Spotlight turns to Richardson

Overshadowed by a talented cast of teammates during his first three seasons, Aberdeen senior Leandre Richardson is embracing his role as the Eagles' leader.

February 22, 2006|By MARY BETH KOZAK | MARY BETH KOZAK,SUN REPORTER

Aberdeen's Leandre Richardson was content being out of the spotlight and watching his teammates stand center stage for the past three years.

Now as a senior, it is his turn.

"I've been riding people's backs for a long time, and it's time for me to step up and carry on the tradition of Aberdeen basketball," Richardson said.

In his first two seasons, he played alongside Erin Henderson and Phillip Brown. Henderson is playing football at Maryland and Brown is playing basketball at Delaware State.

On last year's Class 2A state finalist team, Richardson was overshadowed by seniors Robbie Jackson and Kashif Brown, his cousin. Jackson, a 7-footer, has recently committed to play basketball at Marshall next year, and Brown was the Harford County Player of the Year and a second-team All-Metro selection last season.

"We usually have some high profile players," Aberdeen coach Richard Hart said. "He always has been willing to take a back seat. He loves playing the game of basketball. ... He's kind of earned the respect that he's gotten."

On receiving more recognition this season, Richardson said: "I like it a lot. I'm not used to it. I was in the background, just grabbing rebounds. I am a team player and I never get mad at things like that. I understood why I wasn't in the spotlight last year and the year before."

Richardson, 6 feet 2, is averaging 17.1 points, 9.5 rebounds, 5.5 assists and 3.5 steals per game this season, and he has played every position on the court.

"In a pinch in a game, I could put him anywhere," said Hart, who is in his eighth season. "He may be the most versatile player I've ever coached."

Richardson has led Aberdeen (13-8) to an 11-0 record in the Upper Chesapeake Bay Athletic Conference Chesapeake Division. The Eagles will put their 29-game winning streak in conference play on the line at 7 tonight against Edgewood in the UCBAC championship game at Harford Tech.

Richardson, who is being recruited by several schools but said he is leaning toward Towson because it's closer to home, said the Eagles are determined to get back to the state finals. This season, they have moved up to Class 3A.

After losing in the Class 2A state final last season to Potomac, the Eagles made T-shirts that said "Unfinished business."

"That's been our motive from tryouts to now," Richardson said. "Every year, they think Aberdeen is done. They say we lost this and lost that, but we are under everybody's radar. I think it's a good thing that everybody doubts us.

Richardson, who is known for his jovial personality, has taken on a leadership role this season and has had to alter his presence on and off the court.

In the locker room during halftime of Aberdeen's game against Edgewood, for example, the Eagles' players were dejected and frustrated. Although the score was tied, the Rams were giving them all they could handle.

The Eagles needed a spark, and Richardson stood up and took control.

He told his teammates: "Calm down. We got it now. We got the jitters out. Let's go out there and do what we have to do." Aberdeen went on to capture a hard-fought, 52-50 victory over its county rival.

Last year in that situation, Richardson would have made jokes to lighten the mood. But this season, he is more focused and mature.

That's not to say that he still doesn't like to have fun when the time is appropriate. His teammates call him "Lee-lee" and say he can place a smile on anyone's face.

"I think I have changed because now I know when I can be funny and when to be serious," said Richardson, an All-County selection last season.

"People are drawn to him," Hart said. "The thing I like about him is that ... he really cares about people and he has a giant heart."

Richardson often can be found singing and creating rap songs in the hallways. Other times, some find him doing impersonations of Hart or assistant coach Mike Jones.

"If you love something, you should have fun with it. Laughter can break a lot of barriers on a team," Richardson said.

marybeth.kozak@baltsun.com

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