Rooting for former Vols is nothing new for Vol fans when it comes to the NFL. There are literally dozens of former Vols on NFL rosters right now, and there will be even more filing into the league in the coming years. But Vol fans have had little to care about in the NBA for quite a long time.
But that may soon be changing, and Vol fans could get a taste of that starting this month.
There will be two former Vols on NBA playoff teams this postseason, making it the first time in a very lengthy period that Vol fans will have a reason to care about the NBA playoffs unless they have already have an NBA team they root for. Rookie guard Josh Richardson and fifth-year forward Tobias Harris will both be playing in the Eastern Conference playoffs for their respective teams, and both figure to play significant roles as well.
Harris was a one-and-done player for the Vols in Bruce Pearl’s final season as head coach in the 2010-11 season, meaning fans didn’t get as attached to him as they would other players. But Harris has toiled away on struggling teams for the last four and a half seasons, and if not for a trade before the trade deadline this season, he might still be left out of the postseason yet again.
The Orlando Magic dealt Harris to the Detroit Pistons late into the season, and the move was extremely beneficial to Harris. In 49 starts with the Magic this season, Harris was averaging 13.7 points and seven rebounds a game while shooting 46.4 percent from the field. In 27 games with the Pistons, Harris averaged 16.6 points and 6.2 rebounds on 47.7 percent shooting and was pivotal in helping the Pistons make the playoffs as the No. 8 seed.
But Harris and the Pistons will be taking on the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round of the playoffs. Which means they will be lucky to win even one game in the series.
The other former Vol in the playoffs, however, is one of the most beloved Vol basketball players in recent memory. And his team has enough talent and momentum to make a little run in the playoffs.
Josh Richardson and the Miami Heat nabbed the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference and will take on the Charlotte Hornets in the first round. And while Richardson likely won’t make any starts in the postseason, he’s expected to play a key role for the Heat just like he did down the stretch for them in the regular season.
For the first four months of the season, Richardson did very little for the Heat. He played sparingly and didn’t do much when he was on the court.
Then the month of March came, and Richardson, like he always does, tore it up.
Richardson won Rookie of the Month honors for the month of March after blowing up for the Heat that month. In the first four months of the season, Richardson averaged just 3.2 points per game and was having an awful time shooting the ball. But then Richardson was given more minutes at the end of February and into March, and he took advantage.
In the month of March, Richardson averaged exactly 12 points per game and made 58.9 percent of his three point attempts. His numbers dipped slightly to close out the season in April, averaging 8.9 points while hitting 40 percent of his threes. But his minutes per game went up, and he earned himself a solid spot in the Heat’s rotation.
And now Richardson will have a chance to make his mark in the postseason.
Vol fans fell in love with Josh Richardson during his four years with the Vols. Richardson appeared to be just another role player with a penchant for defense in the first two and three-fourths years of his collegiate career. But an offensive outburst in the 2014 NCAA Tournament and a senior season in which he put up his best overall numbers despite playing out of position all year endeared him to Vol fans.
Which is why Vol fans will be taking an interest in what the Miami Heat are up to in these NBA playoffs.
Josh Richardson is just a rookie, and if his trajectory plays out like it has so far, he’ll be sticking around in the NBA for a while. Which means Vol fans will have someone to pull for again in the NBA. And as good as Tobias Harris is, he just isn’t as beloved as Richardson.
It’s a long wait for Tennessee football in the summer. But at least Vol fans should have something to watch in the NBA to help pass the time in the early part of the offseason.