Countdown to 2015–16: Tabatha Richardson-Smith is thriving in Seton Hall’s up-tempo system

Photos courtesy of Seton Hall Athletics

Second team All-Big East in 2014–15. Second consecutive season she’s earned that honor.

In conference games, ranked fifth in Big East with 17.4 points, fourth in steals (2.1), third in threes per game (2.5), third in rebounding (8.5).

Tabatha Richardson-Smith enters her senior season at Seton Hall with a glittering list of accolades and a rep as one of the most dynamic forces in college basketball. She is the program’s all-time leader in three-point field goals, with 199. (She set the single-season record in ‘14–15, with 94).

She’s currently in ninth place when it comes to all-time points. Her 38 points against Illinois, last season, tied Seton Hall’s single-game points record, as well as her own personal best. The previous campaign, Richardson-Smith had poured in 38 against Marquette.

Anthony Bozzella, now in his third season as Seton Hall head coach, remembers taking a look at his depth chart after taking over the program in 2013. Brittany Morris, the leading scorer from the previous season, had graduated, so Bozzella was sifting through options to help fuel his patented fast-pitched attack.

“I was looking among the players, and I wondered, Why isn’t Tab playing?,” Bozzella says. “Maybe it was the system she’d been in — I don’t know that answer, but I saw a girl that could score the ball.”

He also knew that in his system, she would be unleashed. In Bozzella’s first two seasons at Seton Hall, the Pirates have produced two of the top four scoring campaigns in program history. In ‘14–15, they set the single-season record with 2,569 points.

Richardson-Smith’s emergence has been one of the pivotal themes. Bozzella puts it in professional terms: every year, you’ll see a free agent that signs with a team, and goes from ‘X’ amount of points to the next level. You wonder, Why did he blossom?

It’s Draymond Green growing into a pivotal role with the Warriors, or James Harden going from being a very good third option on the Thunder to a top-5 player in the league with the Rockets.

Bozzella saw a player who worked harder on her game than anyone he’d seen. She wasn’t just a shooter; she could drive, dish, and crash the glass like few others.

“With Tab, it came down to freedom,” says Bozzella. “She needs space. She makes hard shots — she has this unbelievable ability to make really difficult shots from long distance. It’s to her credit that she’s excelled for us these past two seasons.”

Bozzella has seen Richardson-Smith’s defense improve each year. “Those are things we accentuated with her,” Bozzella says. “She always thought she was bad at it; but we’d keep telling her, ‘You are a good defender.’ She’s dynamic, getting into passing lanes.”

Richardson-Smith was a heralded recruit from Bay City, Texas, and in Seton Hall, she saw the bright lights of a Big East program.

She figured that Anne Donovan, who’d recruited her to Seton Hall (and has since become the head coach of the WNBA’s Connecticut Sun) would take her to the next level. That didn’t work out. Her freshman season was a major disappointment — “I was less than a role player,” she says, but in Bozzella — ‘Coach B’ to his players — she found a coach who believed in her.

“If you make a mistake, it’s not a big deal,” says Richardson-Smith. “Having that attitude around boosts your confidence. You play your hardest for a coach like that.”

She talks with Bozzella about what it takes to get to the next level. One of the main themes they’ve discussed: Always doing the next thing.

“It’s staying after practice for a couple extra drills,” says Richardson-Smith. “The coaches push me to meet my highest expectations. It’s basically never settling, and that’s a big thing with this staff — they always push you to your highest level.”

That mentality goes alongside Seton Hall’s expectations in ‘15–16. Four starters must be replaced for next season, including Ka-Deirdre Simmons and Daisha Simmons, both of whom were named First Team All-Big East in ‘14–15.

The Pirates are coming off arguably the best season in their history. A program-record 28 wins, their first conference regular season title, and the first NCAA tournament appearance in 20 years. Richardson-Smith sees no reason to dial back her expectations for ‘15–16.

“We have people on this team that’ll do great, so we’re not settling for less,” she says. “We’re pushing to go back to the NCAA tournament — and win a game.”

Photos courtesy of Seton Hall Athletics.

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

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