DiDi Richards bounces back from fall injury with new perspective

Baylor guard DiDi Richards, left, is guarded by Oklahoma guard Navaeh Tot, right, in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Jan. 23, 2021, in Waco, Texas. (Rod Aydelotte/Waco Tribune-Herald via AP)

By Harper Mayfield | Sports Writer

No injury is good, but some are more worrisome than others.

When star Baylor guard DiDi Richards collided with teammate Moon Ursin during an October practice, the results seemed catastrophic. Richards suffered a nonstructural spinal cord injury, while Ursin would undergo concussion protocol.

“It was so surreal how something I do every day could turn into something so drastic and so life changing,” Richards said. “I was almost down for the rest of my life — paralyzed for the rest of my life.”

Richards was unconscious for a short period following the collision, and had lost feeling in her lower body upon waking up. As concerned as she was, the reaction of the medical staff didn’t do her any favors.

“I was in the ambulance, and everybody’s face, every time they saw me was like … ‘I don’t think this is OK,” Richards said. “So their reaction is kind of what scared me. They would be poking my legs, apparently they were poking me hard, because [the doctor] would look at me and I would be like, ‘Are you going to poke me, are you going to do it?’”

As frightening as an injury like that is, Richards never let her fear “judge the way [she] was going to take on the situation.”

Assisting Richards in the recovery process was team trainer Alex Olson, who has been with the team for 22 years and has earned the full trust of everyone involved with the organization.

“Alex Olson was here when I got here 21 years ago and he’s never left my side” said head coach Kim Mulkey. “He protects those players, but he protects their health first. To watch him work with DiDi, he just goes beyond the call of duty.”

With a spinal injury, an athlete can easily miss an entire season, if they ever get to play again. Richards was back on the court 38 days after the collision, and it couldn’t have come soon enough.

“It felt forever for me,” Richards said. “The recovery process, I think, was also life changing. It was really a lot of lessons in the recovery, because I wanted everything to happen … quicker than [how] it did happen. Everyone says it happened so quick, 30 or however many days it was — it felt like a year.”

Richards saw game action for the first time after this season in Tampa, Fla., as Baylor took on South Florida, and she played significantly more minutes than most expected she would.

“I really had not planned to play her as much as I did,” Mulkey said. “But, when you watch DiDi play, I think you just realize, this kid is good. She’s back to playing DiDi basketball.”

In her new position as the team’s lead guard, Richards is averaging a career high in assists and has had multiple games in which she’s hit double digit helpers. Couple that with her still-stellar defense, and the senior is back to being the impact player she was before injury.

As chaotic as this season has been, Richards has gained some perspective from it.

“It taught me to appreciate life and appreciate the things I do every day,” Richards said. “Whether that’s twisting an ankle, or anything bad that’s happened — failing a test, being late to class — it just made me appreciate the little things in life. I’m just happy to be able to walk and play the game that I love again.”