No matter what some WNBA fans might think of Tulsa Shock coach Nolan Richardson, the man is like a walking anthology of basketball stories.
And maybe it's just because I was a huge fan of his mid-1990's Arkansas Razorbacks men's basketball teams that I find his storytelling fascinating. Or maybe it's because I half-expect him to start talking about how he walked uphill both ways in the snow to school growing up in El Paso, Texas or something when he breaks into an extended story while speaking with the media. Or maybe it's because he has that aura of the type of guy at a family reunion who has a wealth of oral history that someone should probably start writing down.
Anyway, Richardson and his propensity for storytelling even in pre- and post-game media chats were part of a feature on American Public Media's "The Story" podcast with Dick Gordon.
Gordon and Richardson discussed winning the NCAA men's national championship with the Arkansas Razorbacks, leaving Tulsa to become the first black coach at a predominately white institution in the "Old South", the passing of his daughter Yvonne, his comments about racism that ultimately cost him his job at Arkansas, and why he felt it was important to speak out about race and support other black coaches.
But most relevant to the present, he talked about how his style of play came to be called "40 Minutes Of Hell".
When Gordon asked about where 40 Minutes Of Hell came from, Richardson told the story of Razorbacks player Scott Rose who approached him during a practice about why they were working so hard.
"The first 40 minutes of my workouts is almost nothing to do with basketball - it's more conditioning drills," said Richardson. "Jump rope, we got a medicine ball, water balls, we run figure eights. We don't even shoot at the basket. So one of the player said, 'Hey coach, do we do this every day?' And I said, 'Yeah - you see how long it is.' I said, 'How long is a game?' He said, '40 minutes.' I said, 'We do it every day for 40 minutes then.' He said, 'Coach that's hell - that's like 40 minutes of hell.' I said, 'Oh really?' And I just dismissed it.
"Well, we weren't very good and we won a game one night and a news guy comes up to him and says to him, 'You guys put one together. Boy did you work and dive on the floor and did all this stuff.' He said, 'Yeah, we put 40 minutes of hell on 'em.' Well the news guy said, 'What?' So he comes to me and he said, 'Hey, this new 40 minutes of hell - where'd you get that from?' I said, 'I don't know what you're talking about.' He said, 'Well your player over there called it 40.' And I looked at him and it was Scott Rose - Scott was the guy that came up and asked me about the 40 minutes. I said, 'Oh I just told him about how hard it is for our practices.' He said, 'No he called it 40 Minutes of Hell basketball.' I said, 'Well, let's just call it 40 Minutes of Hell then.' And that's how it all got started.'
Presumably, most of this is also addressed in Richardson's biography fittingly titled, "40 Minutes of Hell", which is a must-read book according to Adrian Mac of SBN's Miner Rush (UTEP).
Rollin' With Nolan: Rus Bradburd's 40 Minutes of Hell is a Must Read - Miner Rush
From a hoops standpoint, I couldn't help but be fascinated with how Nolan developed his frenetic full court and trapping defense. Last week, I attended the Arkansas- Texas basketball game in Austin. Arkansas didn't press once. Arkansas didn't force turnovers or have fast breaks. Arkansas was drubbed 79-46. The entire time I was watching the game, I couldn't help but remember Scotty Thurman, Corliss Williamson, and the swagger that the Richardson teams had there. There's no denying that he was as innovative a mind college basketball has seen.
It will certainly be interesting to see what Richardon's "innovative" mind comes up with in his second year of coaching women's basketball with the Tulsa Shock - if indeed they draft Australian Liz Cambage with the #2 pick in the 2011 WNBA Draft, an argument could certainly be made that with a dual post presence they should slow the pace and use their relative size to their advantage in the half-court rather than making the game a back and forth uptempo game. Then again, people often forget that transition basketball is best when there's a strong rebounding presence to trigger breaks so we could see more of the same next year.
The whole interview is worth a listen if you get a chance and the story definitely helps you appreciate Richardson's story in its entirety rather than just Richardson the novice women's basketball coach.
It's difficult to imagine him not continuing to fight to be the best at his latest challenge and improving upon last season's record. Yet no matter what Richardson accomplishes in the WNBA, it's hard to deny his significance to the game not only as a basketball mind, but also as Mac describes a black coach who had to overcome racism as a child, player, and coach to get to where he is today.