Friday, March 26, 2010

Former UNC ballboy faces Tar Heels

If Rhode Island freshman Akeem Richmond buries a couple of 3-pointers or makes a key steal against North Carolina in the NIT semifinals on Tuesday, a tiny bit of the credit – or perhaps blame – should probably go to former Tar Heel Raymond Felton.

Richmond, who grew up in Sanford as a "die-hard" Carolina basketball fan, was a ball boy for UNC's 2005 NCAA championship team. And snagging rebounds for the former All America (and current Charlotte Bobcat) made an impact.

"He used to give me pointers on what to do or what not to do,'' Richmond, who is averaging 8.9 points and making almost 40 percent of his 3-pointers as Rhode Island's sixth man, said during a phone interview on Friday. "I was playing in middle school at the time, and that really stayed with me. He even called me on my birthday – when he was at the beach, on a date with his girlfriend. … I'd been a Tar Heels fan all my life, so even now, that means a lot to me."

Richmond, who set a Rams record for 3-pointers made by a freshman this season (81), was recruited briefly by the Tar Heels. "I remember watching him in high school – a young man who could really score,'' said UNC coach Roy Williams.

The shooting guard was front-and-center for a Duke-Carolina game during his high school freshman season, and was invited to attend the "Late Night With Roy" Midnight Madness event at the Smith Center his next season. But by the end of his sophomore year, Richmond said, the Tar Heels pulled back from recruiting him, and it rankled.

"I had a hard time with that, but my father – he's my mentor, he told me to pick my head up, it's not the end of the world,'' he said. "There's a million other schools out there that would love to have you, other than Carolina."

In the end, the three-time Associated Press all-state pick chose the Rams – who just so happen to share the same school colors and mascot as UNC – over Western Kentucky, South Florida and Charlotte.

He said he has no hard feelings about not being offered a scholarship to UNC: "Coach Roy Williams is a great coach; he's a Hall of Fame coach. I ain't got noting against him. Obviously, he's coached some great players – Rashad McCants, Wayne Ellington, Sean May -- and I guess he felt like I wasn't good enough to play for them. But I have nothing against them."

Although he wouldn't mind showing the Tar Heels what they might have missed by not signing him – perhaps even by harkening back to some of those old Felton pointers.

"Of course I feel like I have something to prove, but I'm not going to go out there doing too much, I'm just going to try treat it like a normal game, and try to treat it as normal as possible,'' he said.

"… I'm just so excited. When I realized we were going to play Carolina, I just had to pinch myself. It's an honor to be able to play them."

-- Robbi Pickeral