Pittsburgh, PA — As a child, Conor Richardson participated in many different activities, but it was a flier attached to a pole which she encountered in fourth grade that provided an introduction to a love affair that is stronger now than ever before.
Richardson saw that the flier invited anyone who was interested to try out for Metro Basketball at Carnegie Elementary and immediately took it to her father Caleb.
Already, Richardson had transitioned from the world of dance in which she was well versed in ballet, tap, jazz and hip-hop thanks to her mother Selene who was a choreographer.
Tennis also had already run its course, in part due to a move to Crafton, PA from Bridgeville, but Richardson also moved onto softball.
Soon, basketball and softball season began to overlap and Richardson recalled the choice she had to make.
“I chose basketball because the outdoor sports started to get to me,” she said. “The rain, the bugs, the hot, the cold. It is the same temperature pretty much in the gym every time. You’ll get a colder gym or a hotter gym. So I stuck with basketball and it’s been my love ever since.”
The basketball world is very much different compared to the dance floor and it was a choice Caleb endorsed quickly and Selene drew parallels with the sport to where she came around.
Now home or road, the Richardson family are fixtures at Duquesne women’s basketball games.
“My mom always saw me as her ballet dancer, beautiful this and that and then that grace just started going out the window when I started playing basketball,” said Richardson. “My mom is a really competitive person, I think that is mostly where I get my competitiveness from. When she saw how competitive basketball was, she was all for it.”
Effectively using surroundings
When she started playing basketball, Richardson quickly formed friends, most of them older, something which resulted in harder competition.
“I know what drives me is seeing people who are better than me at doing things,” she said. “I always tried to surround myself with people who were better than me. I can’t stand someone who is better than me at something. It pisses me off, I want to be good at everything. I definitely strive to be the best at everything.”
It made the transition of playing with girls her age more seamless, because she viewed the competition as less intense.
“I started getting good and felt myself surpassing my peers,” said Richardson. “I thought I could do something with this.”
Richardson, then in fifth grade, informed her parents she wanted to play AAU Basketball, something which would not happen later when Caleb surprised her with a tryout, disguised as a clinic for the Western PA Bruins.
Caleb actually tricked Richardson framing the clinic as an opportunity to get shots up and work out in an effort to eliminate any nerves as the Bruins were the best team in Pittsburgh.
Richardson ended up making the team.
“That was moment that I knew I could hang with these girls,” Richardson said. “They are no better than me, I am no better than them, but I can compete. I took that and ran with it.”
Choosing a college
As Richardson excelled at Carlynton High School, several colleges began to recruit her and she viewed the process as an annoying one.
Richardson recalled a day during her junior year at the library where various coaches were trying to call and text her and enough was enough.
“This is going to sound crazy, but I wrote all of my school choices down on a piece of paper and said ‘Eenie Meenie Miney Mo’ and it landed on Kent State,” she said. “I circled it, called my dad and committed to Kent State. That’s how I decided to be a Golden Flash.”
Though her father seemed confused, Richardson matter-of-factly informed him that this was the plan. It was approximately an hour away from home, making the commute not too far out of the way and she had a familiar face in teammate Alexa Golden that committed to Kent State as well.
After her junior season was over, Richardson experienced a change of heart. It did not help the Kent State, that it was having a down year and Richardson did not like losing.
Richardson then called Kent State and the other coaches to reopen her commitment, but there was a snag. Richardson had recovered from torn ACL, but she would have to prove herself to earn those offers back, they certainly would not be automatically given back again.
With one AAU tournament remaining, Richardson knew it was do or die.
Richardson chose the former and performed well in the tournament, earning back all of those offers, including a new one from Duquesne University.
The Duquesne offer confused Richardson because the campus was just five miles from her house, but now was the first time there was any true form of communication.
Upon talking to Duquesne women’s basketball coach Dan Burt, Richardson understood the wait was because there was a genuine concern about her injury. It was then that he asked her to visit.
Richardson had never been past the Palumbo Center or been on campus but quickly found that it suited her perfectly.
“It was beautiful and I know myself, I am lazy,” said Richardson. “I am not trying to shuttle to class. I can get from Point A to Point B in six minutes on this campus. I knew some of the girls from AAU. This was a smooth transition and I knew Brianna Thomas, who is now our graduate assistant and Chassidy Omogrosso so that helped.”
After the visit, Burt offered a scholarship and the Richardson family departed for a meal. During that meal, Richardson described the familiar feeling her peers told her she would feel when she knew what the right fit would be.
Later that night, Richardson called Burt and accepted the offer. It was a matter of hours.
— Epic Recruiting (@crnupe) November 15, 2014
Richardson had a plane ticket to fly to Seton Hall and visit its coach Tony Bozzella, the very next week, but now that plan would have to change.
Ironically, Richardson’s Dukes would face Seton Hall in the first round of the NCAA Tournament her freshman year.
“I guess I made the right decision because we ended up winning that game,” Richardson said.
Developing into a leader again
Almost immediately during Richardson’s time as a Duquesne Duke, she was put in her place.
It was commonplace for Richardson to make circus shots in Summer League and average 30 points a game but the coaches and then seniors all informed her that would not happen at Duquesne.
Richardson came in viewing college basketball as a dog-eat-dog and me-versus-you environment but instead the adjustment hit her hard.
High school basketball was no more.
“I believe it took me a full year, I just did not understand why I was not playing as much as I should be,” Richardson explained with a smile. “That hit me hard. This isn’t like high school where I can shoot whenever I want or tell coach no. It’s a whole different ballgame. Coach Dan told me if I kept shooting those shots I would be on the bench and my butt was on the bench. I had to adjust my whole game. I was not the same player I was in high school at all.”
Richardson had to accept that she was playing behind seniors in Emilie Gronas, April Robinson and Deva’Nyar Workman who all understood the team’s system and their roles within that system.
Burt promised Richardson if she did shoot crazy shot that a return to the bench would be quick. Richardson tested her coach and quickly found that he was true to his word.
“You don’t have to be Superman here, I was Superman in high school but here it was about playing your role,” said Richardson. “It’s more about making the smart pass or smart play and defending the best player as well as I could. I got playing time because of that and it ended up sticking.”
Duquesne made the NCAA Tournament in her freshman season and then in the summer, now with an understanding of what was expected, Richardson kept up the same intensity in the weight room and focused more on her responsibilities.
“I live up the street, so I don’t have an excuse to be down here in the gym all day,” she said. “I learned the offense and where I am supposed to be. Defensively everything slowed down for me that year. I knew I had to be the defensive mind of the team and help everyone else out too.”
Richardson’s hard work resulted in her first career start in the opening game sophomore year on the road against a top-10 Ohio State team, though some nerves certainly came into the picture.
“I don’t get scared of anybody but that was a big stage I was on,” Richardson said. “My first play, I had a wide-open layup and smoked it.”
Assessing her sophomore season, Richardson admitted that she had big shoes to fill, in addition to trying to follow-up the first NCAA Tournament berth in school history.
Ultimately it was an inconsistent year, but one which still resulted in an Atlantic 10 Championship Game berth.
Come junior year, Richardson finally was where she wanted to be. Now she was one of the older players and was trusted as a team captain.
“I felt at home again with myself,” said Richardson. “I felt I was in a position I knew I could thrive in. I don’t do well following, that’s just not what I am good at. I have to lead by example, so this past year I was in my element. I took back the role where I felt most comfortable as a captain.”
No longer was Richardson a captain because she could score at will, but instead because she could lead.
“This process showed me that you don’t have to score to be a good player, and although I can, that’s not what it’s all about,” Richardson said. “If you score 100 points and your opponent scores 101, it’s still a loss. You still lose. It’s not all about offense so that is something that I pride myself on. It takes a strong-minded person and a team-oriented person to accept that, sacrificing your own personal goals for the team.”
Burt agrees with Richardson’s mindset and believes that she will be an asset wherever she goes.
“She’s everything you want in a daughter and also everything you want in a captain and a teammate,” he said. “She’s a great role model for the younger players. Her rock is her mom and dad and they raised her right, that is obvious. That was evident as much as a freshman as it is now. The big difference was she didn’t know what didn’t know as a freshman. Now she knows the program, knows the culture, knows our personalities and then can communicate to her teammates. She is a fantastic captain.”
Hitting a brief snag
Richardson was a mainstay in the starting lineup until the team’s Jan. 31 game at Dayton.
The day prior in practice, Richardson set a screen and a teammate rolled on her. The former did not give it any thought, but in the second half of that Dayton game, Flyers senior guard Jenna Burdette drove towards the basket, with Richardson standing on the block trying to draw a charging foul.
Instead, Richardson was called for the foul, but it was not about that whistle, but rather the fact that she was not feeling well. She was beginning to experience the effects of a concussion.
Richardson kept this information to herself, trying to remain a leader and taking one for the team. After all, Richardson had played through a rib injury the year before in the Atlantic 10 Championships, had two back and one knee surgery before college and felt it was always something bothering her, with this being the latest thing to push through.
After the game, Richardson broke down, understanding that something was not feeling right and informed her trainer who was immediately upset to have not been informed earlier, something with Richardson understanding as life being more important than any game.
Richardson missed several games, with the first coming at Richmond with several individuals texting her asking if she was okay. All she could say was that she would be back soon.
“It just killed me not being there with my team,” said Richardson. “I knew I could be of some assistance, especially in the Saint Joseph’s game (a loss). A game that we needed for the season, but what can you do?”
During that time, Richardson was a consistent bench presence during home games where she loudly cheered on and encouraged her teammates, continuing to be a leader, though she admitted the season to that point had exhausted her.
Even still, Richardson interpreted the concussion as a sign and she came back the rest of her junior season refreshed and ready to go as the team made a run to the third round of the WNIT.
“I’m a firm believer in God,” she said. “Sometimes he does things to slow me down and give me a second to pause and breathe. I had to recover, rejuvenate and rest for the season. I don’t question him. I was tired mentally, physically and emotionally but everyone is tired so that is not an excuse. I don’t even like to talk about it because I don’t need to feel sorry for myself. Everyone is in pain, hurting and sore.”
She now advises any athlete in any sport to let someone know if they do not feel right.
Duquesne fell short of its NCAA Tournament goal last season but it is clear that Richardson got a lot out of her junior season.
The time has come
Richardson has consistently worked for everything in basketball and off the court, and already she has her college diploma, currently attending Duquesne as a graduate student.
“You have to buckle down,” she said. “Although I really do love basketball, it is a vehicle for me to get my education paid for and that is a big reason why I am here. Duquesne is a great school academically, so I’m coming out of here with a great basketball career and two degrees.”
That persistence also paid off in the form of an internship with the Pittsburgh Steelers, which is now entering its second year.
The journey began with a field trip during junior year of high school to both PNC Park home of the Pittsburgh Pirates and Heinz Field as well. While others saw the trip as an opportunity to do some sight seeing, Richardson took it very seriously. Yes her family bleeds black and gold, but she treated the marketing plan she was due to present as if it was Super Bowl Sunday.
Her plan was well-received and she spoke to Youth and High School Football Marketing Manager Mike Marchinsky. He gave Richardson a business card, which she immediately took a picture of and kept at her desk in hopes of landing an internship down the line.
Marchinsky attended Carlynton High School and was an assistant football coach there from 1994-99, so a connection was already there.
Richardson reached out after her freshman year but was told internships were only given out after sophomore year. The next summer, Marchinsky kept tabs on Richardson and when the pair touched base, there were no summer internships remaining but an interview could possibly be set up to work in the fall.
During the fall, basketball season begins, so Richardson had to get approval from Burt who explained that the staff would make it work.
Of the over 400 applicants, 20 were interviewed and Richardson was one of four to be offered the internship.
— Duquesne WBB (@DuqWBB) April 14, 2018
With that in addition to various team-based community service activities going on, Richardson still has plenty of time ahead to think of the season, which will be her last in a Duquesne uniform along with three other seniors.
“It’s a lot to think about because we are in a great position right now,” Richardson said. “We have girls here working and they are developing their skills. It’s been six weeks now. We are putting in the work and I can feel this being a great season. I know I am doing all I can to go out with a bang as are the other seniors. We want to make this special and memorable while still having fun.”
Photo credit: Mitchell Layton/Atlantic 10 Conference