By Sports Reporter Sunil Sunder Raj for Global Women’s Sports Radio
Recently I had the opportunity to interview Shakena Richardson, the new Director of Basketball Operations of the Seton Hall University Women’s Basketball Team.
While growing up in Neptune, New Jersey, Shakena Richardson played several sports with her siblings. Whether it was tennis, track, and soccer but eventually pivoting towards basketball.
Attending Neptune High School, Richardson flourished on the hardwood court, ranked the number four-point guard and 18th overall prospect by ESPN, and three-time All-State selection.
“To be honest, my Dad started with tennis, tennis is an expensive one and I just think that it was just too much time-consuming,” Shakena Richardson explained. “We were definitely training in tennis initially and then it went to basketball.”
“I think the high school experience is so special because it’s with the people that you grow up since you were 10, those experiences you share and winning the TOC(Tournament of Champions) and I think the first public school to do so and achieve with longtime childhood friends.”
After graduating from Neptune High School, Richardson attended Rutgers University and Florida State. Receiving her bachelor’s degree in criminology from Florida State in 2015, Richardson ended up at Seton Hall University as a graduate transfer.
“I was able to get my bachelor’s degree at Florida State which was very tough, they have a really strong criminology program and that’s one of the reasons why I really wanted to jump into that field and also had a minor in psychology,” Shakena Richardson noted.
Excelling in one season in a Pirates uniform, Richardson led the team with 12.4 points per game, 1.5 steals per game, and 1.8 assists/turnovers. In the first-round NCAA Tournament game against Duquesne, Richardson tallied 13 points and six assists. Richardson piled up numerous impressive statistics that earned her All-Big East Honorable Mention, Big East All-Tournament Team, All-Met Basketball Writers Third Team honors. Richardson ranked second in the Big East with 5.6 assists per game, posting 175 total assists that ranked second in Seton Hall Basketball history.
“The only thing that comes to my mind when I think of that year was pure happiness, the first time I felt like I was back playing for the love of the game,” Shakena Richardson described. “If you look at the pictures during that season, I was always smiling. Kudos to Coach (Tony) Bozzella and the staff for just letting me be myself and enjoy it. That was exactly how I wanted to wrap up my college career and wasn’t going even in with the mentality of having a professional career.”
“I feel I was lucky throughout my college career I only missed the (NCAA) Tournament one time so I was able to experience that at very high levels a few times in my career. It’s every collegiate player’s dream to make the NCAA (Tournament) and when you get to tournament team it’s a different atmosphere and competitive spirit and buzz in the air. You’re playing for something way bigger than your team, now playing for your whole school, and it’s just deeper.”
The pinnacle of Richardson’s career would occur with being selected in the third round by the Dallas Wings in the WNBA Draft. Richardson became the first WNBA Draft pick in Seton Hall women’s basketball program history.
“A lot of emotions; I never forgot it’s my brother’s birthday was April 14th.” Shakena Richardson mentioned. “I just remember being in the room; we were all just sitting around and just watching the TV. I had a really good combine when the list came out. I was okay; this is a chance that it could happen, but I never did fully see myself actually getting drafted.”
“The draft just meant a different type of level of pure happiness for me, talking about the hard work and time put in since I was a baby and what the dream was all about. Even at times when I thought it wasn’t even foreseeable it still came to fruition and just a super amazing day for me and my family.”
Initially playing for the Dallas Wings in the pre-season, Richardson opted to play overseas in Lithuania after being released from the Wings.
“The pre-season was definitely an adjustment, the girls are bigger, faster, and stronger,” Shakena Richardson noted. “It was a great experience, I had some high competition to go against to make that roster and great training camp.”
“Once I was released from Dallas, I started to prepare for overseas, and it was taking me a long time to get placed with a team, and I finally landed with Lithuania. That summer, I ended up hurting my ankle, and I tried to play on it and push through but didn’t realize how bad it was. I got an MRI, and it showed that I tore a ligament in my ankle, so I had to get surgery.”
Despite the setback, Richardson found a new job, returning to Seton Hall for the 2017-18 season as the coordinator of basketball operations. Responsible for team travel, academic support, scouting, nutrition, and recruiting. In addition, Richardson received her master’s degree in strategic communications.
“To pursue my graduate (degree), I wanted to go into communications because I felt it was such a broad area where I can tackle and jump into any realm that I possibly want and challenge myself,” Shakena Richardson remarked.
“From an athletic standpoint, I could speak about basketball for hours, which allowed me to do that and present in front of 30 to 40 people for my final presentation. I just think that it really helped me grow in so many aspects, just learning my voice and continuing to get confident all around the board.”
For the 2019-20 season, Richardson embarked on a new journey, named as an assistant coach at Randolph College in Lynchburg, Virginia. Working under head coach Steve Lanpher, Richardson’s main tasks were working with perimeter players, recruiting, scouting, travel, apparel, social media, and community service efforts.
“He (Steve Lanpher) put me in a great position to grow in this field and take the lead in a lot of things especially on the side of scouting and I was the main person creating the scouting of our opponents,” Shakena Richardson said.
“I was the overseer of gear distribution, overseeing our guards, and this gave me the responsibility of community service which I really do love and enjoy. It’s important to stay connected to your community at all points in time and really big on being interactive with our youth.”
Last season Richardson joined The College of Saint Rose in Albany, New York as an assistant coach under head coach Whitney Edwards.
“I think I grew with so many different levels, I learned so from her (Whitney Rose) and appreciative of that experience,” Shakena Richardson explained. “She definitely pushed me beyond limits and just giving me the confidence to go at things and keep my own perspective.”
Richardson could not pass it up when the opportunity presented itself this year to return home to Seton Hall University women’s basketball team. As the new Director of Basketball Operations, Richardson’s responsibilities will be with travel and meal arrangements, gear distribution, practice planning, and overall operations.
“I feel like the goal was always to try and get back here,” Shakena Richardson described. “Sometimes you just have to wait and be patients and hope it comes full circle faster. I’m especially back home in New Jersey, my home state, and I’m just super excited about an opportunity I couldn’t turn down.”
“When you got to campus, there’s a lot of renovation happening, we got some really great pieces to have another great season and just wanting to continue to see the team succeed. I think Coach B. (Tony Bozzella) has done a great job with his staff, he’s continuing to be at that competitive level and I’m excited to be back on board and continue to witness that.”
Most important to Richardson during her basketball journey has been the support from her family.
“I think the number one thing with me and not even from a basketball perspective, just life, in general, is because of my foundation and I always refer to them as my foundation. I have great, amazing parents’ that I have been able to lean on during my toughest times and build me up when I don’t believe in myself.”
“My Mom has always been the education pusher so she is really strict when it comes to academics and not just trying to pass by but exceed expectations. My Dad was straight-up sports, keeping us focused and giving us the way of the land of how to work hard and tools to succeed. I had a phenomenal supporting cast with my siblings and they all played a part in pushing me to become what I am.”
Regarding advice for younger women who want to break into the coaching ranks, Richardson offered this advice. “As far as younger women trying to make their way into the land, the coaching realm and working in an administration trust the process and it doesn’t happen overnight. The first job may not be something that’s intriguing or looks enticing but if you want to work your way at the top it’s okay to get out the mud a little bit.”
“It’s alright to start at the bottom and work your way up to the top. Everybody doesn’t get handouts, don’t be afraid of the journey, just continue to stay consistent and steady, and then you’ll get to where you want to be.”