Chicago Quentin Richardson is almost 21, which on the Los Angeles Clippers just about qualifies him to be a leader.
"I've gotten the closest with Darius," Richardson said of fellow rookie Darius Miles. "We'll be playing in the rookie game together. All of us, Corey (Maggette), Keyon (Dooling), we're growing together."
The surprise for the youthful Clippers has been the play of Richardson. He was the lowest pick of all the youngsters at No. 18 last June but has started much of the season and is averaging 8.7 points and 3.7 rebounds.
The DePaul product has improved every month, in January averaging 10.3 points and 4.2 rebounds and shooting 39 percent on three-pointers.
"I pretty much said after the draft I wanted to go higher," said the 6-foot-5-inch Richardson, who will face the Bulls on Monday night and has outperformed all the Bulls' draft picks. "People had doubts. But I'm used to proving myself. I've never had things handed to me."
Richardson, who left DePaul after his sophomore year, has earned the respect of his teammates and coaches with an unusually mature work ethic, toughness that has him urging the young players to put in more work and the willingness to use his strength to post up and go after stars like Toronto's Vince Carter.
"I think what surprised me the most so far was that I've had a harder time with guys like Allan Houston and Ray Allen than Kobe (Bryant) and Vince," Richardson said. "They're going for the highlight play and force shots. Ray and Allan, they play off the offense."
Richardson is even being considered a contender for rookie of the year.
"I know a lot of people said I should have left DePaul after the first year and I would have been drafted higher," Richardson said. "But staying made me stronger and prepared me better. I'd never really been given anything but positive comment. But I got to see both sides, about being the hero and the goat. I learned about not getting too high or too low, and it's made me a better player."