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Heading into the 2016 NCAA tournament, Syracuse wasn’t viewed as a threat to win the national title. The Orange were one of college basketball’s top teams, but still only garnered a No. 11 seed. They were basically on nobody’s radar.
But then-freshman Malachi Richardson had other ideas. He led Syracuse on an unexpected run to the Final Four, scoring 23 points in an Elite Eight win. As can be the case during March Madness, Richardson’s draft stock soared.
The 6-foot-6 shooting guard was drafted by the Charlotte Hornets with the No. 22 overall pick, then traded to the Sacramento Kings a couple weeks later.
“Going into college we never sat down and said alright, after my freshman year we’re going to leave and go to the NBA,” Richardson told Amico Hoops.
But Richardson declared for the draft and still cherishes the experience.
“Just going through the draft process, being in the green room, it was crazy,” he said. “It’s definitely hard to explain and it’s something I definitely wish I could do over again.”
Richardson spent a season and a half in Sacramento, appearing in 47 games. He did not get a large opportunity in terms of playing time, but he showed flashes of the player he was at Syracuse and learned a lot from the veterans around him.
“It was crazy knowing that I was with guys like DeMarcus Cousins, Matt Barnes, Rudy Gay, Darren Collison, Aaron Afflalo, Ty Lawson,” Richardson said.
Coming into the NBA at just 19-years-old, many were players Richardson had watched as a kid. That was especially true of Lawson. The speedy point guard was someone Richardson grew up watching when Lawson was at Oak Hill Academy. The two stay in touch today.
The Kings traded Richardson to the Toronto Raptors in 2018, when he joined a contending team that featured the likes of Kyle Lowry and DeMar Derzon.
“It was a winning culture,” Richardson said.
Richardson remained with the Raptors for half of last season. While he was not a member of the latest NBA champions, he was around All-Star Kawhi Leonard and the team for a large portion of the regular season.
“With (Leonard), he’s more of a show-and-you-watch kind of guy,” Richardson said. “Just his work habits. He’d be the first one in the gym, always doing his treatment, always getting his on-court work.”
While Richardson has had some great experiences in the NBA, learning from some of the game’s greats, he’s yet to be given a larger role. In 70 career games, he has averaged just 8.9 minutes.
This upcoming season he is going to Israel to play for Hapoel Holon in the Israeli Premier League.
“I think I just have to show teams who I am,” Richardson said. “Just being able to go and play and just showing, ‘OK, this is why he was a first-round pick.'”
Richardson is still just 23-years old — the same age as plenty of second-year NBA players.
He doesn’t know much about Israel as a country, but is doing his research. He knows other players in the league where he’ll be playing.
His primary goal will be to prove himself all over again and to show improvement. In Israel, Richardson will have the chance to carry the offense and to get some minutes, and play a main role similar to the one he played in college.
Basically, there was a reason Richardson was drafted when and where he was, and he is banking on the idea that his latest shot will show the NBA that he truly belongs.