Book Richardson is coming full circle in his basketball coaching career.
Before he was a high-major college assistant at Xavier and Arizona, before he became the face of the FBI investigation into bribery in college basketball, before he served 90 days in Otisville (NY) Federal Correctional Institute for pleading guilty to one count of federal funds bribery, Richardson grew up playing basketball on the streets and in the parks of Harlem and the South Bronx. He knows New York City basketball as well as anyone.
Now 49, Richardson has a new goal and mission.
He will be the head coach of a fledgling New York City academy team called The Program beginning in the 2023-24 season. The goal of The Program, which is being launched by New York City natives Griffin Taylor and Jared Effron, is to keep New York City’s best young talent at home and to meld the players into one team capable of competing with the nation’s best schools like Montverde (FL) Academy, IMG Academy and Oak Hill Academy (VA).
A lofty goal to be sure.
The Program counts Carmelo Anthony as a partner and Kenny Smith and JJ Redick as advisors. Anthony, who was not immediately available for comment, was born in Brooklyn and his son, Kiyan, plays for New York City powerhouse Christ the King High School.
“I would love to win a national championship and that’s the end goal,” Richardson said in a recent interview. “But I think daily, winning battles each day, meaning getting the best and trying to make sure that New York City can stand on its own from the standpoint of talent and knowing that this is the closest thing to college in terms of how you view it, whether you recruit locally, nationally or internationally.
“But having an opportunity to try to win a national championship and starting day by day by trying to win each borough and each section of the city…The goal is to conquer your surrounding area.”
It has been nearly five years since Richardson became one of 10 men — including four assistant coaches — arrested in September 2017 after an FBI investigation into bribery in college basketball. Assistant coaches from Auburn, Oklahoma State and USC were also arrested.
Richardson ultimately became the first coach in the group imprisoned as a result of the FBI investigation after reaching a plea agreement in January 2019 in which he pleaded guilty to accepting $20,000 in bribes from agents in exchange for later steering Arizona players to those agents for professional representation , and spent 90 days in prison.
None of the head coaches at the four schools where assistants were arrested lost their jobs in the immediate wake of the investigation. Arizona parted ways with Sean Miller, Richardson’s former boss, in 2021, but he was hired in March for a second stint at Xavier.
Since his release from prison, Richardson has been serving as the New York Gauchos director of operations for boys basketball, ranging from ages 6-18, reportedly earning $3,000 a month.
“I think we can all agree Book caught the short end of the stick on that scandal,” Effron said. “He’s had an incredible recovery with the Gauchos over the past two years. His eighth grade team was one of the best in the country and his coaching resume speaks for itself. So we do hope that it’s a big part of our story.”
Griffin and Effron grew up playing basketball in New York City, and although neither ever made it to the big-time, they believe in the city’s basketball roots and lament the fact that New York no longer produces the number of Division 1 or NBA stars it used to.
In a timely reminder of New York’s glorious hardwood past, on July 29, Showtime will air a documentary entitled NYC POINT GODS that features a who’s who’s who of New York point guard legends including Rafer Alston, Kenny Anderson, Mark Jackson, Stephon Marbury, God Shammgod , Kenny Smith, Rod Strickland and Dwayne “Pearl” Washington. The film is a collaboration between Kevin Durant and Rich Kleiman’s Boardroom
“Everyone knows an NYC point guard when they see them,” said Durant “and the point gods of this film were instrumental in changing the game for everyone. We are really excited to honor them through this doc, and I know basketball fans will really appreciate it.”
The pitch deck from Griffin and Effron points out that during the 1973-74 season, 1 in 15 NBA players had attended a New York City high school compared with 1 in 90 in 2013-14. In 1985, New York State was No. 1 in terms of per capita Division 1 players. In 2015, that had dropped to No. 27, behind Delaware and Wyoming.
New York City stars Cole Anthony and Kofi Cockburn left the city for their senior year to play at famed Oak Hill Academy. Anthony is now with the Orlando Magic, and Cockburn is eligible for this week’s NBA Draft.
Still, Anthony, Smith and Knicks guard Miles McBride will be among those at a fundraising gathering for The Program on Saturday in The Hamptons. Anthony will be helping as a trainer at The Program’s Hamptons camp.
Even though some of the top stars have left New York in recent years, Richardson is confident there’s enough talent to win if the players stay home.
“I know there’s enough talent in the tri-state area,” he said. “I coached a game [recently] at South Street Seaport and you have some of the best 2025s and 2024s in New York and New Jersey and I would say in the country.”
He added: “There is an abundant amount of talent in this city, and you have an opportunity to develop from freshman year on.”
This is not the first time such an idea has been thought of in the New York metropolitan area. Several years ago Chinese businessman Jack Li attempted a similar academy in Princeton, NJ but it ever came to fruition.
The Program will begin physical construction of its facility in a repurposed warehouse in Brooklyn or Long Island City in the spring of 2023 with the goal of being up and running that fall. Effron and Griffin say they have raised nearly $2.5 million of the necessary $5-6 million for the project.
They say the ideal situation would be to have about eight players from the New York City area, possibly including New Jersey, along with about four national recruits. The students will be housed in apartments and will take an online curriculum in the mornings, and then focus on basketball in the afternoons.
The goal is also to have a girls team that is on par nationally with the boys team. Former Liberty and Rutgers star Epiphanny Prince, a New York City native, is a potential candidate to coach the girls team.
“We’ve been talking a lot with the New York Liberty,” Griffin said. “We want to be very clear that the academy will have both a boys and a girls team.”
The Program will also feature youth leagues, youth camps and personal training.
Ideally, Richardson said, the goal is to compete with Montverde Academy for national championships. Led by Kevin Boyle, Montverde has won six GEICO High School national championships, including this past season, and produced multiple NBA lottery picks, including Cade Cunningham, Scottie Barnes and Moses Moody, the Nos. 1, 4 and 14 picks a year ago.
“The goal is to be able to compete with those guys,” Richardson said. “They’re extremely established, they have incredible culture.
He said the New York academy “isn’t going to happen overnight. There’s going to be a process that we all respect.
“If New York City got behind this, it will go through the roof,” he added. “The success will be incredible.”