RICHARDS CIRCLES BACK ON INCREDIBLE JOURNEY

After seven years in international exile, Ryan Richards is back in the Great Britain squad.

The two final World Cup qualifiers of the opening round – starting with Friday’s meeting against Estonia in Glasgow – offer winless GB only a long shot: two victories, improve their tie-breakers, and then hope.

Greece, who defeated Israel 96-78 on Thursday are through. Two berths in the second phase remain.

Quite the do-or-die time for Richards to come back for the first time since the 27-year-old forward was the last cut ahead of EuroBasket 2011 before embarking on a club career that has taken home to exotic destinations aplenty around the globe.

MVP sat down with him to talk about his re-integration and the life of a travelling man.

MVP: It was 2011 when you last played for Great Britain. You almost made it back last year before you had shoulder surgery but what has been the process of coming back in?

RR: I spoke to various people: Mark Clark reached out to me. Tony Garbelotto reached out. And that was it really.

You went away after you were cut, there was some talk you wanted to switch to Jamaica, how much thinking went into this return for GB?

I didn’t really want to play for Jamaica. When I was with the GB team in 2011, when Ron Wuotila was running things, I was told I’d have to go through the same process the following year to make the Olympics. I was over in the Caribbean and was practicing with the guys but they never got a programme together because of insurance and I didn’t have my citizenship there until recently. But it was tough. It wasn’t a matter of leaving GB. I was 21. I wanted to play as much as I could. But I wanted to come because. I missed a lot of the guys and I saw how they developed over the years and it’s time to be back.

Is there any sense of regret looking back?

No. I didn’t make it into the team (for EuroBasket 2011). A lot of people thought I should have been on the team. Sometimes you don’t make it. That was it. It would have been great to play – for me, I didn’t see going to the Olympics as totally different to any other kind of year. It’s cool to play for your country. But I don’t think it would have been any more special as playing in these two games. 2011 was a long summer. I had Under-20s. I’d worked all season to get healthy and it wasn’t enough.

How has this incredible journey been of going to so many diverse countries and playing in places like Iran?

Iran is the second best country in Asia for basketball. A lot of players who have been drafted in the NBA are there. It’s a tough spot to play in Asia. They have a really solid national team with a lot of competition. People are educated in the game. They always play in the Asian Championships. People see it as money and a lot of the smaller countries like Qatar and Lebanon are. But when you see it from the outside, you don’t really know. When I went to Iran, I had no real idea about it but I ended up being there over three years. It’s my favourite country I’ve played in. I learnt a lot. I became pretty fluent in Farsi. We got to play the other Asian teams. And it was great for me in developing as a player and a person. I wanted to find a market where I could really settle in and that was one of them.

Where was the toughest place you’ve played?

Probably Greece. Just as far as the coaches trying to prove something. A lot of selfish players trying to get theirs. Unprofessionalism in not getting paid. I find it easier to play in Asia than Europe because you have control over your career. If you play well, you stick around and do well financially. If you don’t, they’ll bring someone else in. In Europe, a lot of guys take days off. The overall talent in Iran is higher than a lot of places in Europe because it’s such a big country. But as in Greece, any time you’re on a team fighting against relegation, you are trying to get your own and that is very difficult.

You got drafted by the San Antonio Spurs in the second round in 2010. They took you over even though you probably weren’t going to play straight away. But there are always conversations over a few years. What dialogue did you have when they took you about what they might do with you over the longer term?

It’s a long time ago now but I was predicted to go higher in the Draft than I did but I had injuries going in. When I got picked, I did a year of rehab and after that, I felt great and in top shape and went to GB camp in the summer, did well individually, did well with the senior men. And then I expected to go to a European team where they’d sent other players to stash. Instead I ended up in Switzerland and I felt deflated and it was tough: to do all that work and I go back somewhere I’d been before. After that, I didn’t have much contact with them. I wasn’t checked on. I didn’t really get visits. I did come to summer league and had some good games but at the end, I took my career in my own hands.

Richards was a young gun through the British system

There was a feeling you were badly advised back then. But, having been a pro for ten years and been to different places, what advice would you now give to your younger self based on what you know now?

You need a support system around. Not every kid is the same and you need to find someone who cares about you and understands you. The Spurs have their way but for some kids it doesn’t work and other clubs are the same. If I could go back, I’d maybe have my Mum involved more in understanding the business. Maybe my first coach (at Kent Crusaders) Jesse Sazant. I still trust him. I’d build a team around me who I trusted rather than listening to people who were trying to make money off me. But I have still had an amazing career. I’ve seen things I never would have and set myself up financially.

You’re still only 27. What do you want to get out to the second half of your career?

I’m hungrier than ever. I understand the game more now. I can read the game. Before it was all talent and athleticism. Over the past 2-3 years, I’ve learnt more. So I really want the season coming up to be a good one and not worry too much about where, just stay healthy, turn some heads and get myself back over to the States and some mini-camps and summer leagues. I believe in myself. It’s reachable. It’s doable. And I just want make the most out of the years ahead and hopefully still get to the NBA.

The NBA, that’s still the big dream?

You need talent. But it’s also about being professional. Being in good shape. Looking the part physically. There is a lot that goes into it. When I was younger, it was all about statistics or beating this guy on this play. I learnt that, it’s also about being a good guy and doing the things people don’t see. I’ve matured as a person. But it’s luck as well. You see guys who don’t get there who have great career but I have a nephew and I’d love him to say he saw his uncle play in the NBA that would be great for me.

There are two win-or-bust games this weekend (GB host Israel on Monday). It’s not just about the World Cup. It’s also vital to make the Olympics. You came so close to playing in London in 2012 and is there any wish at the back of your mind that you’d still love that chance again?

I’ve not really been around the programme in a long time so I’ve taken a step back and just assessed what I can bring. It is win or bust but these two games are very winnable. I will just do what I can. We’ll take it game-by-game and hopefully it works out and we can build off that. It’s doable when I look at this team. All the pieces are there. We have a good chance.

Friday
World Cup qualifier (Emirates Arena). Great Britain v Estonia (Eurosport 2, 7.30)

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