DiDi Richards #2 of the New York Liberty reacts after a basket against the Seattle Storm during the first quarter at Angel of the Winds Arena on September 02, 2021 in Everett, Washington. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

WNBA star DiDi Richards has a message of perseverance and daring to reach for what is yours that she wants to share.

The former Cypress Ranch and Baylor standout has lived her message after she was temporarily paralyzed just prior to her senior season a year ago, being told she may never walk again and then diligently rehabbing to return to the basketball court 38 days later. This past spring, she was drafted in the second round (No.17 overall) by the New York Liberty.

It’s bigger than basketball for Richards.

“I have a lot more to say than just I can put an orange ball in a hoop or that I can guard people,” Richards said in a recent telephone conversation with The Defender. “I think mostly, as of lately, it’s really been staying strong and not letting the world define your fate.

“I think me being paralyzed, that was the easiest thing to kind of go off of because if I had just let any doctor or any nurse tell me what they told me which is that I wasn’t going to be able to walk again or that they don’t know what is going to happen, I probably would have went into a hole and gave up. But I think me being the person that I am, which is really head strong and just not letting anything or anyone tell me who or what is going to happen in my life.  I think that was the biggest thing for me.”

Richards wants that message to be heard and absorbed by young girls who see themselves in her. While possessing model looks and a monster game, Richards and her willingness to be outspoken about issues such as athletes and mental health, depression and other social causes, has sometimes left her misunderstood.

“I think my biggest purpose is to show other girls — Blacks and Latinos — that it’s not different for us to be who we are,” Richards said. “It’s not crazy for us to act the way we are, which is girly while being tough and being as competitive as we are. My biggest thing is just to show that I am you. My message is you can be on TV, too or you can be doing this, as well.

“I’m just trying to give little Black girls something to reach for and dream for so that basically they can see themselves one day.”

Richards, who is 6-foot-2, has aspirations to be a model and is pursuing opportunities this offseason to that end. But her biggest goal this offseason is to improve as a player.

Didi Richards attends Harlem’s Fashion Row – September 2021 at New York Fashion Week: The Shows on September 07, 2021 in New York City. (Photo by Jason Mendez/Getty Images)

While most WNBA players are preparing to take skills overseas for big paydays during the offseason, Richards has elected to stay in New York and work on her game ahead of next season.

“It was actually hard because I think the narrative and the story that seems to be told all of the time is you go to the (WNBA) and play six months then you go overseas and play seven months,” Richards said. “Whenever I decided to not go, it was different and everyone kind of looked at me like I was crazy, but it didn’t make sense to me, especially because, unfortunately, life is about making money. I make more money out here and I’m getting better out here. So it’s kind of like a double positive.”

During her rookie season, Richards came off the bench for the Liberty and averaged 2.3 points and 0.8 assists per game in 11 minutes per game over 31 games. She was named to the WNBA All-Rookie Team by The Associated Press and the league after leading all rookies in 3-point field goal percentage (45.5%), field goal percentage (42.1%), steals (17) and second in games played.

Joining Richards on the All-Rookie Team were Houston native Charli Collier (Dallas) and her teammate Michaela Onyenwere (New York), who was all Rookie of the Year.

“It was definitely an honor and very humbling,” Richards said of being named to the All-Rookie Team. “It was something I could pat myself on the back a little bit because I continue to beat myself up all of the time. So to have an award that speaks for itself and speaks for the work I’ve been putting in.”