Even when you’re living the dream as a professional athlete, the work can be tough.
It wasn’t necessarily easy for DiDi Richards in her first two seasons as a WNBA player. The former Baylor defensive guard suffered injuries that limited her playing time and hindered her progress.
“It’s tough. The last two years I’ve dealt with injuries, and I’m just trying to make my third year the best year I’ve had, as it has been in the past,” Richards said. “My senior year seems to be a pattern to be good. So, I hope you guys will cheer for me on the field, not the bench.”
That’s the thing about Richards. Even when she’s going through tough times, she seems to radiate optimism and positivity. It’s more champagne than a truckload of champagne.
Richards brought her upbeat spirit back to Baylor’s campus Sunday as a special guest at Baylor’s game against rival Texas Longhorn. She met the Bears during the pre-game photoshoot and took charge of the show’s social media accounts for the day. Richards has been keeping pretty busy throughout the WNBA season, but she welcomes any opportunity she can to return to Baylor.
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“There are so many things I can remember, but there was a whole bunch of nostalgia when I walked in,” said Richards, shortly after arriving at the Ferrell Center. “There were so many memories going back. I shed a few tears in the car when I first pulled over. 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 guard went 6-2 on her own as a freshman in the 2018-2019 season. Fittingly, she was nicknamed Didi—her given name is Deauzya—because she was doubly good at the D. She won Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year honors, and willingly took on the other teams’ top scorer role for the Baylor team that eventually won the NCAA championship.
Asked about Baylor’s most memorable memory, 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? That’s what it really is. To be.” In this weight room. I feel like we played a lot of pranks here. Coach Mulkey loves country music, so we’ll get up at 6 in the morning and hear country. Nobody wants to hear country music at 6 in the morning!”
For Richards, 2020 has turned out to be one of the toughest years of her young life. The COVID-19 pandemic arrived and killed Baylor’s chance of chasing a second straight national title. Then in October, just before the 2020-21 season, Diddy collided at full speed with teammate Moon Ursen during training and suffered a severe spinal cord injury. At the time, Mulkey compared it to a “football crash without the shims.”
Richards was temporarily paralyzed from the waist down. Doctors worried that she would never 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 herself. Called a “walking miracle” by her doctors, she’s already made her comeback, winning Trib’s Big 12 Defender of the Year honors along the way.
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 off two teams, a professional basketball player and a famous model. She’s landed several gigs over the past couple of years, including appearing in the popular Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue.
Then this past September, she achieved another life goal by walking the runway at New York Fashion Week.
“A dream come true,” Richards said. “I feel like this has been on my bucket list since I was 4 years old. I wanted to be in modeling, to be a model my whole life. To be able to do that because of basketball, it’s just a beautiful story. It’s something that was written and not I would have told him better.”
Richards wore a tangerine dress by Dor Deux, and he enjoyed every minute of it.
“I had this dress on for 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. I want that there.’ They were like, ‘Do you realize it’s see-through from top to bottom?’ ‘Yeah, that’s what I want. I want to wear this.’
Richards, who turns 24 on Feb. 8, says New York is the place to be a budding model, given the abundance of opportunities. But she’s just as focused on her upcoming third WNBA season as she’s having a breakout year after dealing with a hamstring injury throughout the 2022 season.
“I’m a person who takes a lot of hits, and it affects a lot of everything,” Richards said. “It’s not just on the court, but that’s life. I just want people to know it’s getting better. I just want to be that person for them so they can continue to see that if she can get better, why can’t she get better for me?”