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DiDi Richards' starting to add scoring to defensive prowess for Liberty

Liberty guard/forward DiDi Richards lines up a three-pointer

Liberty guard/forward DiDi Richards lines up a three-pointer during the first quarter of the game against the Mercury at Barclays Center Wednesday. Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan/Joseph D. Sullivan

The three-point rainbows formed perfectly over the court.

DiDi Richards was standing out Wednesday night against Phoenix at Barclays Center, adding offense again to go with her trademark defense — a Liberty rookie on the rise in front of everyone’s eyes.

It was a stark contrast from last October — the devastating collision with a teammate during practice as a senior at Baylor; the temporary paralysis from a spinal cord injury; the departure from the hospital the following day with a walker; the doctor casting a shadow filled with doubts about the chance of her playing again.

The distance from there to here isn’t lost on her.

"I don’t know why I thought about it [recently], but I don’t think I gave myself enough credit for what I’ve been through and what I’m capable of going through," Richards said, standing by the court before going out and having a career-best game with four threes in five tries and 14 points off the bench in the Liberty’s loss.

"That was a hard situation for me to go through, but I got through it and I’m real proud of myself."

Richards rehabbed and recovered to play just 38 days after the collision, and went on to finish second nationally in assists and help Baylor make the Elite Eight. The Liberty took the 6-2 guard/forward in the second round in April, 17th overall. She has come a long way just from there, becoming a building block for a team that was 11-15 heading into Friday night’s home rematch with the Mercury.

"She’s a really, really special kid," coach Walt Hopkins said. "She’s tough. She’s versatile … She’s going to be a great player."

While the 22-year-old from Cypress, Texas, brought her perpetual energy and the ability that made her the 2020 Naismith and WBCA defensive player of the year, she scored just 22 points across her first 21 games.

But Richards scored 32 in the past four, shooting 12-for-16, including 7-for-8 from beyond the arc.

"She’s really shocked a lot of us," assistant coach Jacki Gemelos said.

After the Olympic break, Richards became more comfortable with the plays. Her confidence offensively grew, too. She put in the time to improve.

Another assistant, Dustin Gray, began working on her shot in the preseason.

"Honestly, Dustin, he just told me that we’re going to get in the gym," Richards said. "He said that he didn’t make remake it. But I feel like he broke my shot down and rebuilt it."

So she entered Friday night second among rookies in field-goal percentage at 44.7. She also stood second among them with 14 steals.

"I think my defense is at the roof and I’m hoping my offense gets there," Richards said. "… I feel I’m going to be great whenever my offense is able to compete with my defense, in a way."

New York Sports