Even when you’re living the dream as a professional athlete, the work can be a grind.
It hasn’t necessarily been easy for DiDi Richards in her first two seasons as a WNBA player. The former defensive end at Baylor has endured injuries that have limited her playing time and hampered her progress.
“It’s tough. The last two years I’ve been dealing with injuries and I’m just trying to make the third year my best year like it’s been in the past,” Richards said. “My junior year looks to be a pattern to be good. So hopefully you’ll be cheering me on the field and not on the bench.”
That’s the thing with Richards. Even when facing dark times, she seems to radiate optimism and positivity. She is more bubbly than a truckload of champagne.
Richards brought his trademark upbeat spirit back to the Baylor campus on Sunday as a special guest for Baylor’s game against the rival Texas Longhorns. She met with the Bears during their pregame shootaround session and took over the program’s social media accounts for the day. Richards is quite busy throughout the WNBA’s offseason, but she welcomes any chance she can get to get back to Baylor.
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“It’s a lot of things I can remember, but there was a whole lot of nostalgia going on when I came in,” Richards said shortly after arriving at the Ferrell Center. “There were so many memories that came back. I shed a few tears in the car when I first drove. It’s just beautiful, I’m excited to be back.”
Richards arrived at Baylor in 2017 after a stellar high school career at Cy-Ranch near Houston. The 6-2 guard came into his own as a sophomore in the 2018-19 season. It’s fitting that her nickname is DiDi — her first name is Deauzya — because she was double the D. She won Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year honors and willingly took on the role of guarding the other teams’ top scorers for a Baylor team, who ultimately won the NCAA Championship.
Asked what Baylor memories stand out the most, Richards said, “Coach (Kim) Mulkey. My team. My team winning a national championship. Winning four Big 12 championships — 4-for-4, no Wendy’s, you know what I mean? It really is. Being in this weight room. I feel like we pulled so many pranks in here. Coach Mulkey loves country music so we’d be up at 6 and lift and then we could hear country music come on. Nobody wants to hear country music at 6 in the morning!”
For Richards, 2020 proved to be one of the tougher years of her young life. The COVID-19 pandemic arrived and wiped out Baylor’s opportunity to chase a second straight national title. Then in October, just before the 2020-21 season, DiDi collided head-on with teammate Moon Ursin in training and suffered a serious spinal cord injury. At the time, Mulkey compared it to a “football collision without the pads.”
Richards was temporarily paralyzed from the waist down. The doctors were worried that she would not play again. Even after she regained movement in her legs, she had to train herself to walk again.
But DiDi was determined to return to herself. Called a “walking miracle” by her doctors, she truly bounced back, winning the Trib’s Big 12 Defender of the Year award along the way.
The New York Liberty selected DiDi in the second round of the 2021 WNBA Draft, and she made the league’s All-Rookie Team that season. Being in New York, the fashion capital of the world, has given DiDi a chance to live out two of her teams, being a professional basketball player and a famous fashion model. She has landed several modeling gigs over the past two years, including appearing in Sports Illustrated’s famous swimsuit issue.
Then last September, she ticked off another life goal by walking the runway at New York Fashion Week.
“A dream come true,” Richards called it. “I feel like it’s been on my bucket list since I was 4 years old. I wanted to walk in a fashion show, be a model my whole life. To be able to do that because of basketball, it’s just a beautiful story. It is something that was written that I could not have told better.”
Wearing a tangerine dress made by Dur Doux, Richards enjoyed every minute of it.
“I was wearing this dress, which is so me, it was so sheer,” she said. “And I couldn’t wait to wear it. When I saw it, I was like, ‘I want that. I want that right there.’ They were like, ‘Do you realize it’s transparent from top to bottom?’ “Yes, that’s the one I want. I want to wear that.”
Richards, who turns 24 on February 8, says New York is the place to be for an aspiring model given the many opportunities. But she’s just as fixated on her upcoming third WNBA season as she is eyeing a breakout year after dealing with a hamstring injury throughout the 2022 season.
“I’m a person who takes a lot of hits, has a lot of impact on everything,” Richards said. “It’s not just on the pitch, but that’s life. I just want people to know that it gets better. I just want to be the one for them that they can keep seeing that if it can get better for her, why can’t it get better for me?”