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Six years ago, Josh Richardson was sure he’d become a doctor. Now, he’s a burgeoning NBA star

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DETROIT – Josh Richardson is living an NBA fairytale.

He was a middling recruit out of high school, spent four seasons at Tennessee then got picked in the second round. Just three years later, he’s a budding star with a life-changing contract.

It’s probably uncoincidental his rise came in Miami. The Heat are renowned for their environment, where underappreciated hard-working players get in great shape and develop their skills. In Miami, Hassan Whiteside became the first player in NBA history to go from a minimum salary one year to a max salary the next. In Miami, undrafted Tyler Johnson earned a contract so large, he threw up when he first heard about it. In Miami, Udonis Haslem has had one of the longest careers ever for an undrafted player.

“We just want to invest everything we have with our guys – all of our experiences, all of our time, all of our love, all of our tough love – to be able to develop and put guys in the program and help them become whoever they’ve dreamed about becoming,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “And if that sounds crazy to people on the outside, we love those kinds of dreams.”

But this wasn’t Richardson’s dream. Not even close.

He was set on becoming an orthopedic surgeon.

Growing up, Richardson attended forums and seminars on medicine. He learned more about the field, even sat in on a surgery and met kids who shared his interest. His determination to become a doctor intensified.

He earned a basketball scholarship to Tennessee, but he focused on his pre-med classes.

“I was kind of there to get my undergrad paid for, so I could keep it moving,” Richardson said.

Richardson lived with Jordan McRae, the Volunteers’ star player. McRae frequently went to bed early to wake up early and work out. Richardson stayed up later doing homework, fighting off sleepiness, then went to class early in the morning.

Richardson doesn’t remember precisely what sparked it. He figures he was probably joking around when he shouldn’t have been. But Richardson still recalls then-Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin “freaked out on me” in front of everyone during practice Richardson’s junior year.

“You could be so good!” Richardson remembered Martin saying. “You don’t take anything serious!”

That stuck with Richardson. After talking to people close to him, he switched into easier classes to allow more time for basketball. He trained with McRae and improved significantly. Richardson gradually became a viable NBA prospect.

But when the Heat drafted him No. 40 in 2015, Richardson still looked like a limited 3-and-D player – if everything worked out.

Now, Richardson serves as Miami’s offensive focal point, defends the opponent’s best wing and plays 35 minutes per game. His all-around positives are hard to come by and reflected in his per-game averages – 21.4 points, 4.4 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 1.1 blocks and 1.0 steals.

Richardson could contend for Most Improved Player. He has accepted more offensive responsibility, cut down on long 2s in favor of more efficient shots and maintained his impressive defense amid a greater workload.

The biggest flaw in his case: He was already pretty good.

Few realized it, though. When Goran Dragic was named an All-Star last season, Richardson was actually the Heat’s best player.

But Richardson’s underrated status last year will help him with voters. So will his big boost in scoring average, which tends to have an outsized influence on this award. Richardson’s points-per-game increase from his previous career high (12.9 to 21.4) is one of the NBA’s highest:

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The Heat obviously believed in Richardson, but did they envision him becoming this good?

“We never want to put a ceiling on anybody,” Spoelstra said. “When he first came in, no, I didn’t necessarily see him as this.”

The next question: How much has Miami’s valuation of Richardson changed since even this season began?

With the Timberwolves focused on the Heat in Jimmy Butler trade talks, Josh Richardson moved to the forefront of discussions. Minnesota wanted him. Miami didn’t want to give him up. Eventually, the Heat offered him to the Timberwolves, and Richardson even thought a deal would be completed. But the trade fell through.

Now, there are questions whether Miami would still deal Richardson for Butler.

Richardson is four years younger than Butler. Richardson is just starting a four-year contract extension worth nearly $42 million, extremely team-friendly terms. Butler will become an unrestricted free agent next summer and will seek a five-year max contract projected to be worth $190 million over five years, a scary cost for someone with his mileage. Butler is better, but Richardson is closing the gap in his breakout season.

Butler remains in Minnesota and on the trade block, leaving plenty of uncertainty for the Heat. Richardson says he sometimes checks on trade rumors, but he tries to remain focused on his job, which isn’t in the front office.

“I’ve always kind of stayed in my lane,” Richardson.

Still? The former pre-med student who was content as a college-basketball defensive specialist and is now thriving in the NBA beyond imagination?

“I still know my limits a lot of the time,” Richardson said. “But I don’t really put limits on it on the court anymore.”

Giannis Antetokounmpo put on a show against Italy in World Cup tune-up (VIDEO)

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NBA defenses cannot stop MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo.

So imagine what happens in an international game against lesser athletes and defenders.

Actually, you don’t have to imagine. Here are some highlights.

Antetokounmpo scored 18 points and pulled down eight rebounds 19 minutes of play, and Greece cruised to an 83-63 win. (Danilo Gallinari did not suit up for Italy in this one but will be on their World Cup roster.)

USA vs. Spain notebook: Celtics fans should like what they see

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — After listening to how defections had left Team USA weak and vulnerable, the Americans came out with a chip on their shoulder Friday night, played strong defense, showed they have plenty of athleticism and skill, and handled Spain 90-81 in a game that was not really that close.

Here are some other notes from Friday night’s exhibition game at the Honda Center (usually the home of the NHL’s Ducks)

Donovan Mitchell, who led Team USA with 13 points, summed up the feelings of the guys who did make a commitment to USA Basketball this summer:

“Me, I’m 22, some guys are older and got to rest their bodies and I understand that… For me, I’ve never been part of USA Basketball and I’m honored to be here, I’m honored to have this privilege to go out and compete.”

Marcus Smart was in street clothes and did not play on Friday night. Thursday at team practice he took part in some shooting drills but not the scrimmages or anything with contact. He continues to try to come back from a calf injury and make the World Cup roster.

• Smart said during the broadcast Friday that he is “100 percent confident” he will be back on the court with the team.

• Good news for Celtics fans: Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown both played well within the team concept, cutting off the ball and attacking when they had the chance. There was a comfort level and confidence with their games that was good to see again.

Tatum, in particular, made good decisions with the ball all night long, found teammates as cutters when defenders came to him, and seemed to do an improved job playing through contact (something he worked on this summer, and if FIBA ball they let more contact go so he needs it).

Kemba Walker‘s hesitation moves are just unfair.

• The USA’s starters were Harrison Barnes, Khris Middleton, Donovan Mitchell, Mason Plumlee, Kemba Walker.

• To start the second half, Myles Turner got the nod over Plumlee at center. Just a hunch on my part, but Turner is going to have some breakout games for the USA in China.

• Speaking of Myles Turner, this was the Tweet of the night.

• Of the three centers on the roster, Brook Lopez got the fewest minutes by a considerable margin. Lopez is considered a lock to make the roster, this may have been coach Gregg Popovich and staff wanting to get a longer look at Plumlee and Turner in game action (especially against NBA bigs on the Spanish side in Marc Gasol and Juancho Hernangomez). Not sure all three USA centers make the final roster cut.

• Middleton was the best player on Team USA Friday night. He always seems to make the right decision with the ball in his hands.

• This is Southern California, and the Laker fans were out in force. The Honda Center echoed with “Kuuuz” chants every time Lakers’ forward Kyle Kuzma touched the ball.

• Kuzma is considered one of the guys on the bubble to make the team, but he had a strong game on the boards and finished with seven points and five rebounds.

• In the third quarter, the USA rebounder passed ahead to Kuzma in transition, who pushed it up the wing but pulled up and went to the corner because Marc Gasol was back in the paint. As he pulled it out Kuzma found Derrick White as a trailer on break and threw him a pass, White got into the lane and hit an easy floater. When that happened, Popovich stood up and pointed at Kuzma and then Pop pointed at his head, acknowledging and loving the smart play by the Laker.

That was a sign of a maturing of Kuzma’s game, something the Lakers will need this season — and why playing for Popovich this summer is so good for him.

• You can see why Daryl Morey and the Rockets like Serio Llull — the 2017 EuroLeague MVP just knows how to play the game and is well rounded. Houston has Llull’s rights and have tried to lure him to the NBA, but he’s been happy playing for Real Madrid and so far has decided to stay in Spain.

DeMar DeRozan — a gold medalist with Team USA in the Rio Olympics — was in the arena with his children watching the action. Remember he plays for Popovich and the Spurs now (and is a SoCal native).

• In the final minute of a decided game, Team USA had a sloppy offensive possession then lost guys in transition leading to a Marc Gasol three. Popovich called a timeout with 53.4 seconds left to let his team hear about it. There was no chill.

Andrew Wiggins reportedly had shoes, luggage burglarized in Los Angeles

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Like many NBA players, Andrew Wiggins is in Los Angeles this summer working out, practicing against other elite talent, and generally enjoying the summer in the unofficial off-season destination for NBA players.

Wiggins, however, got burglarized — including having his rented SUV stolen. TMZ had the story.

Former No. 1 overall pick Andrew Wiggins was burglarized in Los Angeles … and TMZ Sports has learned the thieves made off with the NBA star’s shoes and luggage…

But, we’re told cops described the scene as “amateur hour” … because the burglars left jewelry and other valuables in the heist, and only took about $1,000 worth of the stuff instead.

We’re told the thieves stole a pair of Wiggins’ casual Nikes and his luggage — and also made off with his rental SUV Escalade. But, we’re told authorities were able to locate the vehicle a short time later.

While the car was found, his shoes and luggage have not been, and there have yet to be any arrests. As anyone who has been burglarized can tell you (*raises hand*) the items stolen are rarely recovered and returned, that stuff tends to be in the wind.

With Jimmy Butler gone, Minnesota heads into this season trying to highlight Karl-Anthony Towns and find a second star to go next to him (they went hard after D'Angelo Russell this summer but did not get him). Wiggins has not been that guy as the Timberwolves had hoped, but with his massive max contract that still has four years remaining Wiggins is nearly impossible to trade. That leaves Ryan Saunders with the task of finding out how to get as much as he can out of Wiggins nightly.

USA shows it still has plenty of talent, athleticism, in 90-81 exhibition win against Spain

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — For the past month, whenever anyone mentioned USA Basketball, the talk was about who decided not to suit up this summer — James Harden, Anthony Davis, etc. Everyone wanted to talk about who Team USA did not have and how much trouble the team was in.

It’s time to move on from that topic.

The United States doesn’t just have the most talented players in the world, it has the deepest talent pool. And it’s not even close.

That was on full display Friday night — this version of Team USA still had more than enough talent and skill to comfortably handle Spain, one of the world’s better squads and a medal contender at the upcoming World Cup in China.

The United States picked up a 90-81 confidence-boosting win in its first test, an exhibition game it led by double digits most of the way. After the game, Spanish coach Sergio Scariolo reminded everyone the USA was the “best team in the tournament” and that he wanted to measure his team against this squad now as a learning experience.

The USA will now head to Australia — with 14 players, not making any roster cuts (they need to eventually get to 12) — for a series of exhibition games. From there it’s on to China for the World Cup, with the American’s first game coming Sept. 1 against the Czech Republic.

For a young USA team, Friday night’s exhibition was another step along the learning curve. Especially playing against a Spanish team that has played together for years and executes a deep offense at a high level.

“There were a lot of situations we learned from this evening,” USA coach Gregg Popovich said. “The win or the loss is pretty unimportant at this point. It’s about getting better, coming together, learning to execute…

“I was most pleased with us defensively, I thought we did a good job as a new group, communicating with each other. I thought we rebounded well, we haven’t done that well, to date, consistently, I thought we had a good effort on the boards from everybody tonight.”

The USA came out and attacked as well, pushing the ball in transition and getting to the rim whenever they could. Team USA took just 19 threes (hitting 10), but when the Spanish players closed out on the shorter international three-point line the Americans put the ball on the floor and went hard to the rim. Guys cut off the ball as the defense rotated, and that led to some nice plays.

The USA was led by Donovan Mitchell, who had 13 points on 5-of-10 shooting. However, the best player on the floor for the Americans was the Bucks’ All-Star Khris Middleton, who had 12 points on 5-of-7 shooting, three quality assists, played strong defense, and always seemed to make the right decision. Kemba Walker showed off some impressive hesitation moves on his way to 11 points.

“Everybody on this team can score,” Mitchell said. “But we have guys willing to sacrifice to be a defensive player, to rebound, to take charges, to make the little plays. Maybe not play as many minutes but lead from the bench.”

Team USA came opened the game playing with urgency, and using their athleticism both on defense and in transition, something Spain could not match. The Americans also just knocked down their shots. The USA shot 5-of-8 from three and 55.6 percent overall in the first quarter Friday night, while Spain started 2-of-9 from three. The result was a 31-20 lead after one frame, and the USA kept that lead in double digits most of the way.

Spain was led by Marc Gasol‘s 19 points on 13 shots, as well as Ricky Rubio, who had 16 points on 4-of-13 shooting.

A couple of times in the fourth quarter Spain cut the lead to eight, but each time Team USA responded with a run to push the league back to the mid-teens. The fact they handled the adversity well is a good sign for the USA.

“We have a group of guys that are willing to learn, willing to listen to each other and lock in,” Donovan Mitchell said. “It’s easy to come in and say ‘it’s my show’ but we have a lot of guys willing to sacrifice for each other, and you want to be on a team like that.”