By Collin Bolebruch & Liam Sample
Kyle Richardson, alumnus and former Cardinal basketball captain, died last week at the age of 28. The loss weighs heavy over the heads of the SUNY Plattsburgh community and students both current and former.
The 2017 graduate started his collegiate career at Millersville University. He played two seasons at MU before coming to the North Country. The move was cross-divisional as Millersville is a Division II University.
Richardson’s head coach at Plattsburgh, Tom Curle, explained that he had tried to recruit Richardson while the prospect attended Baldwin Senior High School in Nassau County. During Richardson’s time at Millersville, he came to the realization that Plattsburgh and Division III may have been the better fit for him. According to Curle, Plattsburgh was the only school Richardson considered during his transfer. Curle claimed that Richardson’s father wanted him to be a Cardinal all along.
At Richardson’s official campus visit, future teammate Ezra Hodgson sat with him and his family. Hodgson spoke of Richardson’s eager yet reserved nature.
Plattsburgh’s Multicultural Student Success Coach and basketball alumnus Travis Gorham soon became a friend to Richardson. Throughout his transition to the new school, Gorham offered to be someone that he could reach out to.
“Whenever I would talk to [Richardson], he would be on his way to the gym or coming from the gym and always with an infectious smile on his face,” Gorham said. “That is what I will remember most about Kyle.”
Once Richardson got on the court, his game did the talking for him. Richardson’s coaches and teammates immediately took notice of his abilities.
“I remember thinking that the thing we really had to work with him on is just, ‘you’re not just good, you can be great. You can be one of the best. You could be the best in the league,’” Curle said. “When you get to the rim, you have to go with a purpose that nobody is going to stop [you] and once he made that realization, his athleticism really took over.”
In 2014-15, his first year at Plattsburgh, Richardson did not start for the Cardinals and was mainly utilized off the bench. He averaged 19.7 minutes and 5.6 points per game, both career highs.
Richardson brought more than pure basketball ability to the court. His former teammates testify to his leadership and humble attitude. Richardson was someone who truly cared about his teammates’ success in the sport and in life.
During his first year at Plattsburgh, first-year walk-on, and later roommate of Richardson, Majic Grigg, joined the team. Just like Richardson, Grigg was fighting to leave his mark on the team. Regardless of potential competition that could have arisen between the players, Richardson made sure Grigg was taken care of.
“He put a lot into this craft and he showed me a lot about how to work, how to become a better player,” Grigg said. “Mind you, I walked on, so I was definitely looking for leadership and he was able to give it to me.”
Grigg highlighted Richardson’s competitiveness, saying he always wanted everyone to get better and made sure his teammates were doing the right things in practice.
Another teammate, Owen Mitchell, told a story about Richardson’s leadership off the hardwood. Going into Richardson’s senior year, first-year Matt Fields joined the team. Fields was having trouble adjusting to the transition and felt down on himself. Richardson sat Fields down and lent a helping hand where it was needed.
Richardson, who didn’t know Fields well at the time, helped to instill the confidence that Fields needed to be a college athlete.
Mitchell said that Richardson took Fields under his wing and told him, “we all want you here.”
His leadership and desire to get better paid off. Richardson’s senior year was one of the greatest single seasons in Plattsburgh basketball history. He averaged 19.9 points and 10.5 rebounds per game while shooting 31.6% from three. Richardson notched a career-high 36 point double-double at Skidmore College.
“He never cheated the game. When you saw him play out there, he never rested. He was never taking a possession off, played really very hard,” former women’s basketball head coach Cheryl Cole said. “He was a disciplined kid. He was a kid that did it the right way.”
Richardson’s efforts in his last season were recognized. He was named to the NABC All-American first team, All-SUNYAC first team and SUNYAC All-Tournament team, on top of being awarded D3hoops All-East Player of the Year and SUNYAC Player of the Year. That season, Plattsburgh was eliminated in the second round of the SUNYAC Championship as the No.1 seed.
Years later, after graduating from Plattsburgh, Richardson was named to the SUNYAC All-Decade team.
Although the team ducked out in the conference playoffs, it still received an at-large bid to the NCAA Division III Championship. Plattsburgh was eliminated in the first round. In that game, the Cardinals played Fitchburg State and lost 81-84. Richardson led the team in points with 26 and in rebounds with 15.
“That was one of the most fun Plattsburgh State basketball teams that I can remember, and he was a big part of it,” former classmate and Plattsburgh media member Joey LaFranca said.
LaFranca added that it was difficult reporting for the Cardinals at the time because it was hard to stay neutral when Richardson made it easy to root for him and the team.
During this time, Richardson did not let the success and accomplishments get to his head. He maintained the same humility and hard-working attitude as his first-year with the team.
Mitchell was matched up with Richardson in practice all year long. Later in the season, Richardson told him that Mitchell guarded tougher than most did in the conference. Mitchell, who was coming off the bench at the time, said Richardson’s thinking highly of his defense meant a great deal to him.
“Kyle [Richardson] had confidence in his abilities, but never stepped into arrogance,” Mitchell said.
As with most college teams, the men’s basketball players are required to participate in multiple community service events over the course of a season.
“Some of us wake up on Saturday and you’re like, ‘alright, we have to go do this,’” Hodgson said. “[Kyle Richardson] was always excited. He was always excited to go do that, to see the kids, to be a part of these charity organizations and give back.”
Curle echoed Richardson’s commitment to doing good. He talked about the Gerney family, who supported the college program. A member of the Gerney family, Greg, has Down syndrome. During Curle’s time with the team, Greg Gerney “loved” the team. Richardson and teammate Xavier Thomas “took a lead” with Greg Gerney and “made him a part of the team.”
Richardson’s acts of kindness followed him into the classroom, where he studied as a public relations major. As a part of the program, Richardson participated in the year-long Campaigns course. The class immerses students in running their own hands-on campaign for a real-world client.
Richardson was assigned to work with North Country Honor Flight, a branch of a national program that brings war veterans to visit Washington D.C. Instructor of the course, professor Colleen Lemza, noted the relationship between Richardson and North Country Honor Flight Executive Director Barrie Finnegan.
Finnegan, a fan of Cardinal basketball, was thrilled to be working with a player. Lemza noticed a bond that had formed between the two.
“Kyle [Richardson]’s piece [of the project], because of Barrie’s love of basketball and because of [Kyle’s] position on the team, created an Honor Guard veterans salute at a home basketball game,” Lemza said. “Kyle [Richardson] just really got into it. I think it really made a difference in his life that these [older] veterans were at the basketball game and the entire team, the cheerleaders, and the audience and everybody [did] an Honor Guard salute to all of our veterans.”
The team presented a $650 check to North Country Honor Flight at the game. Richardson and Curle physically handed the check to Finnegan during the pre-game ceremony.
Lemza regularly worked with Richardson over the duration of the school year. She remarked that he was a “gentle soul.”
“The kid was always smiling. He was an incredibly gentle, soft spoken person,” Lemza said. “He was never grumpy or mad.”
LaFranca, a member of the same class, shared much of the same sentiment.
“[The] genuine nature that he had, it was consistent, it never wavered and that’s what sticks out the most about him,” LaFranca said. “He was just a good person and more so than anything else, he was somebody that when people interacted with him, his positivity radiated to other people.”
While Richardson appeared to be shy to his professors or classmates, many of his teammates saw another side of him off the court. Grigg described Richardson as a “clown.”
Grigg said that Richardson was known by some teammates as the team barber. Secretly, he cut teammates,’ friends’ and his own hair in his apartment during his time upstate. According to a social media post by Késean Joseph, Richardson kept the operation under the radar because he thought “the line to the apartment will be out the door.”
“He had me with a couple decent cuts and a few bad cuts,” Grigg said. “We called them ‘Kyle’s Cuts’ man. He was cutting hair every day.”
Hodgson told a story of his own, describing a time the team was hanging out and Richardson had spilled a drink on his shorts. Richardson embraced the spill, made no attempt to clean it up and continued to “let it rock.”
“He was a really funny kid and just didn’t take himself seriously,” Hodgson said. “But he cared a lot.”
For the 2016-17 season, Richardson stayed on campus but had already used his four years of athletic eligibility. Richardson joined Curle’s coaching staff to remain a member of the team. He spent one season as a Student Assistant Coach before graduating in 2017.
From the moment he stepped off campus, Richardson was established as a Cardinal legend. Many remembered him for his basketball abilities, but a select few got to know and love the other side of him.
In the years since, Richardson went on to be an Admissions Representative for SUNY Plattsburgh in New York City. According to Michele Carpentier, assistant vice president for enrollment and student success, director of special programs and friend of Richardson, he brought up groups of students to visit the campus. She said that Richardson “was a great ambassador for Plattsburgh State.”
Richardson later worked toward and was “excited” about getting his real estate license, Hodgson claimed in a social media post.
“I can’t stress how important it is to be present in people’s lives, especially the people you care about,” Hodgson said. “It’s easy to lose touch with people who were once really important to you.”
Grigg invoked a similar message, especially to his former teammates.
“I think as a group, as a collective, we’re starting to understand that as brothers we need to tap into each other more,” Grigg said.
Richardson was a student who knew that doing good would bring good upon him. He pushed himself and his teammates to not just be better players, but better people. Despite his quiet temperament, his actions as a person were, in Grigg’s words, “larger than life.” He understood his status on campus, and he only used it to benefit others in the community. His loss will be felt across the SUNY Plattsburgh family.
“We were on the sideline and we were just talking, I would give him a little bit of advice on how to be a great leader and how he could just take over the SUNYAC,” Gorham said. “I was just telling him, ‘Look man, the sky’s the limit. Don’t be content with the banners on the wall. Be sure to go get your own banner and put it up there.’”