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MCKENZIE LANGE/The Daily Sentinel

Colorado Mesa University center Ethan Richardson had to adjust to the altitude after arriving to Grand Junction from Fresno City College in California.

Ethan Richardson’s lungs were burning during his first basketball practice at Colorado Mesa University.

It wasn’t that the Mavericks’ new big man wasn’t in shape, even though he hadn’t played since last March. It was that doggone thin air.

“When I first got here, no matter how much preparing you do, the altitude got me,” he said with a grin after his debut last Friday night.

The 6-foot-10 center from Madera, California, played at Fresno City College last season, signed with the University of West Virginia last spring, but didn’t pass a summer course he needed to transfer.

When Mike DeGeorge was recruiting Georgie Dancer, Jared Small and David Rico at Fresno, he wished Richardson well at West Virginia, telling him if it didn’t work out, there was a spot for him at CMU.

“They held true to that,” said Richardson, who passed the needed class in the fall. “The journey was long, but I found a home here in Grand Junction and I appreciate it.”

Trading Big 12 basketball on a nationally ranked team for Division II isn’t an issue for Richardson, who said he’s loving Grand Junction, although “it’s pretty cold.”

“A lot of people are looking at it as a comedown to come here, but for me, it’s a great opportunity,” Richardson said. “I thank God every day to play basketball. A lot of people don’t get to play on scholarship, so I’m blessed to be here, blessed to contribute to this team and contribute to Grand Junction.”

“And we’re blessed to have him,” guard Tommy Nuno added. Nuno gushed about the addition of Richardson, saying it opens everything up in the offense. Forward Michael Skinner agreed.

“We do a lot of pick and rolls, he’s a great roll man, he just knows how to work inside,” Skinner said. “You dump it down to him and let him go to work and do his thing. He makes all of our jobs easier.”

Last season, Richardson averaged 16.3 points and 7.4 rebounds at Fresno. In two games at CMU, he’s averaging 16.5 points and 7 boards, playing about 20 minutes a game.

“Probably the most difficult thing was (learning) the plays, but everything else, the guys were open arms when I walked in,” Richardson said. “As soon as I got here they were ready to implement me into the lineup and get me going.”

DeGeorge talked with the Mavericks about adjusting their roles and maybe sacrificing a little bit to add Richardson to the mix.

“Maybe I won’t be scoring as much but that’s something that doesn’t matter to this team, it’s whatever can help us win,” Dancer said.

There’s no doubt adding a Division I talent will improve the Mavericks the second half of the season. CMU (10-5, 6-3), which is home against Adams State and rival Fort Lewis this weekend, is tied with CU-Colorado Springs for fourth in the RMAC, one game behind Dixie State, Colorado Mines and Black Hills State.

Richardson’s addition aligns the rotation and allows the Mavs to play the way DeGeorge envisioned.

“Once you have that (low post) threat it just opens everything up,” DeGeorge said. “That’s that missing piece. Not only is he a good player, he’s that piece that we’ve been missing that makes all the pieces work better.”

Now, if they can only figure out how to refer to the two Ethans who play the same position, Richardson and freshman Ethan Menzies. Big Ethan, Little Ethan? Ethan I, Ethan II?

“We’re still struggling with that,” DeGeorge laughed.

Richardson has helped speed the development of Menzies by going against another true big man in practice. And he offered a solution to the name issue: “It’s double-trouble with the Es.”

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