New York Liberty: Five Quotes from DiDi Richards (and What They Could Mean)

An opportunity looms for Richards, the New York Liberty’s second-round pick, as she hauls quite the résumé over from Waco.

It’s not often that a second-round pick can make an impact on a WNBA squad. But in a basketball era that’s been anything but ordinary, later picks have had an opportunity to succeed.

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DiDi Richards, taken No. 17 overall in the 2021 WNBA Draft, is one of many second-round picks that strengthen the case for the WNBA to expand. The Houston native is one of the latest professional yields from the historic Baylor basketball program. Her trophy case boasts a national championship ring and Defensive Player of the Year titles from the Atlanta Tipoff Club and the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association.

Richards’ new metropolitan settings boost the argument for her to make a pro roster. The New York Liberty are possibly working through the latter stages of an expansive rebuilding project. With the Liberty’s training camp roster lacking fan-favorite sophomores Marine Johannès and Han Xu, a prime opportunity awaits Richards. Last season, this team enjoyed contributions from middle-round picks Kylee Shook and Leaonna Odom.

Richards made her first statements as a New Yorker last Tuesday. What can we learn from them? NR investigates.

New York State of Mind

“I was already leaning towards this team and hoping that they picked me. What really caught my eye is they keep focusing on mental health. I’m a huge mental health activist. They were literally the only team that scheduled a meeting with just their mental health screeners. That’s why I really love New York.”

The Liberty have made it clear that they’re not ones to “stick to sports.” It appears that those endeavors made them an attractive destination for rookie newcomers. Richards’ view on mental health will help her fit right on a team that has sought to make a difference far beyond the hardwood. Mental health was a league-wide concern during last summer’s bubble endeavor in Bradenton. The WNBA made a commitment to such advocacy earlier this month through a $25,000 donation to Black Women’s Health Imperative. If Richards sticks around, the Liberty’s Unity Week activities would be a terrific opportunity for her to expand her activism to the New York community. She even mentioned it would be “crazy” to make a difference in the metropolitan area.

The Liberty’s Quest for Character

“In my opinion, character is what other people you know, think of you when they’re asked about you. And I think that whenever people think about me … they’re going to use the words inspiring or a competitor or just little things like that, that really shaped who you are. I think that I do a good job or I will do a good job of complimenting [head coach Walt Hopkins and general manager Jonathan Kolb] in the character, their word character. I think I’ll do a good job in adding to that on his team and I’m just excited to do that.”

Character takes on many different definitions in the Liberty glossary, and Richards’ experience gives an inspirational variance. Sidelined for a portion of Baylor’s 2020-21 prep after a devastating practice injury caused temporary paralysis, Richards returned to the court less than six weeks after the incident and played a major role in the Lady Bears’ Big 12 championship run. Her story of perseverance is one that any player, rookie and veteran alike, can take a lesson from.

On Perseverance

“I think that was one that was instilled in me at a young age. My dad made me and my brother this, you know, robot basically … I think that’s really what made my mental aspects, so strong throughout the whole injury that I was going through.”

Conventional wisdom says that Richards, frankly, shouldn’t have made it this far. After her injury, a doctor told her that she ought to be thinking about life beyond basketball. But now she’s back, her defense is stronger than ever, and she’s about to make New York training camp very interesting. It wouldn’t be fair to say that Richards has nothing to lose, but the fact she’s here is enough of a win as it is. Her sense of mental toughness makes her one of the deadliest later-round picks in the entire league.

 Basketball Goals

“On the court is definitely to develop my offensive game a lot more than I was able to in four years. I think that’s possible with I think, [assistant coach Dustin Gray] and Coach Walt [Hopkins]. I think that’s definitely possible with them on my side.”

Richards’ off-court endeavors have been so inspiring that one could almost forget to review her scouting report. While her defense earns rave reviews, her offense often leaves something to be desired (43 percent shooting from the field last season). As the Liberty appear to be veering toward a positionless brand of basketball, they’re looking for players who contribute equally on both sides of the court, evidenced by their desire for fearless shooting. It’s particularly interesting to hear Richards to place her trust in Gray when it comes to reaching this goal. Gray isn’t as experienced as his contemporaries, but he has collaborated with some notable names through his work at EXOS, a Phoenix-based human performance company.

Looking Back: Facing Sabrina Ionescu in 2019

“I was nervous going against the best players, men and women. I was real nervous, I knew I had to guard her. It was exciting. It was definitely I think that was one of the games that put me on the map for sure. She’s a great player, she hits some crazy shots on me. I think everybody can remember the and-one she got on me before halftime. Right now, I’m just excited to play with her. I hated to see her get hurt last year. So I’m excited to see what she does this year. I’m excited to help her in whatever way she needs me needs help. I can do whatever she wants me to do well, so that’s really it. I’m just excited to be an asset or to her game. She’s a great player, and I’m excited to see her.”

Though welcome normalcy is increasingly returning, we’ll forever curse the ongoing public health crisis for denying us so many luxuries. One such fantasy was a rematch of Oregon and Baylor from the regional final round of the 2019 NCAA Tournament, a 72-67 Lady Bears victory. Richards, then a sophomore, was tasked with covering the junior Ionescu. It wound up being a breakthrough experience—Richards helped limit her future teammate to a 6-of-24 shooting performance from the field. Despite that success, Richards is glad that she and Ionescu are united in seafoam. Now, she’s found the perfect avenue to make herself a New York staple: develop an on-court rapport with the former Duck.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags.