Playing professional basketball overseas brought Shakena Richardson many new experiences, including the first major injury of her career.
Richardson, a former Seton Hall player who started for the 2015-16 women’s squad, had barely played a handful of games with Hoptrans-Sirenos Kaunas, a team in Lithuania’s LMKL league, before aggravating the injury to the point of a torn ligament in the late fall of 2016.
“It happened in the summer, but I was playing on it not realizing I was hurt,” Richardson said in a phone interview. “I didn’t get the official call that my ankle was ruptured until Nov. 15.”
She returned home from Lithuania, underwent surgery on Nov. 30, and is currently nearing the end of her rehabilitation process.
Despite being limited to what she can do, Richardson’s attitude and support system have ensured that she remains upbeat and focused on getting back to form.
“It’s a life lesson. I’ve had so many bumps along the way,” Richardson explained. “I have a great support system in my family: my mom, my dad – they’re with me every step of the way.”
Even in the face of these circumstances, Richardson is able to reflect on her experiences with professional basketball and how her time in Lithuania challenged her on the court.
“Overseas is a whole different ball game,” Richardson said. “The rules are different and it takes a lot to get adjusted to. I was thrown into it because I got signed pretty late in October. I just got thrown into games.”
After the Dallas Wings, the WNBA team that drafted Richardson with the 30th pick in the third round, waived her on May 3, Richardson secured a contract with Hoptrans-Sirenos Kaunas a few months later just before the Lithuanian league began play.
In just four regular season contests, Richardson averaged 4.3 points, 1.5 boards and one assist per game. Her best performance came against Aistes-LSU on Oct. 15 when Richardson scored eight points, grabbed four rebounds and stole the ball three times in just 13 minutes of action.
Her former coach at Seton Hall spoke highly of her, citing her basketball intelligence as one of her strongest qualities.
“I followed Shakena since she was in high school and her leadership, her toughness, her brains put her far and ahead of anyone equal to her in ability,” Tony Bozzella said. “I was always very impressed with her mind.”
Although her numbers and minutes were not what they were at the Hall, Richardson felt she was beginning to acclimate to the different style of play.
“Once I got the hang of it, it was a little easier,” Richardson noted. “But then again, my injury set me back a little bit.”
The impact of playing overseas was not limited to the on-court experiences, but also her growth and maturity handling new surroundings and culture.
“I’m a grownup obviously, but it’s just another level of growing up. Your parents, your family, is nowhere close,” Richardson said. “You just have a different view of independence because you’re on your own. You don’t speak the language. It’s a very different degree you have to adjust. You have to be mentally tough while you’re there.”
Richardson’s experiences overseas were challenging, but her time at Seton Hall benefited her greatly, which is why she feels that some of the Hall’s brightest stars could make the leap to professional basketball.
“It took me three colleges to get to my final destination. Everybody’s journey is different – just stay focused and stay on task, and everything will play itself out,” Richardson advised. “I think that all of those girls are in a good position because they got a great coaching staff – an honest coaching staff.”
The next step for Richardson may still be in question, but she has big plans to make a statement with her return.
“It could be anywhere from Australia to many different places and you know I’m just excited, but I’m just trying to focus on now and getting right. Once I get back I’m coming out like no other. I’m gonna come back so strong,” she said.
Severe injury recovery is unfamiliar territory, but much like Richardson’s confidence in returning strong, Bozzella holds the same faith.
“She’ll bounce back tremendously. She’s a tough kid – she’s smart. She’ll do fine.”
Kyle Kasharian can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @ItsKyleKash.