson greeted J.J. Richardson with on Sunday night was any indication, that isn't the case for these former Pittsburgh teammates.
The two, along with fellow friend and Panthers forward Talib Zanna, were reunited in Zanna's room at the New York Marriot at the Brooklyn Bridge and again the next two nights at the Legends Classic, where Pittsburgh and Houston are among the four teams in the field.
After they got past their excitement of seeing one another on Sunday, they took right to the television to watch Brady-Manning XIV and the Michigan-Charlotte game while catching up. Aside from the difference in the school gear they wore, it would have seemed like Richardson had never left.
Like Patterson and Zanna, Richardson was part of Pitt's incoming freshman class in the summer of 2009. The trio quickly bonded, but their time as teammates ended when Richardson elected to transfer to Houston in the summer of 2011.
"I transferred so I could be closer to home, with my family and so I could have more playing time wherever I went," said the native of Missouri City, Texas. "I have some regrets about leaving, but everything happens for a reason. I am happier with my situation at Houston."
Pitt coach Jamie Dixon hoped his squad would match up against his former recruit and his new team on Tuesday, but the Cougars' 86-76 loss to Stanford made that impossible. Instead, the Panthers will play the Cardinal while Houston takes on Texas Tech.
"I saw him in the hotel and we sat to talk for a while," said Dixon of Richardson. "He's a great kid, and I wish him well. As I told him when I spoke with him, I'm still rooting for him and to give my best to his family."
The three friends had seen each other just once since Richardson's departure -- when he returned to Pittsburgh to see his buddies in the summer of 2012 -- but they've seen plenty of each other at their hotel, and have kept Richardson informed about everything happening at Pitt.
"When he came out we just did what we did as if he was still on campus everyday," Patterson said of their summer reunion. "We just hung out, played video games, went out to eat and stuff like that. Since we've been here, we've talked about things from back in the day, what we used to do, where we used to go, what isn't at Pitt anymore and what's going on with people he hasn't seen from school."
While Richardson traded his blue-and-gold for red, he still holds tight to the friends he left back in the Steel City, keeping close contact with those he started his college journey with.
"I definitely left on good terms with everyone. I stay in touch with both of them. I used to Skype with them, but now we text more and keep in touch through Twitter," Richardson said.
Although his former classmates miss his genuine personality, they respect Richardson's decision to become a Cougar.
"You never want to say bye to anyone like that, but people have to do what's best for themselves," Patterson said. "Saying goodbye was definitely the hardest part."
The same was true for Zanna, the Nigerian-born forward who was Richardson's roommate in their years together. "J.J. loved having fun and was a great roommate. He was always there for me when I had a problem. He was my best friend here and it was really tough to see him go."
In their two years, the three spent a lot of time together and share fond memories of those days.
"We'd be in one of our rooms and J.J. would start dancing because he's just a funny guy like that," Patterson said. "He loved to Dougie and would do it every time we went to one of our rooms."
Zanna and Richardson frequently battled in France-vs.-Argentina matchups in the soccer video game FIFA on Xbox. Both agreed Zanna was the superior player, which he credits to his experience playing soccer in his youth, as well as to France being the better team of the two.
Zanna, a 6-9 forward, might also be the best basketball player among the three friends. He is scoring 12.3 points and grabbing 7.5 rebounds per game, having increased his averages every season in both categories. Patterson, a 6-5 guard/forward, is also averaging a career high in points (15.6), and set a new personal best with 23 points in the 76-53 victory against the Red Raiders on Monday.
Since making his move to Houston, Richardson, a 6-8 forward, has averaged just 3.3 points and 1.7 rebounds per game, but he has already played more minutes, taken more shots and grabbed more rebounds in 25 games as a Cougar than he did in 45 as a Panther.
Despite those modest numbers, Richardson is missed in Pittsburgh, both for his hustle on the court and, especially, for his unique presence off it.
"He's a great person," Patterson said. "He's one of those people that everyone loves because of his charisma and is a people person. He's funny and everything you want from a teammate and a brother."