Following a win over Washington State in January, ASU women's basketball head coach Charli Turner Thorne made a comment about her freshman point guard Reili Richardson that caught the attention of a media members in the press room.
“I feel like sometimes we are asking her to do too much, but she just keeps continuing to be able to do it," Turner Thorne said back on Jan. 13. "She's just as poised as any player I've ever coached, and she's in her first season."
That’s some pretty heavy praise for the Brea, California native, who started her first year of college at age 17.
Richardson has taken advantage of her extended opportunity in the backcourt so far this season, as the Sun Devils have experienced both eligibility and injury issues.
Junior transfer guard Courtney Ekmark won't be eligible until the 2017-18 season after transferring from University of Connecticut, and the injury bug has kept freshman guard Kiara Russell while senior guard Kelsey Moos continues to be sidelined. As a result, Richardson has found herself with the responsibility of solely running the show for the Sun Devils.
Richardson has started in 16 of the Sun Devils' 23 games, most of any freshman on the team. She leads the team in multiple categories, including minutes played (654), assists (93) and steals (27). Richardson also ranks third on the team in scoring with 8.2 points per game.
But according to her coach, Richardson is just that type of player; someone that doesn’t let things get under her skin, and if something does, she will not show it.
“I think she just loves the game,” Turner Thorne said. “I think she’s grown up going to the gym when maybe other kids were at the mall. That’s how you get to the point where you’re just a step ahead and things don’t bother you.”
Richardson has certainly spent her fair share of time on a basketball court. She spent all four years as a member of the varsity team at Brea Olinda High School, en route to two California state championship game appearances, winning the second of the two.
“I played in a state championship my junior year,” Richardson said. “I was a little nervous and I never played in a big arena before with a lot of people. It was a good experience for me.”
The 5-foot-11-inch Richardson also has experience on the USA Women’s U-18 National level, where she was invited to team trials with some of the best young talent in the U.S.
Richardson’s favorite player is Steph Curry of the Golden State Warriors, like many people her age, but her build and on-court play more resemble Curry’s teammate, Shaun Livingston.
Watch Livingston and Richardson for an extended amount of time and the comparisons start flowing. Their reach is the most notable but how they handle the ball, drive to the rim and look for their pull-up shot are eerily similar.
“Her length is great,” ASU senior forward Sophie Brunner said. “She gets a lot of deflections, she can just score better at the basket. She’s longer so she can reach and get those layups that the other point guards won’t be able to get.”
Brunner, along with senior forward Quinn Dornstauder, are the leaders of this young roster, but Richardson is the undetected heartbeat for the Sun Devils.
While Richardson serves as the glue that keeps the ASU offense together, she's also been defensive anchor at times, guarding players like Washington’s point guard Kelsey Plum and Oregon State’s point guard Sydney Wiese, each of which have four years of experience to rely on.
Contributing on both ends of the floor is a lot to ask of Richardson, who is described by her teammates and coaches as quieter at times. Turner Thorne said that one aspect that she and Richardson have been working on is finding the young standout's voice.
“She’ll be out there, she’ll call the plays and stuff like that,” Turner Thorne said. “In terms of emotional leadership and just really kind of knowing what her team knows in that regard — beyond just what play we’re running and what defense we’re in — she needs to grow.”
There will be plenty of time for Richardson to improve on the vocal aspect of leadership, but the one area she already has covered is her ego, which is not always the case with Division I athletes.
“She never complains,” Turner Thorne said. “There’s no drama. She puts her hard hat on and comes to work.”
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