He is 6-foot-8, a height in high school basketball that elicits stares and expectations. Jon Richards’ height is different from everyone else, and so people often expect his skills to be too.
Forsyth Central boys basketball coach Greg Dirst has seen those skills in practice. The challenge for Richards, Dirst said, has been to translate those skills on a consistent basis in games.
One swift, momentum-changing play Friday night encapsulated Richards’ offensive potential. On Central’s first possession of the fourth quarter and down by one, Richards got the ball in the paint with his back to the basket. He faked to his left, spun to his right and hit a fade away jump shot off the background.
Central’s crowd erupted.
"That got us going," Bulldogs senior Jeremiah Jones said.
"That was huge," guard Cale Jackson said. "That was good for him, and it was big."
Indeed, it was the play that sparked the Bulldogs to a 65-54 victory Friday over Kell in a Region 7-AAAAA game at home.
"Everybody likes Jon," Dirst said, "so it was good for him when he got the bucket."
The win improved Central to 8-9 overall, 2-6 in the region and ended a three-game losing streak. Even more, it gave the Bulldogs a much-needed dose of confidence heading into the home stretch of the regular season.
"We’ve been down so long I think people just expect to come in and get a win," Dirst said. "It’s always good for our guys to step up and win a game when we were down."
"We had to get a region win," Jones said.
"It was good," Jackson said. "We overcame the talk that we were 1-5 in the region."
Richards’ contributions were significant – he scored a career-high six points in limited minutes and altered several shots – but so was the return of starting forward Eli Brown who missed the past four games with an injury. Central had missed Brown’s defense and shooting.
Brown helped the Bulldogs gradually whittle a 13-point deficit in the third quarter. He scored seven straight points – two free throws, a 3-pointer and a put-back layup – in Central’s 13-1 run to close the third quarter that cut Kell’s lead to 45-44.
When Kell answered Richards’ big turn-around shot with a 3-pointer by Kendrick Summerour (17 points), it was Brown who answered right back with a 3 of his own to give Central the lead 49-48.
"It’s good to have Eli back," Dirst said. "He’s just an active player."
But a variety of factors contributed to Central’s much-needed win. There was Jones’ aggressiveness to the basket that led to a game-high 22 points to go along with 11 rebounds. There was the Bulldogs’ defense on Kell standout Matt Bryant who was limited to just two points. There was Central’s defensive adjustment on J.T. Turner who made four 3-pointers in the second quarter but none in the second half. There was Josiah Laws’ presence inside where he had 11 rebounds, three blocked shots and three steals.
"Anybody on any night can beat anybody," Dirst said. "I hope they can use [the win] as a spring board and just prove to themselves that when they get down they can still come back."