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The inside story of what makes BYU’s Richard Harward a basketball beast

Former Orem High coach Golden Holt recalls his favorite Richard Harward stories

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Portland Pilots forward Hunter Seymour (23) tries to block Brigham Young Cougars center Richard Harward (42).

Portland Pilots forward Hunter Seymour (23) tries to block BYU Cougars center Richard Harward (42) at the Marriott Center in Provo on Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

Last summer, Richard Harward’s high school coach predicted if given the minutes, Harward would deliver double-figure points and rebounds at BYU.

Golden Holt is also the guy who kicked a seventh-grader out of the Orem High gym his first day on the job. That pudgy kid was Harward.

Thus began the relationship that transcends stereotypes and underlies the importance of hard work and faith.

For a man who coached Eric Mika, Tyler and TJ Haws and Nick Emery on AAU teams and called them thoroughbreds, Holt labels Harward a Clydesdale, a workhorse that can damage a defense quickly with his size, power and strength.

It’s a matter of force and the laws of physics. And a golden attitude.

Harward is averaging 16.4 minutes a game for 13-3 BYU. He doesn’t quite average a double-double with 7.6 scoring average and 5.4 rebounds a game.

But at times, he is a huge force in Mark Pope’s lineup.

“He was one of those perfect coaches’ players. It was just ‘yes, sir, whatever you say.’ He’s a sponge and there is no hesitancy in his listening to a coach. He’s always accepted whatever a coach tells him. He’s a perfect player in that way.”

Holt has a handful of stories about Harward he cherishes because they showcase his unique talents and attitude.

First meeting

The first day Orem High hired Holt as head basketball coach and gave him the keys to the gym, he headed over to the hardwoods. It was a very big deal for Holt because he wasn’t a teacher, but was hired to coach and with visions that he was no Bobby Knight and it wasn’t the Hoosiers but it could be his own tale. He headed over to the gym with the keys. The gym is in a separate building and he had a short walk through a breezeway. It was a big deal, a huge moment.

“I open the door to the gym for the first time. The lights are off because they are locked out but there is a skylight. I hear a bouncing ball at the far end. I see this heavyset kid at the other end bouncing the ball around the basket. I realized I’d just come from coaching Nick Emery, Parker Van Dyke, TJ Haws and Mika for five years, traveling around the country, so I’m thinking thoroughbreds and fast-paced stuff and here’s this chunky kid. 

“I immediately had the attitude, that’s not what we’re going to be and I said, ‘What ... are you doing in here? Get your butt out of here!’”

It was a seventh-grader, who in time, Orem basketball would call Big Rich.

“He was just a kid, a young man who wanted to play basketball,” Holt said. “This was such a great moment for me. It was the start of my coaching in high school where you don’t control the purse strings and you don’t control your team, in that you don’t know who is going to walk into your gym.”

Holt quickly found out the kid was Ian Harward’s brother. He got to know Big Rich’s mother and father and realized he needed to keep an eye on him because he’d always followed the bloodlines like the Haws and Emerys.


Orem High’s Richard Haward battles for a rebound with Denver East’s Dominique Collier during the last minute of a game in the Great Western Shootout at Orem High School in Orem on Friday, Dec. 6 2013.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Big Rich got bigger and bigger. 

“I always laugh at how I was the guy who kicked Richard out of the gym on my first day on the job, like what kind of coach does that and what was I thinking? He was big and lumbering his freshman and sophomore years, but he got better and better and he made the team as a sophomore. He didn’t move up to varsity until his junior year and we had really good guys in front of him like Dalton Nixon, Quinn Peters, who were really good.”

Harward was big, slow and plodding but Holt never had to worry about his attitude. “I had coached thoroughbreds, but I came to realize the Clydesdales are pretty good, too.”

“You never had to worry about him. He’d show up every day. We put him in the paint and he just went to work and became a real force for defenses to handle. We just needed to work getting him up and down the court.”

Challenging times

In Harward’s junior season, he was starting. Holt had a tough stretch where he lost his father and his sister within seven days. It was December and he had to get Orem’s team playing together at a time he had a lot going on in his life.

One night at the weekly team dinner at the home of Aaron Johnson, the team was enjoying hamburgers. Holt looked over and saw Big Rich with three hamburgers on his plate. He asked Harward how much he weighed.

“About 250,” Harward answered.

“How much?” asked Holt again as he turned to Johnson and asked if he had scales. They went to the bathroom, dragged out the scales and Harward got on and said, “Oh, crap.”

It read 278.

“Here was a junior who really had some skills and talent, but you can’t play basketball at 278 and I’m thinking to myself, ‘How did that happen?’ We had to get him to lose some weight. “Coach, I’ll do it. What do I need to do?”

The next morning, Harward met Holt at the gym at 6, and Harward did a lot of running. He did work on some post moves around the basket, but those sessions were primarily running. With tears in his eyes, Holt said those early-morning sessions continued the rest of the season, every day.  

“He was willing to do whatever it took, whatever I asked of him. And I was the crummy guy who kicked him out of the gym that day. At that moment I realized just how good Richard could be, that he had so much potential and would do anything a coach asked, he just needed somebody to coach him.” — Golden Holt

“He was willing to do whatever it took, whatever I asked of him. And I was the crummy guy who kicked him out of the gym that day. At that moment I realized just how good Richard could be, that he had so much potential and would do anything a coach asked, he just needed somebody to coach him.”

Harward lost 15 pounds in the next six weeks. Orem made a run and developed into a really good team, but lost in the state championship game to a very talented Bountiful High team with Zac Seljaas and Sam Merrill.

Playing with passion

In the spring after Harward’s junior year, Orem traveled to Jordan for the Spring Fling Tournament and played a good Copper Hills team. Orem had the lead the entire game with Harward and Will Clark as two leaders and stars. In the final 30 seconds of the game, both Clark and Harward made critical mistakes, things like taking a shot way too early in the possession, things they’d been taught not to do over and over again. Orem lost.


BYU center Richard Harward (42) pushes up a shot over Weber State forward Michal Kozak (11) as BYU and Weber State play at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2020.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

“I was angry. For me it was this Herb Brooks moment or something.” Brooks was coach of the 1980 USA gold medal Olympic hockey team.

In the hallway just outside the locker room, Holt gathered his team together. Here was a group of guys who’d waited their entire lives to be the leaders of the Orem High team and make a difference. Dalton Nixon and Cooper Holt weren’t around any more.  

“I took them over to a little side alley, and I ripped all of them. ... I mean, I can get loud. It was funny because I got a call from a Copper Hills parent at my school because we were in the little alley and it just echoed out of the gym and everybody could hear everything I was saying.

“I ripped them because I wanted to make a point. I’m like, ‘You guys want to be big time? There are no Daltons around so it’s your turn. Are you guys going to step up or not?’”

Holt then turned around and started to walk away. He kind of had a Herb Brooks smile. He didn’t get but 15 feet in an area behind the bleachers when he heard Harward’s voice. 

He hadn’t heard Harward speak up in six years, but in that moment Harward continued Holt’s rant on the team. Holt could imagine Harward getting purple in the face. “We’ve got to listen to the coach! We have to step up! We’ve got to!” It went on and on.

In that moment, Holt loved Richard Harward.

“At that moment, it just clicked for Richard. He became the leader of that team. All he needed was a little coaching and a little prompting,” Holt said. “He had put in the time and the work and he could speak as a player who’d paid the price.

“From that moment, I knew how good Harward could be, not only because he had this big body, not only was he able to get in shape, but he was willing to be a leader with passion. Everyone has seen that passion I saw back then. His senior year was the easiest year in coaching I ever had.”

Holt ran a two-three zone defense with Harward in the middle to protect the rim, and he had such a nose for the ball, the coach said. 

“You have to watch him when the ball is in the air, see how he seeks and finds it. He has a real feel for rebounds and how the ball comes off the rim. Notice how he spins off a defender. He is 250 pounds and can move his feet in the paint like a ballerina. People just bounce off of him. He is so strong with the ball that he is very hard to stop.

“The things you see him do now were what I saw in him do at Orem High,” Holt continued. “People fly off him and don’t even know they’re being hit. You know those putbacks? He’s done that from his senior year. We had a “red” call where he would just go to the low left block and we’d feed him. 

“We did it over and over again. We didn’t call anything else the whole year but 23 defense and “red.” He was doubled and triple-teamed. We set our spacing and metrojet cuts on that red set.”

Holt can talk for hours about Harward’s shooting touch, his range, his strength, moves and how he sold him to college recruiters, ultimately ending up at Utah Valley then following Pope to BYU. 

“I knew as soon as he’d get in a game, heads would roll,” said Holt. “In 14 minutes of play, look what he gets done. Look how Saint Mary’s and San Francisco’s players tried to stop him on the boards and his spin moves and putbacks. He helped wear them down.

“Honestly, you watch him off the ball leaning on people, boxing them out. That relentless nature beats (on) them. I think he’ll get better and better with more time given. If you give him garbage time, he’ll take that garbage and turn it into production. He’s grown confident and is productive and his strength shows how big a force he has become.

“He’s relentless that way. It’s a Clydesdale thing.”