Josh Richardson had quite the opening week of the NCAA Tournament.
Survived a play-in game. Won two more games. Advanced to the Sweet 16.
Oh, and the Edmond Santa Fe product who’s known more as a defensive stopper at Tennessee also averaged 19.3 points in those three games, including a career-high 26 points in a rout of Mercer on Sunday.
His average heading into the tournament: 9.2 points.
His parents were there for every glorious minute, point and victory.
“We are excited for our son, of course,” Alice Richardson said. “But we are excited for these young men, for this coach, for this program. We are just excited. We have watched through it all. We have seen it all.”
That’s not figurative. Alice and Michael Richardson have attended all but two of the games that their son has played in college. Whether in Knoxville or Starkville, Cincy or Indy, they make the trip. At a time when millions of Americans are hopping on the March Madness bandwagon, the Richardsons have always been along for the ride.
They consider it a blessing that they never could’ve foreseen.
Their son feels the same way.
“It’s nice to have my parents at every game,” Josh said. “It’s a good support thing.”
He knows he’s fortunate. He has plenty of teammates whose parents are able to attend only a few games a year, if that. And because of the distance between Edmond and Knoxville — 869 miles one way — Josh could’ve been one of those who rarely had family at his games.
The first time Alice and Michael made the trip to Tennessee for a few games, they realized how tough it could be. It wasn’t just the hours spent in the car. It was the cost. Their hotel bill ran nearly a thousand dollars.
“We can’t do this,” Michael told Alice. “If we’re going to keep coming down and seeing his games, we can’t do this.”
They realized they could rent an apartment for a month for less than it would cost them to pay for a hotel room for a week.
So, that’s what they decided to do — rent an apartment. They found a realtor in Tennessee, and even though they were in Oklahoma, they could look at properties online or see photos sent via email. They found a place and began splitting time between Knoxville and Edmond.
They had the means and the time to do so because of decisions made long ago.
Alice joined the U.S. Air Force Reserves back in the 1980s. It was about the same time Michael went to work for the Oklahoma City Fire Department. They hadn’t even met each other when they went down those career paths, but now, they are retired from those jobs and free to attend lots of Tennessee basketball games.
“We can’t really take credit for how things worked out,” Alice said. “It truly is God who worked out things for us to be here.”
Even the part-time work they do to supplement their income is able to be done around Josh’s schedule. Alice is an assistant pastor at their church, and while she essentially is on leave during basketball season, she can still do some work remotely. Michael is a contractor who remodels bathrooms and kitchens, but he only takes jobs during the off-season.
During basketball season, they are all about basketball.
“That’s been our lives the last three years,” Alice said.
And lately, life has been particularly good.
Alice and Michael made the 303-mile drive from Knoxville to Dayton, Ohio, for Tennessee’s play-in game against Iowa last Wednesday. Josh drew the big defensive assignment, as he usually does, and held the Hawkeyes’ leading scorer, Roy Devyn Marble, to only seven points and 3-of-15 shooting. But Josh made a big contribution on the offensive end, too. With the Vols struggling — they trailed by as many as 12 points in the first half — Josh took over in the second half. He scored all of his 17 points after halftime.
“We were having a slow period in the game,” Richardson said earlier this week via telephone from his apartment in Knoxville. “We were having a tough time finding the bucket. I started finding lanes in the defense and taking advantage.
“The next two games, I just carried that aggressiveness on with me.”
Did he ever.
He was 5-of-7 for 15 points against UMass, then 9-of-13 for those career-high 26 points against Mercer. Sure, the Vols have yet to face a test in the tournament like they will Friday against No. 2 seed Michigan — Iowa was a bubble team, UMass was overseeded and Mercer was a Cinderella whose losses this season included South Carolina Upstate and North Florida — but Tennessee has survived where others have not.
And it’s not like Tennessee isn’t capable; it handed top-seeded Virginia its worst loss of the season, a 35-point drubbing.
Alice and Michael have relished seeing the team come together these past few weeks. When the players came out of the locker room after Sunday’s win in Raleigh, the Richardsons were there to hug as many necks as possible.
“We try to really extend ourselves because we know so many of the other parents don’t get to go to all the games,” Alice said. “We really try to be team parents.”
Alice and Michael hung around and loved on the players until they left. The Richardsons had planned to make the 360-mile drive back to Knoxville after the game, but after all the excitement, they were exhausted and stayed another night.
They were back in Knoxville on Monday, doing laundry, getting ready to re-pack their suitcases and load up their Chevy Malibu for the 357-mile trip to Indianapolis for the regional semifinal.
Even though they have put over 60,000 miles on that car in less than three years, they hope to add several hundred more before the NCAA Tournament is over.
As long as Josh and the Vols keep rolling, the Richardsons will keep rolling, too.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 475-4125. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.