Trenton Catholic grad celebrates following NBA draft to Sacramento Kings
By Rich Fisher | Trenton Monitor Correspondent
This season’s much-anticipated National Basketball Association Draft held special significance for members of the Trenton Catholic Academy family when one of its graduates was drafted to the Sacramento Kings.
Malachi Richardson, a 2015 graduate, graced the primetime stage June 23 as the 22nd player to be drafted. The rising star’s Hamilton Township alma mater was undoubtedly “fit for a king” when Richardson paid a special visit June 25 to sign autographs and spend time with faculty and students.
“I’m delighted for Malachi,” said Sister of St. Joseph Dorothy Payne, president of TCA. “He is a wonderful young man who worked extremely hard to get where he is today. He did all the extra things necessary to help him achieve his goal.”
Richardson had a solid, albeit up-and-down freshman campaign playing for Syracuse University and was not being talked about publicly in terms of the draft.
But in the National Collegiate Athletic Association Midwest Region title game, he scored 23 points and sparked a huge second-half comeback as the 10th-seeded Orangemen stunned top-seeded Virginia – a command performance that helped move his team to the Final Four and arguably played a pivotal role in halving his forecasted two-year stay at Syracuse.
Suddenly, Richardson was on the radar.
“Leading up to the Virginia game, he was probably going back to Syracuse,” said Fred Falchi, coach of the TCA Iron Mikes basketball team. “The last 10 minutes of that game just seemed like it changed his life. He became the chatter. And then he went to the (NBA Scouting) Combine, he had a seven-foot wing span, finished Top Five in almost every category. It just happened so fast.”
It seemed fast to most observers, too. But the woman credited with providing the rising star with a solid foundation since childhood – his mom, Jacqui Richardson – knew a tad more than she let on.
“Before the season started, I did think this would be a two-year process,” Jacqui Richardson said. “But during the whole year, I was getting different feedback from the scouts. I just never told him about it because he had to continue to play.”
NBA personnel were asking Richardson’s mother if Malachi would be willing to come out of school early for the draft. Her response was always the same – “let’s see where things stand at season’s end, and we will discuss it.”
“Then it really started to heat up with more teams being interested during the NCAA Tournament,” Jacqui said. “My thought then was that maybe we need to explore this a little bit more.”
After Syracuse fell to North Carolina in the national semifinals, Malachi, Jacqui and agent Stephen Pena quickly decided Malachi should come out in order to get an invite to the combines. The Richardsons trusted Pena, who was recommended by some of Malachi’s friends who are Pena’s clients.
“After he came back from the combines and after talking to the teams and the feedback that we got, we decided this is something we need to do,” Jacqui said.
It was the final leg in pursuit of a lifelong dream. Malachi had set the NBA as a goal since a young age, and his mom helped foster that hope thanks to another “secret” conversation she had.
“We were at an AAU [Amateur Athletic Union] tournament in Atlanta when he was in eighth grade,” she said. “When we got back home, I received a text message – I can’t tell you who it was from but it was a prominent person – and they told me that ‘Your son is going to be a pro.’”
Jacqui kept that secret as well, saying, “I didn’t want him to feel he’d arrived. I wanted him to keep working. I didn’t tell anyone; I just kept it to myself.”
Malachi continued to work and committed to Syracuse as a junior.
During his senior year in TCA, Richardson became the first Mercer County male player to earn McDonald’s All-America status. He was second on the Orange in scoring with a 13.4 average and was third on the team with 79 three-pointers.
“I always remember his senior year, us talking and me telling him to ‘Just enjoy yourself this year because your life is never going to be the same after this year,’” Falchi said. “It’s true now, it’s never gonna be the same. . .in a good way hopefully.”
The big moment occurred when Commissioner Adam Silver announced that with the 22nd pick, the Charlotte Hornets selected Malachi. It was already announced on ESPN that the Hornets pick would go to Sacramento.
“We knew before he was picked, the pick was going to Sacramento,” Jacqui said. “I heard people were saying he was disappointed that Sacramento picked him. He was not disappointed. He was very happy. They were tears of joy…He was definitely not sad with who picked him. He got put in a very good situation.”
Both Falchi and Jacqui said they felt some anxious moments while waiting for Malachi’s name to be called.
“I was really nervous,” she said, recalling that she was sitting in the Green Room. “It’s stressful. He was a little nervous also. There’s a lot of stuff going on behind the scenes people don’t even know about. It wasn’t what I expected.
“And the draft certainly didn’t go the way people expected. The mock draft had him at 17, but it wasn’t going to happen until it actually happened,” Jacqui said. “They said between 17 and 22. Once he didn’t go at 17, we figured he’d go around 22.”
One person who wasn’t worried was 2016 TCA grad Richmond Aririguzoh, a former Richardson teammate who is headed for Princeton University this fall.
“I figured he was going to go 24 or 26 because it seemed like the Sixers were the favorite to pick him,” Aririguzoh said. “I thought it was great when he went. During my career, I’ve interacted with guys that have been to the NBA, and I’ve played maybe a couple of games with them. But I played two whole seasons with this guy, and it was great.
“I knew how he grew up, his work ethic, where he was from. He made the town proud, the school proud. Whoever was associated with him felt incredibly proud of that moment,” Aririguzoh said.
Sister Dorothy was on retreat and unable to watch the draft, but she said she prayed for Malachi the whole time she was away.
She was thrilled for her former TCA student and was pleased to have him return to his alma mater to sign autographs June 25. Richardson left June 27 to play in the Las Vegas Summer League.
“I just told him how proud we were of him and how we expected great things of him and to work hard to do what is right,” Sister Dorothy said.
“I told him to remain grounded and always remember his roots, and where he came from,” she added.
Jacqui Richardson said she has kept her son grounded through the years and hopes he retains those values in California.
“I’m proud that he had a dream and he reached his dream,” she said. “A lot of people don’t get the opportunity to do that.
“I just told him to remain humble,” she said. “Just remain humble, because this can all be taken away. As fast as you received it, it can all be taken away.”