The moment itself was surreal. Senior Night at Matthew Knight Arena 2022 had concluded with a shocking 70-69 defeat to the USC Trojans, and Oregon’s last-gasp NCAA Tournament hopes had taken perhaps a fatal blow.
Still, win or lose, the Oregon Seniors were to be acknowledged for their efforts and leadership, and among them, only one had begun his collegiate career in Eugene.
Will Richardson, a staple on the team since the 2019 squad made their incredible run to the Big Dance, stood on the floor under the spotlight for what many believed would be the final time. With no family there to celebrate the moment with him, Richardson’s teammates surrounded him in a group hug.
This was a young man who had compiled over 1,000 points in a Duck uniform and taken over at the helm after the departures of guards Peyton Pritchard and Chris Duarte, and yet there he stood, with his forehead bandaged from a collision, suffering from mono, and having just missed a potential game-winning shot on a night when he scored 2 point
shot 0-8 from the field and 0-4 from 3-point range.
After all the great games and accomplishments he’d turned in over the past four seasons, to go out like this just felt…wrong.
After the announcement earlier this month that Richardson had withdrawn his name from the NBA Draft and decided to run it back with the green and yellow, however, there is now an opportunity for a much more fitting ending to an impressive career in the Willamette Valley.
Richardson’s return seemed to be cause enough for former Oregon commit Dior Johnson to bolt, although Johnson’s track record indicated he may well have done so anyway.
But Oregon will hardly be depleted in the back court. Tyrone Williams, the leading Junior College scorer in the nation who shot 44% from 3-point range will be coming in alongside Colorado transfer Keeshawn Barthelemy, who also averaged double-digits in scoring.
Add that to returning big man N’Faly Dante, forward Quincy Guerrier (who also withdrew from the NBA Draft), and 5-star freshman Kel’el Ware and the Ducks obviously have enough firepower for a run at the conference title and NCAA Tournament.
The question for Richardson is, in his 5th and final season, can he finally become the consistent leader Oregon has been lacking since the departures of Pritchard and Duarte?
Although Richardson posted career-highs in 2022 and turned in some memorable performances, the consistency has been lacking and he never seemed very comfortable being “the guy” on the court.
With his abilities and experience, channeling that leader role will not only help him cement his name in Oregon lure, but will also take the team a lot farther and give him an opportunity at the ending he deserves.