KNOXVILLE — Josh Richardson doesn't really remember exactly where he was or what he was doing when he found out Cuonzo Martin was leaving his post as Tennessee's basketball coach to take the same job at California.
Either that, or the Volunteers' rising senior simply isn't willing to share.
There is a long list of changes Tennessee's basketball program has undergone in the past two months, but Richardson's role and importance really isn't one of them.
From the moment All-SEC forward Jarnell Stokes put his name in the NBA draft back in April, the 2014-15 Vols were going to be Richardson's team, whether it was Martin or new coach Donnie Tyndall running the show.
And the 6-foot-6 guard from Oklahoma, his teammates and his new staff know it.
"I'm kind of trying to be an extended coach on the court," Richardson said this week. "Everything's so new to us. I'm gonna have to figure out what [Tyndall] likes early and relay it to everybody."
Tennessee's new coach laid out more simply.
"He has to lead. If he doesn't lead our team I'm kicking him off. It's that simple," Tyndall deadpanned. "He's a guy that so far has embraced that role."
Tyndall illustrated the last part of that statement by sharing a story about Richardson sending him a text message that the Vols wanted to change the time of their scheduled open gym session so they could play before eating dinner.
"Little things like that I think go a long way [to show] that he's willing to reach out to the coach and speak for the team," Tyndall said. "That's important. He's gonna be fantastic."
In 2011, Richardson was the second player Martin signed after taking over the Vols for the fired Bruce Pearl as an under-the-radar, ho-hum three-star prospect still on the market entering the spring signing period.
That certainly made Martin's sudden departure difficult to swallow.
"It was rough," Richardson said. "He cared for us as more than just players, and we cared for him as more than just a coach. I'm happy for him about his move. I'm not holding any hard feelings or any grudges. I just talked to him the other day, and I talked to [strength] coach Nicodemus [Christopher] the other day.
"They're good guys, so I'll definitely keep that contact."
Richardson quickly became a fixture in Tennessee's lineup based on the strength of his defense. Aware the range on his jumpshot was limited and his driving ability a work in progress, Richardson emphasized that side of the ball to get on the floor. Starting as a sophomore, Richardson began to develop a quietly impressive and effective mid-range game.
He plugged along for two seasons as a happy-go-lucky role player in the shadow of Stokes and Jordan McRae, until Martin spoke to him toward the end of the regular season last year about tweaking his relaxed personality and taking things a little more seriously.
The initial result was some impressive defensive displays against the SEC's top scorers. Richardson then exploded in Tennessee's NCAA tournament run, averaging 19 points in four games, shooting 62 percent and scoring a career-high 26 against Mercer in the round of 32. He almost single-handedly rescued the Vols in the second half of the opener against Iowa.
"I knew he would elevate like that at some point and just didn't know when," guard Robert Hubbs III said. "I know he's a great player. He just has to go out there each and every night and prove it, and the same for me.
"Since I first got here, Josh has always been like that," he added. "I knew he could always score and lock anybody that's good on the offensive side. It's definitely going to help us go as far as we can this season."
It was a breakout performance that upped the ante for his final season.
"I feel like it was a big eye-opener for what I can do at this level, and I just can't relax," Richardson said. "I was playing real aggressive and on edge because it was win-or-go-home every night. That's how we've got to treat every game this year."
As for being Tennessee's alpha player and go-to guy, it's a role Richardson feels he can step into and "not have a problem" filling for Tyndall's first team.
"He definitely has to step up and be the leader this year, and I'm going to be right behind him," Hubbs said. "I know he's a senior, but I know my time is coming. I'm just going to be behind him and learn."
Contact Patrick Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...