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Originally published June 26, 2010 at 7:22 PM | Page modified June 27, 2010 at 3:34 PM

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Nolan Richardson finds new challenge as Shock coach

The former Arkansas coach has plenty of work to do with Tulsa, which is on a seven-game losing streak and hosts the WNBA-leading Storm at 1 p.m. Sunday at BOK Center.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Sunday

Storm @ Tulsa Shock,

1 p.m.

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TULSA, Okla. — Thumbing through his wardrobe, Nolan Richardson came across a gem: his coveted pink sports coat.

"I've got that one set," the first-year WNBA coach said of when it'll be worn again, on July 30 as part of his Tulsa Shock's participation in Breast Health Awareness Week. The look was among his flamboyant coats of armor as the coach prepared daily to deal with racism and discrimination.

Richardson's storied career is chronicled in "Forty Minutes of Hell" by Rus Bradburd, a book that addresses many of the inequities black coaches faced in the pre- and post-Civil Rights era.

Arkansas' 1994 NCAA men's basketball championship should have been a culmination of Richardson's rise from one of the poorest areas in El Paso, Texas, to the pinnacle of his profession. But he clashed with athletic director Frank Broyles, and at a 2002 news conference, he unleashed a litany of accusations, including charges of racism. Soon after, he was dismissed as Razorbacks coach.

Richardson was pleased with his accomplishments, however. And he went on to coach the Panamanian national team in 2005-07, and was named coach of Mexico's national team in 2007. But he had not coached again in the U.S. until receiving a call from the owners of a women's team located in a town where he once coached the local university.

His hiring wasn't met with widespread cheers. While three former NBA players (Bill Laimbeer, Michael Cooper, Corey Gaines) have won WNBA titles, only one former men's college coach (Paul Westhead) has been successful in transitioning his male-dominated style to the women's game.

"I'm such a person where if you tell me that I can't do something, then you've just told me I've got to work to get it done," said Richardson, 68. "That's the way I see this."

And there is plenty of work to do with the Shock (3-10), which is on a seven-game losing streak and hosts the WNBA-leading Storm (12-2) at 1 p.m. Sunday at BOK Center.

In many ways, Tulsa shouldn't have started this way. Or possibly exist at all.

The organization, including three championship banners, relocated from Detroit, the beloved sister franchise to the Pistons under owner Bill Davidson. After Davidson died in March 2009, his wife immediately made moves to sell both teams. Karen Davidson told the Detroit News on Thursday she believes the Pistons should sell before October.

Yet before the Shock's new ownership group could even celebrate its purchase, Detroit stars Katie Smith, Deanna Nolan, Taj McWilliams-Franklin and Cheryl Ford stated they weren't moving with the team.

Nolan's agent stated she needed rest from injuries due to year-round play. Smith told media she didn't want to end her career in Tulsa. Ford underwent knee surgery. And McWilliams-Franklin signed with New York as a free agent.

None spoke directly to Richardson, who had been hired as Shock coach and general manager. He couldn't do anything but move on, as he has always done.

His pressure defense is tricky for players used to set systems. That has prompted him to trade other former Detroit players, including recent moves sending Shavonte Zellous to Indiana and Plenette Pierson to New York.

"I definitely think (the scheme is) college-like," said Pierson, whose Liberty squad defeated Tulsa 92-78 on Friday. "It's difficult as far as wear and tear on your body. Some people are able to do that, and I just wasn't."

The remainder is a hodgepodge of former reserves and developing players. Amazingly, though, the Shock is only 1 ½ games back of the Minnesota Lynx for the final postseason berth in the Western Conference.

"I'm not some Houdini; it takes time," Richardson said. "But I'll get a turn. I didn't start out with no golden spoon in my mouth. I have to make it myself."

Jayda Evans: 206-464-2067 or jevans@seattletimes.com

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