Josh Richardson spent his recent tour of Poland and Germany developing his faith ... in his religion and his jump shot. The latter was especially evident Wednesday night at Knoxville's Bearden High Gym.
Warming up for Rocky Top League action, Richardson nailed one 3-point bomb after another. Once the game began, however, he missed his first seven shots from behind the arc. Then, showing a new-found faith in his stroke, he launched two more 3s in the game's closing minutes and drained both in helping R. Larry Smith pull away for a 131-117 defeat of Rice Buick/GMC.
Ultimately, Richardson says his two-week stint with the Christian-based Athletes In Action basketball team was a real blessing.
"It was an honor to be one of 10 people from the United States to go over there and spread our faith to the lost," he said, grinning softly as he added: "I was able to spread the word of God and take some people on the (basketball) court at the same time."
Ultimately, the tour of Poland and Germany helped him grow considerably, athletically and spiritually.
"It helped me everywhere," he said. "It helped me mature in my game and in my faith. I was slacking in both areas for a while but they (teammates) got me back on track, gave me a little kick in the butt."
The most memorable aspect of the Athletes In Action tour did not occur at a basketball arena; it occurred at a concentration camp.
"Auschwitz was a tough site," Richardson said, "but it just made us appreciate the small things that we have over here and not having to worry about anything like that (religious persecution)."
Basketball is basketball around the world, but Richardson discovered that international basketball has some unique aspects.
"The lanes were a lot wider over there and the 3-point line was a little closer, I think," he said. "And they (Europeans) spread the floor out so much."
Richardson sank just 1 of 11 attempts from 3-point range in the Rocky Top League last summer and didn't fare a whole lot better as a Vol freshman last winter, connecting on just nine of 38 tries (23.7 percent). He believes he has improved his stroke considerably in recent months.
"I can shoot a lot better than I did last year," he said. "And my decision-making has gotten a lot better. I'm more even-headed."
He's also more confident. To miss seven 3-point tries in a row and launch two more in the final minutes showed a level of faith that was lacking last season.
"I don't know what happened," he said. "I know my elbow crept out on a couple of them but most of them (misses) felt good. It feels a lot better knowing I can shoot it, not wondering if it'll even get close like I did last year."
At 6 feet 6 and 200 pounds, Richardson can play every position except center. He probably fits best at small forward but he saw some minutes at the point last season and may see even more in 2012-13 because the Vols have no proven depth behind starting point guard Trae Golden.
"I played five or 10 minutes at the point each game for Athletes In Action," Richardson said. "And I probably play about 15 minutes a game at the point in this (Rocky Top) league."
Ultimately, he believes he has the basic skills to play the point. The key is fine-tuning a couple of areas.
"I think it's about my decision-making still," Richardson said, "and keeping my handle tight."
And, of course, keeping his faith.
WEDNESDAY'S ROCKY TOP RECAP
Flashing the form that saw him average a league-record 45.7 scoring average last summer, Tennessee's Jordan McRae scored 44 points in leading Choice Spine to a 103-100 defeat of The Knoxville News-Sentinel. McRae hit 16 of 28 field-goal tries, including 6 of 12 from behind the arc. He made just 6 of 13 foul shots but hit four clutch ones in the final 13 seconds to seal the victory. Vol teammate Quinton Chievous added 10 points. Tennessee's Brandon Lopez hit 6 of 10 shots en route to 18 points and Yemi Makanjuola 8 of 13 en route to 17 for KNS.
Former Vol Bobby Maze scored 28 points to lead R. Larry Smith past Rice Buick/GMC 131-117. Current Vol Skylar McBee hit 7 of 13 shots — all from 3-point range — and added 25. Big Orange teammate Josh Richardson chipped in 20. Former Vol Wayne Chism scored 26 to pace Rice. Current Vol Galen Campbell chipped in 13 and former Vol Steven Pearl 8.
Desmond Johnson sank two free throws with no time showing on the clock to give DeRoyal a 92-91 defeat of Campus Lights. Tennessee's Kenny Hall scored 25 points in the losing cause. Former Vol Dane Bradshaw contributed 9 points and UT freshman Derek Reese 8.