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Les Willsey

Staff Writer,

Move to Arizona sent Poston Butte's Richard down hoops path

Nov 28, 2012

Poston Butte's Jalen Richard had no idea his family's move to Arizona six years ago would have the impact it has. He's glad it did.

Richard, who was living in Las Cruces, N.M. as a sixth-grader, arrived in Arizona playing two sports equally. After a year in the state he got hooked up with club basketball. It's been upward and onward ever since.

"I grew up playing basketball and soccer and liked both," Richard said. "There were no club (basketball) teams where I was living. When I got to Arizona there were a lot of club teams. I joined one, and it opened my eyes."

A senior in his fourth year at Poston Butte, Richard has emerged as one of the state's best players. The Broncos have reeled off six straight wins to begin the season after going 23-7 a year ago and reaching the Division II quarterfinals. Two weeks ago he signed a letter of intent to play at Santa Clara where he'll take some impressive offensive skills. He credits the club experience and the time spent with his Poston Butte teammates prior to high school for his decision to drift to basketball.

"You see lots of competition playing club," Richard said. "It opened my eyes. Woke me up to how much competition there is. I saw how inexperienced I was. But I'm a competitive person. It was motivation for me to go after basketball."

Richard has played club with one of his best friends, Dobson's Jaron Hopkins. But he's also bonded with fellow Poston Butte squad members, many for four seasons.

"We (Poston Butte teammates) are all best friends," Richard said. "Been together since middle school. We've had two pretty good seasons. It was frustrating we fell short last year."

When Richard enrolled at Poston Butte in 2009-2010 it was the school's first year in operation. They didn't field a varsity team until 2010-2011. Poston Butte coach Noel Nafziger has been with the program since it began and has appreciation for patience with a new program and getting to know that first group of players -- mnany of whom are now seniors. He recalls his first impression of Richard.

"When I first saw him I was struck by what a skinny kid he was," Nafziger said. "But he was a skinny kid who could play."

In his sophomore year (Poston Butte's first varsity campaign), Richard averaged 18.6 points a game. Last year that improved to 21.6 per game. After six games this season he again leads the team in scoring with 26.2 per outing. Richard mostly plays the two, but leads the team in rebounds, assists and blocked shots in the early going.

In Tuesday night's 68-48 win over Higley, Richard displayed calm and patience. He did not force shots. Higley was aggressive in defending him from the perimeter, especially three-point shots. He got off only four shots and made two the first two periods. He still managed 10 points in the opening half. More chances opened up in the second. Shots came easier as did another 10 points in the third quarter. 

"He's never satisfied," Nafziger said. " He's improved his game in some aspect every year. His freshman year he developed a legitimate jump shot. Learned to get to the basket more as a sophomore. Added a post-up game last year. He's hard to guard."

Of Poston Butte's seven losses last season, only two were to D-II opponents -- Queen Creek and a state quarterfinal loss to Betty Fairfax. The Broncos clashed with two D-I opponents last week in the Catalina Hardwood Classic and defeated both -- Dobson, a D-I preseason favorite of some, and Basha (59-57). Narrow wins, but wins nonetheless.

"Against Dobson we came out with nothing to lose," Richard said of the 91-85 victory over the Mustangs, who were without one of their top trio of players (Kodi Justice). "They were No. 1 so we just gave it our best shot. We played like we had a chip on our shoulder."

Richard has served as team leader from his sophomore year to the present, whether equipped for that role or not.

"I think he's always felt he's needed to be a leader," Nafziger said. "He's never had any seniors in front of him. He's been the leader as a sophomore and as junior. I think it feels more comfortable now as a senior."

Richard doesn't have to shoulder the brunt of the offense for Poston Butte. He gets needed support from high-scoring co-captain Kyle Davis, who checks in with 21 points a game. In the win over Higley on Tuesday, fellow starters Josh Garcia, Kaeleb Franken and Parker Anderson combined for 24 points. Nights like that make it hard for opponents to concentrate solely on Richard or Davis.

Nafziger has been thankful having a player of Richard's caliber to inaugurate the program.

"I never saw him kick a soccer ball, but I think he made the right choice with basketball," Nafziger said.