CHARLOTTE, N.C. Jason Richards glanced around the posh NBA practice facility Tuesday and saw Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown barking out instructions and Michael Jordan watching from the sidelines.
For an instant, the former Davidson point guard let himself soak in the past four life-altering months.
"It's been a blast," Richards said after the predraft workout with the Charlotte Bobcats. "Who would have thought when I was younger that I'd be working out for an NBA team and in front of Michael Jordan, too?"
But that was before Richards played the supporting role to star Stephen Curry in one of the NCAA tournament's most unlikely and captivating stories. With Richards finding the sweet-shooting Curry at the right spots and making few mistakes, the unheralded Wildcats upset Gonzaga, Georgetown and Wisconsin before coming within a missed 3-pointer of the Final Four.
That missed shot: Richards' 25-footer bounced off the rim at the buzzer in the Midwest Regional final, allowing eventual national champion Kansas to hold on to a 59-57 win.
"When I go to these workouts they ask about the shot and it comes back to my head," Richards said. "But it's pretty much out of my head right now."
Richards is instead focused on making an NBA roster, a goal that would have drawn chuckles when he was a skinny, lightly recruited high school player from Barrington, Ill.
Even now, after leading the nation in assists at 8.1 per game last season, the road will be difficult. Despite his 13-assist, no turnover performance against Wisconsin in the Midwest Regional semifinal in front of an impressed LeBron James, Richards probably won't be drafted on Thursday.
At a legitimate 6-foot-2, Richards has the size of an NBA point guard. Critics say he's not quick enough to defend speedy, athletic guards on the perimeter and doesn't have the strength to work through screens.
"I'm not going to listen to what people say," said Richards, who's scheduled to work out for Cleveland on Wednesday. "I've been doubted so many times in my career that I just want to prove people wrong."
That attitude, court awareness and drive caught the eye of Brown, who put five other players through Tuesday's audition. Jordan, a part-owner in the team with the final say on draft night, also took in the workout.
"Guys like him are hard to find. He just has a great feel for the game," Brown said. "He's well coached. He's a great kid. He's a better athlete than you think. He'll get a chance. There are a lot of guys like him in our league. I don't see why he doesn't have a chance."
Richards' college coach, Bob McKillop, thinks he has the tools to play in the NBA. McKillop inherited a mistake-prone guard who shot a lot in high school, helped him become a starting point guard after two years as a backup, then watched him become one of college basketball's top floor leaders.
"I think he has the emotional and the mental and the physical capabilities of helping an NBA team out," McKillop said. "He has to have the right fit, and by fit it has to be a need that that particular team has. It also has to be a coach that values the kind of talents, attributes and qualities that Jason would lend to a team."
If Richards isn't drafted, he'll likely be invited to play in an NBA summer league. That could lead to a training camp invite. If not, Richards intends to play somewhere, probably overseas.
"It's a great opportunity to explore the world and play the game you love," he said.
But Richards wasn't thinking of France or Turkey on Tuesday. He had his eyes on his boyhood dream, the NBA. Yet he knows he has to win over many, and perhaps they're the same people who had Davidson losing in the first round in their NCAA bracket.
"I'm a true point guard," Richards said. "There are a lot of combo guards in the draft and the league. I think having a true point that can run the offense and not turn the ball over and get the ball to the guys that can score, I think that's what they're looking for.
"I think that's why they brought me in and I think I did a good job showing that today."