OVERLAND PARK, Kan. - Ben Richardson can't imagine his senior year at Loyola ending like the careers of so many athletes who's college playing days were abruptly halted by the coronavirus pandemic.
"It’s heartbreaking," Richardson said from his home in Overland Park, Kansas. "I’ve thought a lot about it since I was hearing things could get canceled. I was like 'there’s no way they could cancel March Madness.' I just couldn’t see it. They’d have to play without fans. I was shocked when they made the announcement."
Richardson's collegiate playing days ended after a storybook run in the 2018 NCAA Tournament. Two years ago today, March 24, 2018, in Atlanta, Richardson had the game of his life, scoring 24 points, including 6 of 7 three-pointers, to lift Loyola to a 78-62 win over Kansas State, and clinch the program's first Final Four berth in 55 years.
"I’ve gotten a lot of texts and people sending me video clips over last few weeks," Richardson said. "There’s a big gap in people’s lives including mine. It’s been kind of nice to reminisce on things like that, especially this year without a tournament. People like to look back at the great moments and the Loyola run was one of those great moments, the fourth 11-seed to make the Final Four. I’ve enjoyed hearing from people I haven’t heard from in a while."
He misses watching the tournament, and believes the sports void will make people appreciate what they had even more.
"It’s always fun to look back on all of that. Without [the tournament] you’re seeing how much people are missing it and when it comes back, it’ll come back in a big way."
Richardson world's flipped on its axis two weeks ago while playing professionally for BK Kolin in Czech Republic. He was getting ready for a game on March 13 when news of the American sports leagues shutting down, and then ultimately the cancelation of the NCAA tournament, became public.
"It went from a normal day and then we quickly realized the gravity of the situation. From there it went, ‘What’s going to happen with our league?'”
Richardson and his agent worked with the club to coordinate travel back to the U.S. But working against him were travel bans instituted by the Czech government and the U.S. European travel ban. He had two flight bookings canceled, but finally flew to London Sunday, March 15, before connecting to Chicago.
"I got back to Kansas City the next day," Richardson said. "I was glad I made it, but it was definitely a high anxiety, stressful 48 hours.”
The 24 year old is on day eight of self quarantine, and doing his best to keep his sanity.
"I’ve been looking at the walls thinking what should I do today?” Richardson said. "That’s one of the hard things. I just got home from being in Europe the whole year, I got a lot of people I want to see, things I want to do. Bittersweet being back home and not living the normal life I live when I come back home."
Richardson has been hanging out with his dog and his parents and working out in his basement. With his season overseas done, he's currently a free agent, with an uncertain future.
"I’m out of my contract. Who knows how long until the next season starts. At this point I’m wondering when basketball will start again, when we’ll have sports again, and I can get another contract. I’ll do what I can to stay ready and I’m obviously hoping things return to normal, and by August, I’ll be heading back out with a new contract to wherever they have a league going and wherever it’s safe."