Even when you’re living the dream as a professional athlete, 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 stopper at Baylor has endured injuries that have limited her playing time and stunted her progress.
“It’s difficult. The last two years I’ve dealt with injuries, and I’m just trying to make the third year be my best year, like it’s been in the past,” Richards said. “My junior year seems to be a pattern of being good. So, hopefully you guys will be cheering for me on the court, and not the bench.”
That’s the thing about Richards. Even when she faces dark times, she seems to radiate optimism and positivity. She’s more bubbly than a truckload of champagne.
Richards brought her 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 shootaround session before the game and took over the program’s social media accounts for the day. Richards stays pretty busy throughout the WNBA’s offseason, but she welcomes any chance she can get to come back to Baylor.
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“It’s a lot of things that I can remember, but there was a whole bunch of nostalgia going on when I walked in,” Richards said, shortly after arriving at the Ferrell Center. “There were so many memories flashing back. I shed a couple of tears in the car when I first pulled up. It’s just beautiful, I’m excited to be back.”
Richards arrived at Baylor in 2017 following a brilliant high school career at Cy-Ranch near Houston. The 6-2 guard came into her own as a sophomore in the 2018-19 season. It’s fitting that her nickname is DiDi — her given name is Deauzya — because she was doubly good on 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 that ultimately won the NCAA championship.
Asked what memories from Baylor stand out the most, Richards said, “Coach (Kim) Mulkey. My team. My team won a national championship. Winning four Big 12 championships — 4-for-4, no Wendy’s, you know what I mean? That’s really it. Being in this weight room. I feel like we played so many pranks here. Coach Mulkey loves country music, so we’d be up at 6 am lifting and then we’d hear country music come on. Nobody wants to hear country music at 6 am!”
For Richards, 2020 turned out to be one of the toughest 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 full-speed with teammate Moon Ursin at practice and suffered a severe spinal cord injury. At the time, Mulkey compared it to a “football collision without the pads.”
Richards was temporarily paralyzed from the waist down. Doctors worried that she wouldn’t play again. Even after she gained movement in her legs, she had to train herself to walk again.
But DiDi was determined to get back to her own self. Called a “walking miracle” by her doctors, she indeed made it 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, that of being a pro basketball player and a renowned fashion model. She has landed numerous modeling gigs over the past two years, including appearing in Sports Illustrated’s famous swimsuit edition.
Then last September, she checked off another life goal by walking the runway at New York’s Fashion Week.
“A dream come true,” Richards called it. “I feel like that’s been on my bucket list since I was 4 years old. I wanted to walk in a fashion show, be a model my entire life. To be able to do that because of basketball, it’s just a beautiful story. It’s something that was written that I couldn’t have said any better.”
Richards wore a tangerine-colored dress made by Dur Doux, and enjoyed every minute of it.
“I had on this dress that is so me, it was so see-through,” she said. “And I couldn’t wait to wear it. When I saw it, I was like, ‘I want that one. I want that one right there.’ They were like, ‘You realize it’s see-through from the top to the bottom?’ ‘Yes, that’s the one I want. I want to wear that one.’”
Richards, who will turn 24 on Feb. 8, says that New York is the place to be for a budding model, given the bounty of opportunities. But she’s equally as fixated on her upcoming third WNBA season, as she’s seeing a breakout year after dealing with a hamstring injury throughout the 2022 season.
“I am somebody that takes a lot of hits, takes a lot of impact on everything,” Richards said. “It’s not just on the court, but that’s life. I just want people to know that it gets better. I just want to be that one for them that they can continue to see that if it can get better for her, why can’t it get better for me?”