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Or, as Richmond puts it, "Things have been happening to me all my life. They pop up, and I see if I can handle them. So far, I've been doing pretty well."
Indeed, Richmond's trip to the NBA had included almost as many stops as a BART train. He attended three high schools in and around Fort Lauderdale. His buddies called him Smooth, which he still prefers to his harder-edged sobriquets. In fact, he calls himself Smooth on his telephone answering machine.
He got serious about school after he got serious about basketball, which was almost too late. Richmond had to attend summer school to get his high school diploma. He decided to pursue hoops to the ends of the earth, and he almost did just that, packing off to Moberly Area Junior College in Moberly, Mo. Richmond had another dream too. In one of his first talks with Moberly coach Dana Altman, who's now a Kansas State assistant, he said he wanted to build a house for his mother, Ernell. With the help of a reported five-year, $2.5 million contract, he is doing that now. "Ever since he hit that basketball, he's known where he was going," says Ernell. "Everything has gone so well."
After hitting the weights and the books, and polishing his outside game for two years at Moberly (pop. 13,000), Richmond moved on to Manhattan, Kans. (pop. 35,000). "I can say this," says Richmond. "Every town I move to goes up a little bit." His game has grown too. At Kansas State, Richmond received the ball and orders to create an offense with it. He was toughest when it counted most, averaging 26.7 points and 9.2 rebounds in six NCAA tournament games over two seasons and leading the Wildcats to the final eight last year.
Without much explanation, his coaches invariably call Richmond a "great kid." His teammates invariably call him a "great guy." He charms the former with his willingness to work and to learn, the latter with his easygoing levelheadedness. There is nothing cocky about his manner, just a quiet confidence and a warm, luminous grin. "The biggest compliment you can pay Mitch is to say how his teammates feel about him from Moberly to Kansas State," says Altman. "The guys here all want to watch Golden State on satellite or grab the box scores to see how he's doing. Everyone wants him to be successful."
Last summer Richmond went from exploiting the freedom of Kansas State's motion offense to being a bit player in John Thompson's rigid, revolving-door attack in Seoul. It bothers Richmond that the U.S. lost to the Soviet Union in the semifinals but not that he failed to score at his accustomed rate. "It was just that we had to limit our play because we had so much talent," he says. "We got the bronze, and people feel like that's nothing. But I got a medal to show I've been to the Olympics."
With the Warriors, Richmond's role once again demands creativity, which largely accounts for his 3.5 turnovers per game. Nelson, who has a rare flair for milking his players' talents while masking their weaknesses, is already "icing"—or isolating—Richmond against his defender every so often. As he dribbles near the top of the key, Richmond will survey the shifting landscape of the lane. "Sometimes I'll wait for the big men to turn their heads, and try to make my move before they turn them back," he says. Then, with a between-the-legs dribble, he'll go up for a shot or draw the defense to him for a dish.
Either way, Richmond often ends up on the free throw line, where he is shooting .805. More and more, icing the Rock is proving to be chilling for the opposition. "In that situation I feel I got them in bad shape," says Richmond. "There's no way they can stop me."
When his drive isn't working, Richmond can resort to his jumper or his formidable inside game. "I've seen him take some of the stronger players in the league down low and just overpower them," says teammate Steve Alford.