Spring signee Josh Richardson opened the game by scoring on a drive, then on a transition basket. He drained a 3-pointer, then nailed a fallaway 10-footer. So, with 18:12 left in the first half he had nine points and Larry Smith Insurance had an 11-4 lead.
Richardson, a 6-5, 180-pound combo guard from Edmond, Okla., went on to finish with 22 points as his team posted a 131-126 defeat of DeRoyal Industries in the RTL third-place game at Bearden High Gym. Quinton Chievous, another Vol signee, hit 10 of 13 shots and also scored 22 for the winners. Galen Campbell, a Knoxville Fulton grad who is joining Tennessee as an invited walk-on, hit 9 of 13 shots and added 20 points. Vol junior Kenny Hall scored 12 points for DeRoyal.
After shooting just 42.5 percent from the floor in his first five RTL games, Richardson shook out of his slump and hit 8 of 12 shots in the finale.
"I'd been playing bad all summer, and I just decided I wasn't going to play bad tonight," he said, clearly relieved by his strong finish. "I just kept telling myself 'Assert yourself,' and it all came."
Although some fickle fans were beginning to question his worthiness for a Vol scholarship based on his previous RTL outings, Richardson said the only skeptic he needed to win over Wednesday night was himself.
"I wanted this for myself, and it all came together," he said. "I wasn't that worried about everybody else."
Richardson made 14 of 15 foul shots during the Rocky Top season. He made some nifty passes and made some high-flying blocks, too. Still, his offense was a no-show through the first five games. He missed badly on 3-pointers and routinely struggled to finish on drives to the basket.
"I just can't have that type of game again," he said.
He knew immediately Wednesday wasn't going to be "that type of game" when he drained his first four shot attempts.
"It felt good!" he said, grinning broadly at the recollection. "I'm like, 'OK, I'm hitting. Don't stop.' Making that first 3-pointer felt good, too."
Richardson missed his final three 3-point attempts Wednesday night, finishing the RTL season just 1 of 11 beyond the arc. Perimeter scoring isn't a big part of his game, however.
"I'm more of a slasher and defender," he said. "I think defense is probably the best part of my game. I have good length and I just like to defend."
Richardson blocked several shots during the RTL season, including one by 6-9 Vol teammate Renaldo Woolridge that was quite impressive.
"A lot of it is timing," he said.
Although he didn't play as well as he'd hoped in the Rocky Top League, Richardson believes he benefited tremendously.
"I think I improved my athleticism," he said. "I think I got quicker playing against this type of competition, and I kept my competitive edge."