Until Tuesday, the enduring image of Emanuel “Book” Richardson’s Arizona basketball career probably involved a hug. A backslap. An extended handshake. Fist bump.
Love, in whatever form.
Everybody liked Richardson, it appeared, whether it was Arizona players, high school coaches, fellow staffers or even rival coaches.
The 44-year-old assistant coach “prided” himself “on being a people’s guy,” according to the federal complaint that stopped Richardson’s career cold on Tuesday morning.
The longtime assistant to Sean Miller, who joined Miller at Xavier in 2007 after running a prominent New York travel team, is accused in a bribery investigation federal officials unveiled Tuesday.
While the UA said Richardson wasn’t fired but was “immediately suspended and relieved of all duties,” his arrest on federal criminal charges likely means a sudden end to the ties Richardson fostered among current and future UA players alike.
A native of New York who shortened his grandmother’s nickname of “pocketbook” — given because he rummaged around her belongings as an 8-month-old — Richardson was the major force behind an East Coast recruiting pipeline that particularly helped Miller flush out his early Arizona rosters in 2009-12.
Among others, Richardson played a major role in helping Miller land Kevin Parrom, Lamont “MoMo” Jones, Mark Lyons, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Kobi Simmons and Rawle Alkins.
When announcing he would play for Arizona during an interview on ESPN in March 2016, Alkins put it this way:
It’s about “really the relationship I have with coach Sean Miller and coach Book.”
The ability to develop that sort of bond with recruits was apparent soon after Richardson moved over with Miller to Arizona in April 2009 — and Bronx native Kevin Parrom decided he wanted to tag along, too, despite his Xavier commitment.
Later that spring, New York guard MoMo Jones flipped from USC to Arizona, too. While NCAA allegations also prompted Derrick Williams to flip from USC to Arizona that spring, the fact that Jones would seek to play on a staff that included Richardson was no surprise.
Jones had been particularly close to Richardson since his stepdad was shot and killed when Jones was just 8. Jones never knew his biological father, either.
“He’s more my son than a godson,” Richardson said of Jones.
Richardson could also use his enthusiasm to sell New Yorkers on Arizona, something he unknowingly did even as a travel team coach back in 2007, when he took the New York Gauchos to McKale Center, where they won the Cactus Classic recruiting showcase.
“This is a great place to be,” Richardson said after that tournament.
“Great tradition, great history. I tell my guards, ‘If you’re good enough, well, look up in the rafters — they got (banners for) Salim Stoudamire, Damon Stoudamire, Mike Bibby, Jason Terry, Miles Simon, Khalid Reeves, who’s from New York, and Steve Kerr. So when you talk about guards, well, this is Guard U.’”
After joining the UA staff less than two years later, Richardson reflected on that statement.
“I never would have guessed in a million years, I’d be at Arizona,” Richardson said.
“I told my guys (at the 2007 event) something that was heartfelt — just appreciate the court, and have an understanding of what Arizona has done over the past two decades. That’s difficult to do. Those kids have come through here with a machine that is rolling. This is a big ol’ (Cadillac) Escalade.”
With Miller, Richardson helped build the Arizona basketball machine back up after two years under interim coaching staffs in 2007-08 and 2008-09, and has been a recruiting mainstay ever since, although he missed part of the 2013-14 season because of what the UA called a “health-related” leave of absence.
Especially in Miller’s first few years, the Wildcats relied on a largely bicoastal recruiting strategy, with Richardson paving the way out East.
“I definitely think it’s about relationships,” New York-based recruiting analyst Adam Zagoria told the Star just before Parrom committed in 2009. “Arizona wasn’t really on the radar out here until the coaching change.
“Book Richardson has a ton of connections in the New York area from his coaching days, and those should benefit Arizona eventually.”
Added then-Fox Sports analyst Jeff Goodman, now of ESPN: “I think Book is the key there, because he’s so in with those kids. … Book is a huge factor, and Book’s been able to get Sean in front of the right people.”
Dwayne “Tiny” Morton, then the coach at Brooklyn’s Lincoln High School, said after Richardson was hired that he had a reputation for hard work, building relationships and trustworthiness.
“He never said he’d do anything that he didn’t do,” Morton said.
On Aug. 30, Richardson told two agents and an undercover FBI official that he would direct some current UA players to sign with them for professional representation, according to the federal complaint unveiled Tuesday.
Less than a month later, it’s clear Richardson won’t get a chance to fulfill that promise.