Editor’s Note – The is the fourth in a series of four stories featuring the 2017 inductees into The Times-Gazette Highland County Athletic Hall of Fame. The inductees will be honored, along with nearly 30 high school senior scholar-athletes, at a banquet scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday, June 22 at the Ponderosa Banquet Center in Hillsboro. The public can reserve tickets for the event by calling 937-402-2522.
It was on a netless rim nailed to a barn wall that Andy Richmond taught himself how to play basketball. Before he was done with his career at Lynchburg-Clay some of the biggest names in college basketball visited his home on recruiting trips, and some say he was the greatest basketball player Highland County ever produced.
One of those is Jesse Mount, who has kept the Mustang scorebook for 68 years.
“As far as I’m concerned he’s the best player Lynchburg ever had,” Mount said. “I know a lot of people like Paul Cluxton (a 6-4 guard who broke Richmond’s all-time Lynchburg scoring record), but a lot of them didn’t see Andy play. Cluxton had a lot of good players with him, and Andy didn’t. Now, I won’t deny that Cluxton was a great shooter.”
Jeff Richmond, one of Andy’s seven siblings and eight or nine years younger, said that while Andy taught himself to play basketball, their father instilled one thing in his children that proved invaluable on the court.
“We were brought up that whatever you did, you had to give it your all,” Jeff said. “You don’t back down from nothing. If you’re gonna do it, you do it.”
As far as basketball goes though, Jeff said Andy, a 1970 Lynchburg-Clay graduate, just picked up a ball one day and started playing.
“He just picked it up on his own,” Jeff said. “Dad finally took some 16 penny nails and nailed a hoop to the barn. It didn’t even have a net on it. That’s the way you played.”
Jeff said it wasn’t until his family moved a mile or so away from John Abernathy’s family that Andy started picking up some of the finer points of the game.
John’s son, Gary Abernathy, now the publisher and editor of The Times-Gazette and a 1974 graduate of Lynchburg-Clay, was 12 or 13 years old when Richmond, four grades ahead of him, began coming over to the Abernathy farm located between Fairview and Danville to play basketball with him.
“Andy just lived a couple of miles away, and he would drive over and play basketball on our barnyard court,” said Abernathy. “At the time, to me, it was like Jerry West or Oscar Robertson coming over.”
Abernathy said he knows his father told Andy not to take it easy on him during one-on-one games, despite the age and size difference.
“So Andy draped over me on defense, and I had to be creative to try to score on him,” Abernathy recalled. “But it made me a better basketball player.”
Abernathy said in his opinion, Richmond was the best basketball player ever to play in Highland County.
“For a guy 6’6 or so, he was special. He had a great jump shot with distance. He could easily shoot from 20 feet. Before the 3-point shot, it wasn’t necessary to shoot from distance, so Andy tended to take 10- or 15-footers most of the time. But he had great range. And he was an excellent passer. I remember a lot of games where he would go up for a shot, then dump a pass to Randy Roush or Rick Murray or someone else under the basket for a layup.”
Abernathy said Richmond was a bear under the boards. “He was such a great rebounder,” he said.
Abernathy recalls opposing teams doing everything they could to irritate Richmond.
“They knew he had a temper, so they would pull the hairs on his legs, or give him an extra shove, just hoping to provoke him so the refs would call a technical on him,” Abernathy said.
After he graduated high school, Abernathy played with and against Richmond in local men’s leagues. He recalls some leagues not wanting Richmond to play.
“He was so much bigger and better than everybody, sometimes it didn’t seem fair to the other teams,” he said.
But Jeff said the relationship between the Abernathys and his brother ran even deeper.
“John Abernathy helped him out more than most people thought he did,” Jeff said. “Back then, when you had ball games on a Friday night, you had to dress. You had to have a suit to play. John bought Andy his first suit so Andy could be on the team.”
As Gary Abernathy recalls it, Andy had a suit, but it was too small for him. “Dad just liked Andy a lot and wanted to help out. My uncle, Bill Kibler, chipped in on the suit too. What I remember most is riding to Cincinnati with Dad and Andy to a big and tall store where Andy picked out the suit. And he looked sharp.”
Andy was a bit of a rebel, and Jeff said he remembers one time when Andy was told he couldn’t get on the team bus until he got a haircut.
“I pulled up in front of the school to take the boys to a game and Gene Cook, the principal, he came out and said, ‘You’re going to have wait a little bit,’” Mount laughed. “Then Mr. Cook sent Andy uptown to get a haircut before we left.”
In 2012, when Andy was inducted into the Lynchburg-Clay Hall of Fame, the school issued a statement that said, “In 1967, Andy started three tournament games as a freshman and was instrumental in Lynchburg-Clay winning their first-ever sectional championship. He would go on to start for the varsity Mustangs for the next three years. During those years, he accumulated 1,361 points, which was the school record until 1993 (and is still second-most all-time).”
Cluxton broke that record. He scored 2,111 points for Lynchburg-Clay and was the 1993 Division IV Ohio Player of the Year. In his senior season he led the Mustangs to a 24-2 record and a spot in the state tournament. But he played more games than Andy and had the advantage of the three-point shot which wasn’t part of the high school game when Andy played.
Andy also grabbed 940 rebounds during his career – still the Lynchburg-Clay career record. He set the single-game scoring record with 43 points vs. Eastern on Feb. 13, 1970 (it has since been broken), and he set the school single-game record with 28 rebounds vs. Fayetteville on Nov. 22, 1969. It still stands.
His career averages were 20.6 points per game and 14.2 rebounds per game. In 1969, he led the Mustangs to the Highland County League Championship, was named to the Seaman Christmas Invitational All-Tournament Team and was named All-Ohio.
The school’s statement goes on to say: “The Lynchburg-Clay School District was formed in 1966, and Andy Richmond was instrumental in putting the Mustangs on the map athletically. While Andy participated in cross country, track, baseball and volleyball, it was in basketball that he was most dominant.
“… During his basketball career, Andy received scholarship offers from numerous colleges, including a call from Joe B. Hall and the University of Kentucky…”
Jeff said he remembers those recruiting visits well.
“Denny Crum (then the University of Louisville coach) and all of them, I can remember all those big names like that coming to the house to try to recruit him,” Jeff said. “There was a lot of them wanting him.”
Instead, Andy choose Gulf Coast Community College in Panama City, Fla.
Jeff said Andy stayed there about a year and a half.
“He got love sick,” Jeff said.
Andy’s life ended prematurely when he was struck by lightning while standing under a tree on July 5, 1990.
“He was damn good,” Jeff said. “He did have a temper when he played, but he was just hard to beat. Everyone back then, they all came out to watch him play. He was a helluva man. He would have helped anyone out.”
Reach Jeff Gilliland at 937-402-2522 or firstname.lastname@example.org.