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And One with DiDi Richards: New Liberty era, modeling and more

(Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images)

Have you ever thought about having a regular conversation with a WNBA player? Say, over coffee or just hanging out at a backyard barbecue? That’s the kind of vibe I aim for with And One — a regular series for Just Women’s Sports involving 10 questions. I ask about basketball things, of course, but also about their lives off the court so you can get to know the players of the WNBA a little bit better.

After the New York Liberty wrapped up a recent afternoon practice, DiDi Richards stepped off to the side to chat with me over the phone. She sounded as relaxed as if she had just been at the nail salon, one of her other favorite hangout spots besides the basketball court. Richards may only be in her second season in the WNBA, but she’s already made quite an impression. Her relentless defense, ability to inject her team with energy and ignite the crowd, and one-of-a-kind pregame fits have made her a fan favorite — not only in the Big Apple but across the league.

Richards’ WNBA career is just getting started after New York selected her in the second round of the 2021 draft. A hamstring injury sidelined her earlier this season and she’s had to work her way back to the court, appearing in only 13 games so far. The Liberty (13-20) have three games left this week to try to secure one of the remaining two playoff spots.

Not even two years removed from an on-court collision that left her temporarily paralyzed from the waist down, the former Baylor guard and Naismith Defensive Player of the Year is still coming into her own on the court. We talked about her goals to become a better all-around player, the Liberty’s new coaching staff under Sandy Brondello, her experience taking part in the “We Are The W” documentary and, of course, fashion.

1. What were your overall thoughts about this Liberty team heading into the season?

I mean, I was excited. You could see all of the potential on the team so I was excited to get the preseason started. Plus, me not going overseas, I was just really excited to play basketball on its own.

2. What were some of the steps you wanted to take individually in your second year in the WNBA?

Just being more of a defensive anchor, whether that’d be guarding the best player, not the best player, being able to use help principles, an on-ball defender, and to be a threat offensively. Not like the offensive threat, but just someone they can respect.

(Laughs) My entire offensive game. Shooting, actually.

3. How have you been able to get back into the groove on the court and with this team after being out for a month with an injury?

It’s still a work in progress. But it’s been helpful having a team that is as supportive as they are, whether that be my coaching staff or my teammates. They constantly encourage me and tell me that it’s my time, just keep getting comfortable and keep getting better. They’re real patient with me. So I’m very thankful for that. It’s been frustrating … to say the least.

4. The Liberty struggled in May, played well in June, were up and down in July and found a spark in your first couple of games in August. What’s the reason for the switch?

I think people forget that we have a new coach and we’re also still a young team. We have a whole new staff, a whole new offense it feels like. So it was just honestly getting accustomed to the offense and buying into the offense and into our coaches. So once we did that, it was uphill from there.

5. What does this team need to do to lock up one of those final playoff spots?

Win. We need to win (laughs). That’s the one thing we need to do.

6. What was it like being involved with and featured in the “We Are The W” documentary?

It was super special. For me being a rookie, my first year, and being able to be a part of the “We Are The W” film was kind of humbling — that I was even picked for that and thought about for that film. It was super exciting to be with Izzy (Harrison) and Angel (McCoughtry), who are well-established players. While we weren’t filming, I would definitely be picking their brains for off-the-basketball-court, on-the-basketball-court stuff, for sure.

7. Who are some of your favorite fashion icons?

One of them, I think Devin Booker. He’s very minimalist, like he doesn’t do too much. He stays well within himself and he’s very, very comfortable with what he wears. So, I think him and PJ Tucker. I’m super girly and they’re super not, like — they’re them. And I think that’s kind of cool.

8. If you weren’t playing professional basketball, what would you be doing?

I’d be modeling. It’s definitely in the works. I spent my offseason trying to figure out different ways to get into that industry. So, this is my second offseason and I’m excited to see what it has to offer.

9. What’s something WNBA fans would be surprised to know about you or wouldn’t expect?

Um … that I’m super … I second-guess myself a lot. Like, I’m not as comfortable as I look. I don’t know why people say that (laughs). But I’m super, like, in my own head. Or for the longest time, I really didn’t feel like I was good enough. So I think that’s something that’s shocking about me or people always find it shocking.

10. Who’s the best dressed on the Liberty roster?

I can’t say myself? (Laughs)

I’m just gonna say me.

Lyndsey D’Arcangelo is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports, covering the WNBA and college basketball. She also contributes to The Athletic and is the co-author of “Hail Mary: The Rise and Fall of the National Women’s Football League.” Follow Lyndsey on Twitter @darcangel21.

2023 MVP Breanna Stewart Drops 31 Points in Liberty’s Huge Win Over Fever

breanna stewart and jonquel jones of the new york liberty celebrate win over indiana fever
Stewie and the Liberty dominated the court throughout Thursday's Fever home opener. (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)

The New York Liberty dominated Indiana on Thursday night, winning by a whopping 36 points in the Fever's home opener. 

A sold-out crowd of 17,274 was in attendance to watch as star rookie Caitlin Clark finished the 102-66 defeat with nine points, seven rebounds, and six assists. It’s the first time since January 2021 — her freshman season at Iowa — that Clark's been held to single-digit scoring. 

"The physicality is definitely up there... I'm easily pushed off screens," she told reporters after the loss. "The game seems a little fast for me right now. The more I play and the more comfortable I get, it's going to slow down a little bit. It will be easier for me to make reads, see things develop."

The Fever were outscored by a combined margin of 57 points in their first two games — the largest two-game point deficit in WNBA season-opening history, according to @ESPNStatsInfo.

"We've got to get to a level of toughness," Fever coach Christie Sides in her own postgame remarks. "When things are going south on us, we're not stopping the bleeding."

"I have great perspective on everything that happens," Clark added. "It was the same in my college career. There were some moments that were absolutely amazing. And there were some moments I was not happy with how I played and how my team performed. That's just life, that's just basketball."

Liberty guard Sabrina Ionescu, who herself experienced a rocky rookie season following a much-hyped college career, offered up some insight on the matter.

"In this league, there are tough defenses all centered around not letting you get the ball, trapping, not letting you score," Ionescu said. "There were many factors that played into what was a tough first season for me in the league, but it helps you be able to figure it out. You have to have those experiences."

But it was reigning league MVP Breanna Stewart that truly stole the show, racking up 31 points, 10 rebounds, four assists, three steals, and two blocks on the night.

"In general, I just wanted to come out more aggressive coming off of last game," Stewart said after putting up the 24th 30-point game in her career.

Stewart she also commended the fans inside Indianapolis's packed Gainbridge Fieldhouse, noting that she hopes that level of support to continue across the WNBA.

"This is how you want every game to be and when it's a sell-out crowd, it gives you a similar playoff atmosphere feel," she said. "People want to be a part of this and the thing now is to continue to sustain it, continue to take the momentum that we have and turn it into something more."

WNBA Commissioner Admits to ‘Faulty’ Charter Rollout

WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert at 2024 wnba draft
Cathy Engelbert at the 2024 WNBA Draft in New York. (Cora Veltman/Sportico via Getty Images)

WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert admitted to a "faulty rollout" of the new charter travel initiative on Thursday, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.

Ahead of Tuesday's season opener, it was announced that the only teams flying private this week would be Indiana and Minnesota. The announcement came mere days after the league made a new charter flight program for all WNBA teams public. At the time, they said it would be implemented "as soon as we have the planes."

But as two teams out of 12 chartered to their first games of the season, others like the Atlanta Dream and Chicago Sky were forced to fly commercial.

A town hall meeting between Engelbert and the players was held in response to the confusion. Everything from the league's new media rights deal to private travel was covered in the meeting, with players submitting their questions ahead of time. Sky center Elizabeth Williams told Sun-Times reporter Annie Costabile afterwards that cross-country flights were prioritized.

"Flights that are across the country like [the Lynx] going to Seattle, crossing multiple time zones, or flights that usually require a connection, those were the priorities," Williams said. "That’s why New York didn’t go to DC with a charter, but Minny goes to Seattle."

What’s unclear under that metric is that the Atlanta Dream played the Los Angeles Sparks on Wednesday, which could technically be classified as a cross-country flight. 

On Tuesday, rookie forward Angel Reese shared a photo on her Instagram story lamenting the league's use of commercial flights.

"Just praying that this is one of the last commercial flights the Sky has to fly," Reese posted. The team still has at least three commercial flights awaiting them in the near future.

"Obviously, I think all teams should be able to get chartered," Reese told the Sun-Times. "But I know moving forward... going in the right direction, being able to have some teams [chartering] is cool. Within the next weeks, everybody will be flying charter, which will be really good."

On Thursday, Lindsay Schnell of USAToday Sports confirmed that the league intends to have all teams on charter flights by May 21st.

Brazil Wins Bid for 2027 Women’s World Cup Host

fifa womens world cup trophy on display
The FIFA Women's World Cup trophy on display in Bangkok after Brazil was announced as the 2027 host country. (Thananuwat Srirasant - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

Brazil has been named the host for the 2027 Women’s World Cup, with FIFA announced early Friday. 

The decision came after a vote at the 74th FIFA Congress in Bangkok, with Brazil earning 119 votes to the joint European bid’s 78. 

This will be Brazil’s first time hosting the Women’s World Cup, with the country having hosted the men’s World Cup twice before in 1950 and 2014. It will also be the first Women’s World Cup held in South America. The tournament will follow the same 32-team format as the 2023 WWC in Australia and New Zealand.

Brazil winning the bid was not entirely surprising after FIFA issued a report just last week, stating that the Brazilian bid had pulled ahead as host following technical inspection. After evaluation, Brazil was given a score of 4.0 out of 5, compared to the 3.7 awarded to the Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands.

Brazil ranked higher in a number of key areas, including stadiums, accommodations, fan zones, and transport infrastructure. Though considered to be a frontrunner, the US and Mexico withdrew their joint bid prior to the technical inspection period, saying they would instead focus their efforts on 2031.

On Friday, Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) president Ednaldo Rodrigues called it a "victory." 

"We knew we would be celebrating a victory for South American women's soccer and for women," he told reporters. "You can be sure, with no vanity, we will accomplish the best World Cup for women."

"We are working on a transformation, not only for the country but for the continent," added bid team operational manager Valesca Araujo.

Brazil intends to use 10 of the venues utilized at the 2014 men’s World Cup, including holding the final in Rio de Janeiro on July 25th. The CBF's proposal outlines that the 2027 tournament run from June 24th through the end of July. Last summer’s World Cup began at the end of July and concluded on August 19th.

Another notable element of Brazil's newly unveiled plan to grow of the women’s game is that "all [men’s] clubs wishing to take part in high-level national and continental competitions must now provide a structure for a women’s team." While the definition of "structure" was not specifically identified, the country has set targets with CONMEBOL to help increase the number of women’s club teams in the country.

In last week's inspection findings, FIFA noted that selecting Brazil as the next WWC host could "have a tremendous impact on women's football in the region."

Chelsea Eyes Weekend Finale With WSL Title in Sight

chelsea players celebrate win against tottenham in the wsl
Chelsea beat Tottenham on Wednesday, moving to the top of the table in an effort to win departing coach Emma Hayes some silverware. (John Walton/PA Images via Getty Images)

Chelsea did what they needed to do on Wednesday in order to make Saturday's slate of season-ending WSL fixtures interesting: Beat Tottenham.

The Blues are now number one in the league, with an edge over Manchester City on goal differential thanks to an eight-goal outing against Bristol City last week. 

Yesterday's result tees up a league finale for the books as Chelsea looks to send coach Emma Hayes off with another trophy to add to her cabinet. The Blues will play FA Cup winner Manchester City at Old Trafford on Saturday, while City is away at Aston Villa.

"We will be leaving nothing on the pitch, we will be giving everything and no matter what the result is," Chelsea midfielder Erin Cuthbert said after Wednesday's win. "At least we can look each other in the eye and say we gave everything."

It makes for a thrilling end to Chelsea's Emma Hayes era, as the decorated WSL coach will take over the USWNT in June. And it comes after Hayes all but conceded the title race early this month after Chelsea fell to Liverpool 4-3.

"I think the title is done," Hayes said at the time. "Of course, mathematically, it's not, but I think the title is done. Our job between now and the end of the season is to keep pushing until the end, but I think it will be very difficult.

"We will never give up. But the title is far from us; it's not in our hands. I think City are deserving, their consistency has put them in that position. Of course, we will go to the end, but I don't think the title will be going to us this year."

Be it mind games or Hayes truly thinking her team was that far off, her words lit something in Chelsea. Their following two performances showed the team’s determination to have a shot at some silverware.

As for Saturday's schedule, Hayes believes her team is facing the "tougher of the two games."

"It's a fitting finale for me, being my final game," she told BBC Sport. "As I said to the players if someone gives you a second chance in life, make sure you don't need a third one. We're in the position we want to be in, and we'll give it everything on Saturday no matter what."

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