Will Jason Richardson play for Michigan State?

The citizens of Michigan had been waiting for several years to
see Jason Richardson don a Michigan State uniform, and when he
finally did, he did not disappoint them. The coltish 6'6"
freshman, a McDonald's All-America last season at Arthur Hill
High in Saginaw, put on a dazzling air show during Midnight
Madness last Friday night at the Breslin Center. During one
foray into the ether, Richardson twirled 360 degrees and brought
the ball between his legs before flushing a one-hander.

Alas, the performance may turn out to have been nothing more
than a cruel tease. The NCAA's Initial Eligibility Clearinghouse
declared Richardson ineligible in late July, having determined
that an English class he took during his freshman year at
Saginaw's Nouvel High, which he attended for one year before
transferring, could not be counted toward the 13 core-curriculum
classes required for freshman eligibility. Officials at Arthur
Hill and Michigan State were shocked by the decision, since they
had all been under the impression that Richardson had satisfied
his requirements. Upon further review, Michigan State learned
that someone at Arthur Hill had mistakenly typed in the name of
a different (and approved) course when making up Richardson's
transcript. The clearinghouse caught the error only because it
had both the Nouvel and Arthur Hill transcripts.

In late August the Spartans persuaded the NCAA to grant
Richardson partial qualifier status, which means he can accept
scholarship money and practice with the team but can't compete
in games. Now the school is awaiting the result of its appeal to
the NCAA's Initial Eligibility Committee to fully reinstate
Richardson. The Spartans expect to hear a final decision from
the NCAA in the next two to four weeks.

Richardson's case brings to mind that of former New Mexico
forward Kenny Thomas, who thought he had satisfied his core
requirements but was declared ineligible by the clearinghouse in
the summer of 1995. Thomas engaged the NCAA in a protracted
legal battle--he played for three seasons under a court-ordered
injunction before sitting out the first five games of his senior
year as part of a negotiated settlement--but Richardson says he
has no intention of following that route if his appeal is
denied. "If it's not meant for me to play, I'll just work on
getting ready for next year," he says.

Losing the opportunity to play for a national championship
contender would seem to be a harsh fate for an athlete whose
only transgression was committed not by him but by academic
professionals. "It's just a tough pill to swallow because the
kid really didn't do anything wrong," Spartans coach Tom Izzo
says. "I understand we need standards, but everything isn't
black and white."

Missouri's New Coach

His voice hoarse, his Hugh Grant hair flopping jauntily, Quin
Snyder dropped onto a sofa in his new office at Missouri last
Saturday, visibly jazzed that practice was finally under way.
Six whirlwind months after the 32-year-old Snyder left his top
assistant's job at Duke to replace the retired Norm Stewart, it
is hard to say who's learning more--the first-time head coach or
his new team, which will junk Stewart's antediluvian
ball-control system for one based on defensive pressure and an
up-tempo offense.

Snyder is overjoyed by the warm reception he has gotten from his
players and the Show-Me State's fans, but he hints darkly that
not everybody has been so welcoming. Last month Missouri
reported itself to the NCAA following a published account that
the mothers of two top recruits, Detroit-area high school stars
Rickey Paulding and Arthur Johnson, had joined their sons on a
chartered plane for a campus visit. (Though the women say they
paid for their seats, the NCAA is investigating whether they
paid full value.) When asked what he has learned from the
episode, which probably won't result in sanctions, Snyder
chooses his words carefully, accepting responsibility but subtly
pointing a finger at rivals whom he believes were the source of
the story. "It has raised my awareness about certain competitive
elements in the industry," he says. "It's also made me aware of
how much attention we have to pay to all the details on every
level, and that begins with me."

Big Continent's Comeback

NBA scouts were both surprised and intrigued when a 7'3",
350-pound behemoth named Brad Millard played Wake Forest's Tim
Duncan to a virtual standstill in the first round of the 1997
NCAA tournament. Millard's team, St. Mary's, lost the game, but
the Gaels' center showed he had a nice shooting touch and the
sheer bulk to give the 6'10" Duncan fits.

Dubbed Big Continent because he looks like an expanded version
of Bryant (Big Country) Reeves of the Vancouver Grizzlies,
Millard could have jumped to the NBA right then, but he was just
a sophomore, and he needed more seasoning. That summer he
attended Pete Newell's big-man camp, where he impressed Newell
with his play. His future looked bright, but since then he has
suffered a couple of major injuries. And now time is running out
on his college career.

The first setback came in the third game of the '97-98 season,
when Millard broke his left foot. He had to sit out the rest of
the year with the injury. Then disaster struck again. Millard
broke the same foot--in a different place this time--in
September '98. It appeared that he would have to sit out another
full year.

As St. Mary's stumbled through its second straight sub-.500
season, Millard did his best to stay in shape and monitor his
progress. In late February, X-rays showed that the injury had
healed better than expected. With only one regular-season game
and the conference tournament remaining, he decided to come back
to try to help the Gaels get an NCAA tournament bid, even though
the risks were considerable: The atrophied foot muscles made him
more susceptible to another break, and playing would cost him a
medical redshirt year, meaning he'd lose a season of eligibility.

His heart, though, told him to go ahead and play. His close
friends Frank Knight and Eric Schraeder were seniors who
wouldn't have another chance at tournament glory. "These were
guys I had been through so much with," says Millard, "and I
thought we could do some damage with me in there."

Millard's presence led to an emotional win over Santa Clara in
the regular-season finale, but in the West Coast Conference
tournament an upset win over San Diego was followed by a loss to
Gonzaga, ending the Gaels' hopes of an NCAA bid. "I was totally
against him playing at the end of last year," says Gaels coach
Dave Bollwinkel. "But his reasons for playing really told me a
lot about what kind of kid he was."

Millard's sudden, late-season comeback left his foot so sore
that his summer basketball was limited to free throw shooting,
plus drills in the pool. It wasn't until three weeks ago that he
was finally cleared to play. So is Millard still on NBA radar
screens? Says Dave Babcock, director of scouting for the Bucks,
"If he stays healthy and plays all his games, he's a lottery
pick." --John O'Keefe

COLOR PHOTO: DAVID SCHREIBER Richardson shone at Midnight Madness, but a ninth-grade English course might sideline him. COLOR PHOTO: V.J. LOVERO Millard's brightest moment came in '97 against Duncan, but he has had a bunch of bad breaks since.