Western Michigan coach Steve Hawkins was sure that Austin Richie would never be a Bronco.
Austin's older brother Nate Richie spent a year with the men's basketball program before a different head coach, Robert McCullum, elected to revoke Nate's scholarship because he wasn't one of McCullum's recruits.
When an assistant three years ago told Hawkins that Lowell's Austin could be the answer to their question of finding a scoring guard, Hawkins said, "We have no shot."
The Broncos made their pitch anyway. Austin Richie went to Western Michigan and last week, when the Broncos won the Mid-American Conference tournament and secured a spot in the NCAA tournament, Richie hugged Hawkins and said, "This is why I chose to play for you."
Richie and the Broncos were given a No. 14 seed into the NCAA tourney and will play No. 3 Syracuse today.
"Being completely honest, (the tournament) was a deciding factor in where I wanted to chose to play," Richie said. "Something like playing time, and playing in a tournament, none of those things can be promised. I wanted to put us in a position to have a shot. Since Coach (Steve Hawkins) has been here, we win every year, 18, 19, 20 games, but we've just had a hard time getting over that hump. Our conference tournament has always been dominated by the Ohio schools: Kent State and Akron.
"I looked at it now as I know we are going to be in a position to win this thing, to be in with guys that are going to do this with us."
While playing for the Red Devils, Richie was an Indiana All-Star and led the state when he averaged 33 points per game as a junior.
In his junior season with the Broncos, Richie has started all 32 games, and is averaging 8.0 points and 2.4 assists.
"We still want him to shoot the ball," Hawkins said. "Fans in your area will recognize that. I have begged him to shoot more. I've had to talk to Austin about looking for his shot more. He's really adapted well to the point guard spot and one of the biggest things for us is his intelligence."
Not unlike the player that Lowell fans remember, he's hit 42 3-pointers this season, second-most on the team. Though he's not scoring as many points as in the past, he's happy to be able to find the players who will. Senior center Shayne Whittington (16.3 ppg) and senior guard David Brown (19.4 ppg) were named to the All-Conference first team and take care of the bulk of the scoring for the Broncos.
"Last year, maybe I had struggled with the role change, but I've done a lot better job this year with it," Richie said. "Playing point guard, I've always naturally been a point guard, the ability to pass the ball and shoot the ball, but as far as deferring to someone else, that hasn't been that hard this year because I'm playing along side two first-teamers, and with guys who can put the ball in the hole, and it's worked."
This year marks the fourth time in school history, and first time in the last 10 years, that Western Michigan has reached the NCAA tournament. Syracuse was once the No. 1 team in the country after wining 25 straight games this season, but that won't bother the Broncos, Richie said.
"Through my years here, we've played at Duke, at Michigan, at Purdue, I don't know if all of those teams had the capability to play against the players and not the name on the jersey," Richie said. "This year, I definitely feel like we do a pretty good job of playing the game."