The offseason is always a great time to lay down some foundation. After the grind of the WNBA regular season and playoffs, a few months off to rest and recharge your batteries is always welcome. And for one New York Liberty star, the offseason has been a perfect time to grow on and off the court.
Didi Richards has kept herself pretty busy over the past few months. She’s been practically everywhere you look and has helped expand the WNBA’s footprint across various mediums. The Liberty fan favorite took some time out to appear on the debut episode of the BallPlayers Podcast with Arden Franklyn of ONE37pm.
The conversation began with Didi’s journey into basketball. The Texas hoops scene is hyper competitive and players like her, Alexis Morris, Chastity Patterson, and Brooke McCarty put on for Houston basketball and stoked a great rivalry with Dallas hoopers. From there, they moved on to the pro game.
The WNBA is incredibly competitive and spots are very hard to come by and maintain. In a league of 144 players, only the best of the best make it into and stay in the league. With so many amazing players in the W and around the world, there’s no room to slack or take it easy. There are no easy nights and as a player, you’re going to be tested all the time. Richards spoke about that and a lesson she learned as a professional in the league, saying:
“In the W, every single game, every single play [you have to be locked in on defense]. It’s not one good player on each team anymore. It’s five good players on each team. Every time you might switch, you get a switch on defense and you think you can relax, you can’t. You have to really lock in. So I think for me, learning to be a pro was learning how to guard every position. I thought I was good on defense and I thought that I could guard every position but I’ve been humbled and I don’t like to be the weakest link on the court. And for a minute there, I was the weakest link on defense, you know? So now in the offseason, that’s really what I’m focusing on. It’s just getting back to my defensive principles and getting back to what I do defensively.”
Richards had a marvelous four-year career at Baylor. She was an integral part of their 2019 NCAA championship winning team. She followed that up with a Defensive Player of the Year in 2020 as she cemented her reputation as one of the best defenders in basketball. For all of that success and her well deserved accolades, it put a target on her back in the league as players sought to bring it to her every time she matched up against them. It’s a transition going from college to the pros and when you have the rep that she has, it makes
“It became a game within a game, it felt like. People were looking at me and it was like “Alright, I’m coming at her!” And I’m like, “Well dang, I gotta really lock in” every single time I stepped on the court, you know hat I mean? And it’s still like that, so that’s why this offseason was so important to me to try and get back [to being that player]. I’m not gonna say it took my confidence away, but it almost did that. It almost was like “I can’t stay in front of nobody, what’s going on?” But you’re you’re an athlete, you go through things. You go through ups and downs. I’m a rookie, I’m young. So I just had to understand that my time is going to come and when it does come, I hope it’s the same target on my back.”
Throughout her two years with the Liberty, we’ve seen Richards’ defense and decision-making skills shine when she’s gotten on the court. She’s able to use her length to bother scorers on the perimeter and active hands to force stops and make good scoring opportunities for her teammates in transition.
A hamstring injury Richards suffered in the preseason limited her effectiveness and made it a difficult sophomore campaign. Sandy Brondello planned to have Didi as the backup point guard last season, but the injury prevented that from happening. Even still, she was a positive influence on her teammates and brought a sense of joy and positivity to her team and the games.
New York’s starting five will get plenty of attention in 2023, but Richards promises to be an integral part of the Liberty’s championship aspirations as well. Having a defender like Richards will give the team even more versatility and flexibility on the court. The team will have size up and down the roster and that will help when matched up with teams like the Washington Mystics and Las Vegas Aces. Richards has been a key part of the team’s success since she was drafted in 2021 and will do so again this time around.
Grow the game
Throughout the offseason, Richards has kept busy. She guest hosted Bonjour Sports Talk on Amazon, hit the runway at New York Fashion Week, and took kids on a shopping spree at DICK’S Sporting Goods in Queens. Richards is one of the best at utilizing social media and is an emerging online presence overall. The W has worked to get better at social media, but their missteps over the years have been infamous and have led to giants of the game not being properly acknowledged. For a league that has as many fun and engaging personalities as the WNBA, the league getting socials right is one of the big things they need to get right as they move into the future. Richards spoke about the league’s social media approach and said:
“I think they should pat themselves on the back. Honestly, it’s gotten way better, like light years better. It’s not it’s best. There’s a lot of things that they can do better, I think, but I think that comes with experience. That comes with them figuring it out, and that’s what they’re doing. But I think my favorite part about WNBA socials is that they are they’re promoting people in different lights. Like I said, with my Instagram, I don’t want it to just be basketball. I think the W is doing a good job [of showing players in new lights]. When I’m in fashion week, they posted it. When Napheesa Collier wants to do something with reading and books, they promote that. So I think they are doing well because they’re humanizing all of us as individuals. And I think if they continue to do that, it’ll continue to blow up and that’s what social media is about. It’s about just making it relatable to people and that’s what they’re doing.”
Richards mentioned that when it comes to marketing and the types of products that get marketed, there is still plenty of room to get better. As she mentioned, expanding to fashion, jewelry, makeup, beauty, hair, etc. is the next frontier in promotion. Along with that, promoting and marketing the players the right way is just as important as the league looks to develop a stronger cultural footprint. The Liberty accomplished that goal when they highlighted Black women entrepreneurs in Brooklyn as they unveiled the season schedule. It’s one thing
As the WNBA continues to grow, having ambassadors like Richards will go a long way. She’s been able to grow on the court while helping the league grow and expand off of it. With the Liberty and WNBA looking to climb higher heights, having Didi on the team will go a long way for both groups as they try to make it to the top.