Where Are They Now?
Tom Richards Was the Real Thing For Pitt's '74 Squad
No single word can fully describe Tom Richards. He was seemingly born right from the pages of an old Clair Bee or Ring Lardner novel; the books that you checked-out of the school library to fill those dreams of being an All-American at State U., the guy who made the winning jumper or scored the big touchdown. The differences are few; Tom's teams did not always win, and he is for real.
They knew Richards was for real, when he lit-up the Moon High gym with what is believed to be the modern day WPIAL record 63 points against Beaver High in 1972--without today's 3-point shot. They knew he was for real at Pitt, when he switched from shooting guard to point guard and started for Buzz Ridl's '73 team as a freshman.
They know now that he is for real at Ameritech Corporation, where he is vice president in charge of companies dealing in security systems, cable television, and Internet development.
He is for real, and also unique---as to the quality of associations and successes that he has enjoyed. He is a son of supportive parents. He shared childhood and adolescence with "gym rats" like Bob Davie, Phil Meanor, Kenny Smith, Marty Pander, and Steve Tsomas. They had a young and enthusiastic John Miller as a ninth grade basketball coach to inspire them.
It has been 25 years since Richards joined All-American Billy Knight,
Mickey Martin, Kirk Bruce, and 6'8 big man Jim Bolla in the starting line-up of a Pitt team that won what is still a school record 22 straight games. The run started with a bizarre 36-21 forfeit victory at Rutgers, when militant students staged a sit-in on the court. Then Pitt beat Duquesne, won at Virginia, pounded
Penn St. 83-61, and created a stir with an over-sold Field House cheering a
71-56 beating of Syracuse before the run ended in a 66-64 loss at Penn State.
There was a feature story in Sports Illustrated that pictured the hometown bunch atop Mt. Washington.
The excitement wasn't over until they were finally stopped in the NCAA East Region semifinals, at Maryland. It took no less than ACC Champion North Carolina State, the eventual national champs, to finally solve assistant coach Fran Webster's unorthodox amoeba defense. They did it with 7'4 center Tom
Burleson, 5'6 point guard Monty Towe and the alley-oops to 6'4 forward David Thompson--when dunking was illegal.
The off-court accomplishments of that team may be even more impressive. The hook of the Sports Illustrated story was that they were all hometown kids starring for the storybook City College. It was not far off.
Knight was from Braddock High; played 11 years in the ABA, the NBA, and is now pro personnel director of the Indiana Pacers. Martin was the power forward from
Baldwin, and has done very well in selling pharmaceutical supplies. Bolla was the center who played at Canevin Catholic High, and is now an athletic administrator after coaching the Women's basketball team at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas. The shooting guard was Bruce, from old South Hills High in
Pittsburgh, now an Associate Director of Pitt's athletic department after a successful run in building the Pitt Women's basketball program. Keith Starr was the 6th man from Quaker Valley, who played almost as much as the starters and is now running his own successful insurance agency in Las Vegas. And the 7th and 8th players on that team were back-up guard Ken Wagoner of Beaver Falls, now a minister in Oakland, and freshman shooter Scott Nedrow of Ringgold, who has scored big on Wall Street.
One of Richards' former high school teammates has done OK as well. Bob Davie, now the head football coach at Notre Dame, is still a bit bitter about not getting any shots in that game against Beaver in '72. He searches, though, for recruits who are shaped in Richards' mold.
"He's a guy that always did the right thing," Davie said. "He had two great parents. His father was an avid sports fan. He went to every basketball game. They had a basketball hoop in the back yard, and his father was always out there playing with him and coaching him. His dad went to every baseball game we played. You always knew that he would be a tremendous success. Every step of the way, he's always been a model person."
Described by Davie as a gym rat, Richards was turning heads with his basketball skills as early as 7th grade, when he started on Moon's 9th grade team. Richards caught Miller's eye as an eighth grader. Miller, head basketball coach at Blackhawk, schooled Richards and his teammates in the science of fundamentals and hard work.
Richards had the talent to take those lessons farther.
Knight remembers playing with Richards, and the leadership he provided.
"Tom was a hard-nosed, tough competitor, who practiced hard, played hard, and loved to compete," Knight said. "He loved getting after it. Tommy could really space the floor, and shoot it for us; when teams went into a zone, as they often did."
After that great run of '74, Richards finished his career at Pitt in '76 with a broken shooting hand, but ended up ranked No. 3 in career assists. He now ranks 15th.
He didn't try a pro camp or explore opportunities overseas, but basketball was remained a passion as he worked for Bell Atlantic by day, and ran his odometer at night. Richards played in tournaments with St.Vincent College big man Dave Gambridge, his brother Don, who played at Duquesne and former Beaver Falls star Clarence Hopson, on a team for a West Virginia businessman for prizes worth just fifty bucks a head. But after six or seven years, the travel got old, and Richards retired to the "Pathfinder School shooting hour," so named because the court is not big enough to make anybody run.
Richards, at 36, went back to college-to MIT. Bell Atlantic had seen enough in Richards that he was enrolled in a fellowship program for young executives; given the time with salary, and his young family was moved to Boston. There, as a Sloan Fellow he was exposed to the careers and thinking of 60 of the best young minds in the business world.
"It was a mid-career humbling experience," Richards said. "While you also come away with new perspectives on leadership and management, completing two years of study in one year of work was almost a blur. Someday, I'll get to see the Boston that my wife and kids remember."
School officials like Upper St. Clair High School Principal Dr. Terry Kushner, who coached football and taught Geometry at Moon while Richards was there, see a lot of Tom Richards-type potential in students, but says few see it realized to its' fullest.
"There was no question from the outset with Tom," Kushner said. "His work ethic was unbelievable, because he didn't have all the gifts--in particular, size- that basketball players have. But he was one of the most pure shooters I can think of, because he just worked at it so hard. His shot was sweet, and not only at the high school level but also in college. It was the same with his ballhandling skills. He just worked so hard, constantly."
It was not just basketball that made a success of Tom Richards.
"He had two great parents- that supported his interests," Davie said. "I'm not ashamed to admit that Tommy was somewhat of a role model for me. He took care of his business in all areas. There was no question in my mind that he would be successful. He was always highly motivated."