By Chris Richard
My true love for basketball took root mid-way through my sophomore year at Kathleen High School in Lakeland, Fla.
We had a stacked squad with thorough depth and athletes, cats who could play multiple positions and thrive off athleticism and toughness.
We were predicated on gritty team basketball and a desire to make each other better.
The team was entirely ego-free, we all had each other's backs through everything. On the court and off it.
We practiced as hard as we played, though of course we turned it up a few notches when those bright lights flickered on and fans piled into the gym.
Our squad started with Rashad Anderson, that's big bro right there.
You might remember him as he was a lights out shooter for UConn with Ben Gordon and Emeka Okafor. Rashad was a knock down shooter and could flat out score the rock.
At Kathleen, we leaned on Rashad and TJ Walden, who was eventually the Florida 4A Championship MVP. Rashad, TJ, and a number of other guys were our poster boys at the time.
I was a sophomore and there for my post game and energy. I don't want to do a disservice to anyone by not mentioning them, so I will just say we were stacked and the seniors led us through the wars.
We went 28-6 that season, 2001, culminating the year with the Florida 4A state title. No feeling even compares to the natural high of winning a state title. I was fortunate enough to win two more at the University of Florida under Billy Donovan. Make no mistake about it, it's a special feeling. The next 24 hours, you are just elated. You are a rock star and a wunderkind and it's just hard to come back down to earth from that feeling.
During my junior year at Kathleen, I took scoring matters into my own hands. After being a secondary option, I had a major green light to get to the basket and score in a variety of ways. I could go run the floor and play rim to rim and I also added on a number of post moves. Rashad had graduated and he basically passed the torch down to me.
Even though he was in Storrs playing for coach Calhoun, he still kept in contact with me one way or another.
And so I became the focal point of the offense. Much of my game was based on being tough around the basket, so the grind was just never ending. I locked myself in the gym and subscribed to that grind life, never really being distracted.
My senior year at Lakeland, I was a double double just waiting to erupt! That killer instinct had finally grown in me and I used it to my advantage. I became more of a presence as a rim protector, developing that hunger to swat away shots.
All the grinding paid off as I was named Florida's Mr. Basketball. Just thinking about the moment I learned I had won the award throws me into chills.
I had all around game. I was pushed and pushed and pushed and I met the challenge and tried to topple it every day.
I owe a great amount to my older brother Tim Jones and my Mom. Tim was a beast of a football player so he gave me constant support and inspiration and made sure I was tough at all times.
My Mom, she was just my rock. What's really great is that my Mom understood the game and knew what was going on out there, so she could push me and help me. Y'all read it right. Wasn't a misprint. It was a woman who helped me get better at basketball and take my craft more seriously.
I was dealt a great hand as far as my family being supportive of me and I thank God for that.
The reason I chose University of Florida was because I was a local kid. I wanted to stay true to my roots and be loyal to those who had confidence in me. So, it wasn't much of a sales pitch for coach Donovan and them. I was ready.
My freshman year, man was that a transitional period! I go from being a massive interior presence and manhandling the competition on a regular basis to going up against dieseled up, grown, and established athletes. Let's just say I had to adapt. I had to go through the trials and tribulations en route to getting up to speed.
At a high level and high major program, especially what we had at the time, nothing is given to you...You can be the best HS basketball player to ever roam the planet, yet when you cross that bridge into high Division 1....the respect has to be earned.
There is simply no where to hide. With a frontcourt that featured David Lee, Al Horford, Joakim Noah, Matt Walsh, and others, there were no light practices.
I had to always be in tune with what coach Donovan preached and create my own niche in the paint.
My junior year, we were written off. Everyone envisioned us having a down year. Everyone saw us as a middle of the pack team and we used that as motivation.
We pulled off a signature win and then another at the start of the season, riding that wave of momentum. My guy Jo, he really does not care what you think of him. People hated him so much on the road and I think he really thrived off the hostility.
When we won the chip that year , you saw my man get wild and you saw how much all of us soaked in the wild atmosphere. Truthfully, it was our accountability and commitment to playing for each other that propelled us.
Playing against Mike Conley and Greg Oden, it was a monstrous task but one we were readily prepared for. Our preparation and shooting, plus the play of my brothers Corey Brewer and company made it back to back NCAA championships. If there was a basketball Cloud 9, I was on it.
With guys like Joakim and Al in the trenches with me, my job was to be a cleanup man and get point blank range buckets and play sturdy defense off the bench.
In the NBA, I learned from some great mentors in coach Wittman in Minnesota and coaches Scott Skiles and Thibs. My experience in the league also showed me that basketball really is a business and not all business decisions require your approval.
When I played professionally in China, it was a guard-oriented league. I learned my size gave me an advantage and renewed my thirst for just getting buckets.
Now, in my "retirement years" so to speak, I've been back in my true sanctuary: the gym. I train kids and professionals of all ages, with a number of innovative workouts I've incorporated over my years working at the professional level.
I had the opportunity to work the 2016 Dodge Florida Shootout. It is special to me because the event coordinator, Conrad Foss, was my coach growing up and was a big advocate of me and my people. I also worked the Orlando Magic D-League camp and training session.
To learn more about my clinics, individual workouts, team workouts, and skill development work, kindly email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.