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Richards has teams on notice


At some point during the NBA draft process, most players become disenchanted with the rigors of the schedule, their bodies and minds wearing down from the physical demands and the repetition.

But not Ryan Richards. This is all new to him. The Englishman has been hunkered down in the lower reaches of European basketball where very few have heard of him, much less know at exactly which age he started to participate in a game that uses hands instead of feet. It wasn't until the pre-draft camp in Chicago last month that Richards, 19, really became a known commodity, and now everybody in the league is trying to familiarize themselves with this 6-foot-11, 230-pound lefty who may have earned himself a spot in the first round.

"I didn't think it would be such a big deal when I came here to the combine," Richards said. "My mum and my sister said, 'We knew you were good but after the combine everything just blew up.' And I didn't expect it to be that big of a deal. I didn't know how under the radar I was, basically. Nobody knows me, so a lot want to see me now. I like it. I have been enjoying the experience."

How could he not? The extent of his playing experience is two seasons in an amateur league in Spain, a year in a professional league in Belgium and then six games with BBC Monthey in Switzerland -- where he averaged 13.3 points and 5.2 rebounds while shooting 51.8 percent from the field and 91.3 percent (21-of-23) from the foul line -- before a shoulder injury ended his season.

As one NBA scout said, "He's played in Europe, but not with the big boys."

There will be some skepticism about that, to be sure. But there also seems to be a growing intrigue about his physical skills, his size and his ability to spread the floor with an outside jumper. Think a young version of Zydrunas Ilgauskas, a big man who can run a pick-and-roll and pop to an open space for a mid-range jumper.

"Most of the European teams I have played on, I have played the power forward," Richards said. "The [center] would pick-and-roll, so that would mean I have to relocate and pop. That was how I developed my jumper."

What stood out in Chicago, and what had so many teams requesting a visit, is his silky touch from the outside. On an NBA team, he would be able to draw a big man from the lane and open up possibilities for a guard to drive. Or, he can face up like Chris Bosh and use his quickness to get to the basket. He does not have much of a back-to-the-basket presence.

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"He kind of has a different style than I am used to playing against, but I really enjoyed competing against him," said Kansas center Cole Aldrich, who went against Richards in a recent workout. "He is definitely European. In college basketball, I just love to go up against big guys and bang. European guys, I wouldn't say he has finesse, but he is more perimeter-oriented. He is a good shooter and he can take guys off the dribble. It is going to be tough for guys to guard him because he is long, too. It makes it a little tougher for guys like myself to get out of our comfort zone."

But another question mark about Richards is his durability after separating his shoulder in Switzerland.

"It is fine," Richards said. "I saw four or five specialists who said no surgery, three months rehab, so I am still actually doing the rehab now just waiting for the draft to finish so I can really get in the gym. I don't want to work out too much than tire my body out and then get in the gym for these workouts."

Richards also banged knees with another player during a three-on-three competition in Minnesota a few weeks ago and was forced to miss the remainder of that camp. But if a team can be convinced those are mild injuries rather than a sign of being injury-prone, it may be willing to take a chance on him in the first round.

"We have a second-round pick at No. 34, and he would be somebody we'd be looking at with that pick," said Warriors GM Larry Riley. "But he is the type of guy where somebody might fall in love with him at No. 23 or 25 and he's not even available to us."

Best-case scenario: There may be a team at the end of the first round, like Orlando, which does not necessarily need to take on more salary but may be willing to draft him and allow him to develop his game overseas where he's familiar with the game.

But that's not what Richards had in mind.

"I play with a lot of NBA guys in the summer, I play with the top guys in Europe, in the D-League, so I'm not really worried about playing at this level," Richards said. "I am learning a lot how to defend in the NBA. In Europe the court is a lot smaller so you can get a lot more help. After playing today and some of my other workouts, you can see that you have to play man-to-man defense.

"I just think I am a quick learner. This is the best league to learn how to play here."