UAlbany’s Richards ready to take game to next level

Unlike many of her talented peers, Shereesha Richards never dreamed of playing pro basketball when s
Shereesha Richards of the University at Albany, right, the three-time America East Conference Player of the Year, is in training for the WNBA scouting combine
Shereesha Richards of the University at Albany, right, the three-time America East Conference Player of the Year, is in training for the WNBA scouting combine

Unlike many of her talented peers, Shereesha Richards never dreamed of playing pro basketball when she was a little girl.

That’s because the University at Albany senior forward, from Rae Town, Jamaica, got a late start playing the game, never even stepping onto a court until her final couple of seasons at Atlantic Christian (N.J.) High School.

But Richards, the Great Danes’ all-time leading scorer who led the program to four consecutive America East Conference titles and its first-ever NCAA Tournament victory, is a good bet to become UAlbany’s first player to be drafted by the Women’s National Basketball Association.

On the day the senior forward was named honorable mention All-American for the second straight year by the Associated Press, Richards, her teammates and head coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson participated in a voluntary practice Monday at SEFCU Arena to prepare the three-time America East Player of the Year for the upcoming Pro-Select Games at the Indianapolis Combine this weekend.

Richards is one of only 40 players invited to the prep at the Incrediplex Gym for the WNBA Draft, set for 7 p.m. April 14 at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn.

Just by being invited to the Indianapolis Combine, Richards is officially labeled a legitimate pro prospect. At last year’s Pro-Select Games in Tampa, Fla., 93 percent of the participants later played professionally in either the WNBA or in Europe.

“I never thought about being a pro,” said Richards, dripping with sweat from her hard workout. “I only started to think about it a little bit when I got to college. It was never really a goal of mine until maybe a couple of years ago.”

Richards, who finished her collegiate career second on the conference’s all-time scoring list, scored 2,440 points and grabbed 1,053 rebounds for the Great Danes, the most ever by a UAlbany player, man or woman. She is projected by WNBA draft experts to go anywhere from the late first round to the late second. (There are 12 picks per round.)

“I feel I’m ready for the [Combine],” Richards said. “I’ve been working on a little bit of everything, especially my defense and my outside shot. I’m not nervous. I think this is an exciting opportunity. I’m just going to try my hardest.”

Richards hasn’t had much time to catch her breath after leading UAlbany to its fifth straight NCAA tournament appearance and a historic victory over Florida in the first round at Syracuse just over a week ago.

“Everything has come so fast, but it’s enjoyable,” she said.

Richards was UAlbany’s first-ever Division I All-American in women’s basketball. (In 1986, Rainny Lesane was a Division III All-American.) In addition to player of the year, Richards was named All-Conference First Team and All-Defensive Team, as well as to the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association All-Region 1 Team. She is up for All-America with the WCBA, as well. Earlier this season, she was named to the Naismith Trophy Midseason 30 Team.

In her final season, Richards averaged 23.4 points per game (currently sixth in Division I), to go along with 8.5 rebounds and 1.7 steals. She registered 24 20-plus point games and 10 double-doubles during the season for the 28-5 Great Danes.

Richards, listed at 6-foot-1, said her biggest challenge at the next level will be defending bigger players in the paint. But her coach believes the WNBA is a perfect fit, despite Richards’ relative lack of overall experience.

“The fact that they invited her to the Combine means they know what to expect,” Abrahamson-Henderson said. “She will be a 3 or a 4 [small forward of power forward]. I think she’s a perfect 4, depending on the team’s offensive scheme.”

The UAlbany head coach said that Richards brings a lot to the table for any team that drafts her.

“She’s athletic, and she has an unbelievable work ethic,” she said. “There are no issues with her, no entitlements. You can train her. She will do anything for you, and she’s a great teammate.”

Abrahamson-Henderson pointed out that coaches like winners, and Richards is one of the top winners in the women’s college game.

“They are looking at potential. They know she’s only 6-1, and they know she’s only been playing for six years or so. They are clear on what they are getting, or they wouldn’t have invited her,” Abrahamson-Henderson said.

“I don’t know what round she will be drafted in. I don’t keep track of stuff like that. They said we were going to be playing Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament, and they were wrong. A kid like Shereesha led us to the NCAA Tournament four times. There are a lot of things that go into this kind of thing.”

Abrahamson-Henderson said she is working with Richards on some pro terminology or lingo that she might not have heard before.

“We’re also working on some drills that I think Shereesha will see at the Combine. Her biggest challenge might be man-to-man defense, but she can play.”

“I don’t think it matters much now how much experience I have,” Richards said. “I will do whatever they want me to do. I’m really looking forward to this.”

Richards said she will definitely look into a possible pro career in Europe if the WNBA Draft doesn’t work out. She said she realizes regardless of where she plays, she may be traveling a lot when she becomes a professional, but she’s prepared.

“You have to grow up sometime,” she said.

Categories: College Sports

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