Long before the movie "Glory Road" hit the theaters, Tulsa Shock coach Nolan Richardson already knew the story.
As one of the players that Dan Haskins inherited at Texas Western, Richardson lived the movie in real life, or almost. Missing out on the actual championship run depicted in the movie by two years, where David slayed Goliath in a moment that changed the game of college basketball, Richardson went on a quest to earn his own national title.
He worked his way up the men's basketball coaching ranks, from high school to junior college to the University of Tulsa and later the University of Arkansas. Richardson is distinguished by accomplishing quite a coaching feat – a Junior College National Championship, the NIT championship and the NCAA Tournament championship, the only coach to have this triple-play combination. Richardson's NCAA championship banner came in 1994 when many of his current players on the Tulsa Shock roster were still in elementary school. His style is one that just about anyone you meet has – at the very least – heard about.
Forty minutes of hell.
5'11" guard Alexis Hornbuckle makes no excuses for her limited first-hand knowledge of Richardson's coaching pedigree, as she was just eight years old when Richardson and the Razorbacks defeated Duke for the title.
"Honestly, I had to Google Coach Richardson when they said who our head coach was going to be," Hornbuckle says. "I remember the year that Arkansas won the Dance, but I didn't remember the coach so I did a little research . . . I was like "Oh, we're going to have some fun! It might be hard, but we're going to have some fun!"
As Richardson inks a new line on his coaching resume as the head coach and general manager of the Shock, he's ready to bring his forty minutes of hell style to the WNBA.
"I hope it's just ugly as hell, you know, that's what I hope. I hope [opponents] say, 'wow, we have to play them?' I like controlled riots, I like to have a riot but I can control it," Richardson said at last week's open tryouts in preparation for the start of training camp.
But before this style can be "hell" for the opponent, he must first install this new system on his own players. Hornbuckle, entering her third year for the franchise after moving to Tulsa from Detroit is ready for the challenge, or as ready as she'll ever be.
"You better be in shape to play for Coach Richardson, you better be in shape," Hornbuckle said before the start of camp. "Mentally, I'm prepared. Physically, I feel like you never know what's going to happen. You don't know if you're going to be doing full-court drills for 20, 30 minutes or 45 minutes to an hour."
If anything can be said about the tidbits coming out of the first two days of practice, it's that Hornbuckle and her teammates are being pushed in ways some have probably never seen on the court. Minimal water breaks, running the ball up the court rather than walking, full-court drills ranging from dribbling and ball handling to layup drills and two-on-two practice. Tired players learning to play through their limitations in an attempt to learn the nuances that will allow Tulsa to create havoc on the court.
"The thing that happens in professional sports," Richardson observes is "everybody, basically playing the same style of basketball. They all run their same plays. I think we're going to be a little bit different than that."
In his effort to illustrate his differences Richardson likens coaching basketball to the art of war.
"When it comes time to go to work and go to war as I say, then I'm in the war," said Richardson. "I'm the general, I have to push it. The thing about it is, it's surprising as you push and push how they understand and start not really worrying about how tough it is anymore because what happens is you will your way on them and they will their way on the opponent."
These women in camp and those select 11 that will fill the eventual Shock roster spots are already learning what it will take to not only survive the forty minutes of hell, but thrive in them and make their opponents leave doing all the things they are not allowed to do in practice – grab their shorts and walk off the court worn and weary – all while under the command of General Richardson.