MILWAUKEE - Accustomed to sacrifice and uncertainty, Timberwolves rookie Chris Richard didn't clean out his ears or hesitate when he sat for the first 52 minutes of Friday's preseason game at Indiana and then was summoned onto the court with 45 seconds left in overtime.
Wolves coach Randy Wittman called on Richard unexpectedly, wanting to test the second-round draft pick from Florida in a pressure situation. Richard delivered a buzzer-beating tip-in that forced a second overtime and a blocked shot with 16 seconds remaining to ensure a 113-110 double-overtime victory, the team's first victory in four games against NBA opponents.
"That's what a professional does," Wittman said. "He just grew up right there."
Richard, a 6-9, 255-pound power forward, left high school as Florida's Mr. Basketball and accepted -- begrudgingly at first -- a complementary role to Corey Brewer, Joakim Noah and Al Horford at Florida that brought him four starts in four years and two NCAA titles. A big fellow who averaged 17 points and 14 rebounds a game in high school, he never approached double figures in any category in college, but he owns two championship rings and a certain peace of mind now that he is searching to find his way in pro ball.
"This transition is a lot easier for me, because I've been through this before," he said.
It took long conversations with his family four years ago before he found acceptance with his place on the Gators.
"It was tough, but I learned and I'm happy I learned from it," Richard said. "I learned patience, man. It was really tough my freshman year, but I'd rather be on that team and do the things I did and win games and championships than be on any other team and start and lose games. I'm not really into that. I want to win games."
Now, he is a second-round pick on a team glutted with players and big guaranteed contracts. But Wittman also suggests that Richard is unique among his teammates because of his size and manner.
"We don't have a lot of bangers," Wittman said. "He's a legitimate banger. He likes contact; he likes to hit people. Those guys are hard to come by these days. This is becoming a little bit of a finesse league, and a guy like that is important to have on your team."
The Wolves need to reduce their roster by Oct. 29 and have limited options other than buying at least one player out of his contract and making a two-for-one player trade, a difficult prospect at best. With the roster already loaded with forwards, Richard could be sent to the NBA development league if it becomes clear he won't play regularly to start the season.
"A lot of different things can happen," Wittman said, hinting that the team could make other decisions to clear space for Richard. "We like Chris. But if it's obvious he's not going to be part of an eight- or nine-man rotation, then it's going to be important for him to play."
Richard has leased a condo in the same downtown Minneapolis building as Brewer, his college pal with whom he still shares a cell-phone plan. He said, as he did at Florida, that he's willing to make whatever sacrifices are required to be a Timberwolf. His way there continued with a timely performance that Wittman said gives him confidence to call on Richard in a tough situation again.
"I didn't really see it coming, but I was ready anyway," Richard said. "I'm always ready. I've been in that situation many a time. Sometimes, it comes out like that. Sometimes, it doesn't.... I'm willing to do whatever they need me to do. I've shown before what I can do."