Projected as a mid-to-late second round pick with a chance to go undrafted by many draft analysts, Richardson came off the board in the top half of the second round, going at No. 40 overall to the Miami Heat.
Richardson becomes the 46th player ever to be drafted out of the University of Tennessee, and gives UT three players drafted in the last two years, joining Jarnell Stokes (35th overall, 2014) and Jordan McRae (58th overall, 2014). Richardson’s selection was a culmination of a UT career marked by ups and downs for the teams he played on, but also a career marked by steady improvement for Richardson.
Originally a three-star recruit out of Edmond, Okla., Richardson was one of Cuonzo Martin’s first signees in Knoxville and made his mark early in his career on defense, appearing in 34 games and starting nine as a defensive stopper in the 2011-12 season.
Richardson improved offensively over the next two seasons as the team improved as well. His scoring average jumped to 10.3 ppg during the 2013-14 campaign. But it was during Tennessee’s Sweet 16 run in the NCAA tournament that Richardson took his game to the next level, leading the Vols in field-goal percentage (.617) and assists (3.0 apg), while ranking second in scoring (19.3 ppg) as UT knocked off Iowa, UMass and Mercer before narrowly falling to Michigan in the Sweet 16 in Indianapolis.
With McRae, Stokes, Jeronne Maymon and other key members of that team gone, Richardson was asked to carry much of the load in 2014-15 under then new coach Donnie Tyndall. And with no proven point guard remaining on the roster, Richardson was also asked to handle that crucial role for a young roster despite having no substantial experience at that spot.
Again, Richardson responded. Never losing that defensive mindset he came in with, but showing off his refined offensive game and ability to play the point, Richardson started all 32 games and led the Vols in scoring (16.0 ppg), field-goal percentage (.461), free-throw percentage (.798), assists (3.6 apg), steals (2.1 spg) and minutes played (36.3 mpg), leading the Vols, who were picked to finish second-to-last in the SEC, to a better-than-expected 16-16 (7-11 SEC) record and a quarterfinals appearance in the SEC tournament. Richardson was named First-Team All-SEC and to the All-SEC Defensive Team in his senior season.
Now Richardson’s career will continue with the Heat, where he’ll likely be utilized as a shooting guard, but can also be given a look at point guard.
Richardson lands with a Heat team still in transition from the post-LeBron James era. In its first year without James, Miami went 37-45, finishing two spots out of the Eastern Conference Playoffs. The future of Miami’s backcourt is very much in flux with two key pieces – SG Dwayne Wade and PG Goran Dragic – both heading into free agency this offseason. Mario Chalmers and Shabazz Napier are the only two other guards currently on Miami’s roster that saw significant playing time in 2014-15.
The Heat also added Duke wing Justise Winslow with the No. 10 overall pick in Thursday night’s draft.