Countdown to 2015–16: Shereesha Richards is an all-time great performer and competitor for Albany

Photo courtesy of Bill Ziskin

When Albany coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson read Tim Grover’s book From Good to Great to Unstoppable, she came upon a passage that gave her pause. Grover, perhaps best known as Michael Jordan’s trainer, described three types of athletes: coolers, closers, and cleaners.

Of the three, the cleaner is the ultimate: the type of competitor who possesses an insatiable addiction to success. No other type can so consistently dictate a game’s proceedings.

Hmm, thought Abrahamson-Henderson. I’ve got a player who fits the bill of that third descriptor perfectly. When she had her team read the book, the consensus was emphatic.

Albany’s superstar senior forward, Shereesha Richards, was most definitely a cleaner.

“Shereesha is ‘Ms. Cleaner’,” Abrahamson-Henderson says over the phone on a Wednesday morning. “She doesn’t ever worry about the competition. I’ve been a lot of places, and the closest example I can give, in terms of toughness, is Katrina McClain. (McClain, who played for 11 USA women’s national teams in the ‘80s and ‘90s, is widely considered one of the best players in history.) Reesh is just tough, tough, tough. If she was hurt, I wouldn’t know it.”

Since arriving at Albany three years ago, the 6–1 Richards has ticked off all-time records with incredible frequency. She is the two-time reigning America East Conference Player of the Year. Last season, she became the first Great Dane to be named Associated Press Honorable Mention All-America. (She was also named America East Co-Defensive Player of the Year in ‘14–15.)

Points (over 20 per game the past two seasons), rebounds (nine per, for two years running), steals, field goal percentage: Richards consistently ranks among the nation’s leaders in all of them. The Albany record books are littered with her name.

It might come as a shock, then, that when Richards is asked to relay what sets her apart as a player — what contributes to such stirring success? — she pauses with an ‘Um’, before half-heartedly making her way through a list: “Probably aggressive, strong, fearless.” Then, a chuckle. “I don’t know. How many more do you want?”

Her next response—about her favorite pasttimes away from the basketball court —comes much more readily. She replies, simply, Spongebob. “He keeps me laughing,” Richards says.

“She doesn’t really like talking about herself,” Abrahamson-Henderson notes.

When Abrahamson-Henderson is asked what sets her star apart, she lets out a long, low whistle before beginning. And before she does, she reminds you, Reesh has only been playing for six years.

That’s when Richards began hooping for Atlantic Christian School, in New Jersey, after she’d moved from Rae Town, Jamaica to live with extended family members. Abrahamson-Henderson talks about the skill development at Albany, including Richards’s ever-burgeoning perimeter skills which complement an unstoppable turn-around jumper in the post, but she always returns to toughness.

“I don’t ever have to turn Reesh ‘up’,” says Abrahamson-Henderson. “I have to turn her down. When the scout guys come out in practice, I have to take her out, because she wants get in there against them for the extra competition. She goes so hard in practice that when she’s done, she’s got nothing but fumes, and she still wants to go for more.”

This is what opposing coaches always comment upon — the way that Richards seems to be going all-out on every single play. It’s uncanny — many remark that they have never seen a player provide such fantastic effort, so consistently. “A lot of what she does is innate,” says Abrahamson-Henderson. “I can’t explain it better than that.”

It’s the first thing Abrahamson-Henderson noticed when she scouted Richards on the recruiting trail. When the coach reveals that Richards once dropped 35 points, while fighting a 104-degree temperature for most the day, you have to believe her.

As eyes turn toward this season, Albany’s last game of the previous campaign might offer the best insight into what might allow them to make a fifth consecutive NCAA tournament appearance. Last March, facing Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium, they came within a last-second shot of beating the Blue Devils on their home floor. Richards had a modest stat line that afternoon (12 points, five rebounds) — but that was to be expected, since she’d dropped 27 points the last time she’d faced Duke. This time, she didn’t catch the ball without facing a double-team.

One of the takeaways from that Duke game is the way Richards’s supporting class continues to grow. Imani Tate, a 5–8 junior guard who was named conference sixth player of the year as well as earning all-tournament team honors, had 17 points against the Blue Devils.

Says Abrahamson-Henderson, “This year, we’ve added size, too, so we’ll be able to move Reesh around on offense — when she’s able to move off the low block, she’s impossible to box out. We’ll move her around the 4, the 5, and the 3. She’s going to be impossible to guard, and it’s going to be fun.”

Richards’s takeaway from the Duke game, and the motivation on tap for ‘15–16?

“It was heartbreaking that we lost, but it was a great feeling to know we can play with them,” says Richards. “We’re fearless, we’ll step up to the challenge — that’s who we are as Albany. It was a great feeling, showing that even if we’re not ranked as high as Duke, we can still play with — and possibly beat — them.”

“The thing that she has, is she’s in phenomenal shape,” says Abrahamson-Henderson. “She takes such good care of her body, and she can go at high pace for 40 minutes — and that’s with us pressing. That’s why somebody from the WNBA is going to have to look at her. She’s out best player and our hardest worker, and our team follows that example.”

Game of life, with a twist—and shout. Twitter: @alleywhoops

Game of life, with a twist—and shout. Twitter: @alleywhoops