Local angle for LSU game tonight
Maybe you’ve heard that LSU is playing Furman tonight in the Maravich Assembly Center.
This would be basketball we’re talking about.
Maybe you also knew that Furman was undefeated, 12-0 for the first time in school history.
Unlike LSU, the Paladins are ranked, No. 24, which is the small academic-oriented school’s first-ever appearance in the AP poll.
The truly curious with a thick dictionary might even know that a Paladin is a “paragon of chivalry, a heroic champion, a strong supporter or defender of a cause,” and that some have even suggested that Paladins were in residence at King Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table. That could be urban legend, but Furman does depict its mascot on noble horseback anyway.
It’s also apparently a video game of some sort, but that’s not important now.
In today’s real world, the Paladins are barging in on basketball royalty, crashing parties left and right.
This is not a Central Florida-like basketball schedule to get to 12-0. Furman, in this young season, has already knocked off two of last year’s Final Four — on the road — with victories over Loyola-Chicago and, in overtime, defending national champion Villanova.
I’m guessing that LSU coach Will Wade wasn’t aware this might happen when he scheduled the Paladins in good faith, probably as one of those mid-major tune-ups before conference starts.
“We weren’t expecting (that) when we scheduled (them),” Wade admitted Thursday with a smile.
Easy mistake to make.
After all, this is a Furman program that hasn’t been to the NCAA tournament since 1980, and now it’s suddenly up there in the rankings rubbing shoulders with the Indianas and Kentuckys of the world.
But it shouldn’t have been that big of a shock. Wade and 35-year-old Furman coach Bob Richey are good friends.
A lot of people in our neck of the woods are friends with the Furman head paladin, too.
Maybe they just lost track of him.
It’s only his second year as head coach at Furman (or anywhere else) and yet his name is already coming up as sure possibility for when the coaching carousel kicks into high gear for more high-profile jobs after the season.
Suddenly, though, Furman is attracting a lot of attention.
In a way Richey’s basketball journey started right here in Lake Charles and Southwest Louisiana.
The game was already in his blood.
Richey is the grand-nephew of McNeese’s legendary Bill Reigel, who as a player led the Cowboys to the 1956 NAIA national championship and later coached the team.
But it was after his father, Dr. Robert Richey, and mom Cindy, moved to DeQuincy to set up dad’s medical practice that he eventually ended up at St. Louis Catholic High School and got the basketball bug. One of his Saints’ teammates was future LSU Tiger Charlie Thompson.
But current Vinton coach Keith Kelley, who was the Saints’ head coach then, had a huge influence on turning his life to basketball.
The Richeys eventually moved back to South Carolina, where Bob graduated high school (and played on a state championship team), then went on to get a business degree at North Greenville University.
He’s still fascinated with business. A story on SI.com reveals how he still studies different business models — although now it’s as much with an eye toward using those lessons as a coach.
Basketball was always his first love, and he used that business degree to land a assistant’s job for six years at Charleston Southern.
He joined Furman as an assistant coach in 2011 and coached the guards as a traditionally derelict program made strides every year.
Niko Medved took over the program after Jeff Jackson left, and Richey was about to leave too. But he noticed that Medved’s style reminded him of Kelley back in Lake Charles and stuck around.
So when Medved eventually left to take the Drake job, Richey was given the interim head coach tag.
It was quickly lifted and last year, Richey’s first as head coach, the Paladins set the school record with 23 victories.
That record may be in jeopardy this season.
The former St. Louis Saint already has the Paladins in uncharted territory.