NCAA Tournament

Kareem Richardson wants to bring defensive toughness to UMKC

Kareem Richardson developed a quiet toughness to his game before he even started playing basketball in a competitive arena.

Richardson, who will be introduced as UMKC’s next men’s basketball coach Monday, grew up as a student of the game. His father played almost daily while serving in the Air Force.

Even as a young kid, Richardson recalls the way he studied basketball as he watched his father play. Buckets, he noticed, weren’t easy to come by against the superior teams. Drives to the lane were met with vigor. Attempted layups and occasional dunks were greeted by hard fouls.

Richardson loved the style. He later adopted it.

“First of all, I wasn’t very good,” Richardson said of his own playing career, which included two-year stops at East Carolina and Evansville. “I just played extremely hard. I was a defensive-minded guy. That’s the mentality I want to bring — a lot of toughness and energy on the defensive end.”

In that case, he’s learning from one of the best.

After several assistant coaching jobs, including a one-year stint at UMKC in 2007-08, Richardson joined Rick Pitino’s staff at Louisville this season. A coach with more than 600 college victories to his credit, Pitino is a defensive-minded coach who instills aggression and intensity to his players.

Richardson hopes to do the same.

“It’s really neat coming here and working for Coach Pitino, because my philosophy as a coach is very similar to his in the sense of having that relentless, aggressive style on the defensive end,” Richardson said.

It’s that mentality that led to success in Richardson’s own playing career. Not necessarily a gifted scorer, Richardson, 38, relied on defense, effort and knowledge. He researched opponents while becoming a two-time conference player of the year at Rantoul Township High School in Illinois.

At East Carolina and Evansville, Richardson spent as much time in the film room as he did on the court.

So it only makes sense that Pitino assigned him the bulk of the scouting work, among a handful of other duties.

“We’re going to miss him very much,” Pitino said. “He’s very, very bright. He’s a hard worker, great teacher, great scout, tireless recruiter and a wonderful person. I’m going to really miss him a great deal as a person.

“He’s taking over a tough job, but if anybody can do it, it’s Kareem.”

It will certainly be a challenge — UMKC is coming off an 8-24 season under Matt Brown, who was fired two weeks ago — but one Richardson said he is “ecstatic” to embrace.

On a five-year contract worth $250,000 annually, Richardson said he plans to change the culture around UMKC basketball as it joins the Western Athletic Conference in the fall.

That equates to passing along his toughness — the attribute his father passed down to him — to his players.

“Coach Richardson, I only knew him for a year, but he helped me out so much this year,” Louisville point guard Peyton Siva said. “He definitely demands your attention. He knows what he’s talking about.”

Changing the culture, Richardson continued, also means a new outlook in the recruiting mission.

In his one year at UMKC, Richardson said he learned Kansas City is a sports town that offers plenty of its own talent. The recruiting battles, therefore, will start there.

“Every job has its challenges, but I really feel like my ability to recruit (is enhanced) knowing there are significant people there in the area,” Richardson said. “Kansas City is filled with a lot of talent in the area, so obviously I really want to try to recruit the area and see what we can get done.”