If you have ever watched a Seton Hall women’s basketball game, you have probably seen the smooth shooting stroke of a confident Tabatha Richardson-Smith.
That confidence sometimes created problems for Richardson-Smith, forcing her to play the hand that she was dealt and make the best out of a situation that would discourage many.
A player with a tremendous ability to shoot the basketball, the senior from Bay City, Texas entered Seton Hall as a strong player on both ends of the floor. However, she was not highly recruited because coaches felt her confident attitude and style of play would not mesh well with their teams’.
Former Seton Hall head coach Anne Donovan took a chance on Richardson-Smith, the southern streetball player who averaged 31.6 points, 9.4 rebounds and 4.5 steals per game as a senior at Bay City High School.
Donovan only wanted Richardson-Smith to serve as a shooter and her freshman season did not go as planned. She averaged just 4.9 points in 31 games for the Pirates.
“I felt like [Donovan] would be able to take me to the next level,” Richardson-Smith said. “Obviously there was a change in coaching staffs, and I was blessed with coach Bozzella.”
After Richardson-Smith’s freshman year, current head coach Tony Bozzella took the helm. Richardson-Smith exploded in her sophomore season and averaged 17.1 points while starting all 34 games, earning Second Team All-Big East honors and setting a single-game scoring record at Seton Hall with 38 points in a win over Marquette on Feb. 22 of 2014.
“Coach Bozzella is very free-willed,” Richardson-Smith said. “He believes in letting me be me. I do not have to be anybody I am not. I do not have to try to do things that I am not comfortable with. He told me to go out and be myself.”
The numbers do not tell the whole story. Underneath the confidence that sometimes gets mistaken for arrogance, Richardson-Smith is a person full of compassion, according to Mike Ekanem, her former AAU coach who became a special assistant coach to the men’s basketball team at Memphis.
“She cares about others off the court,” Ekanem said. “She can look selfish on the court, but that is just the confidence she has in her abilities. She is the nicest person you will ever meet.”
Ekanem became something of an older brother to Richard- son-Smith, driving 40 minutes from San Antonio to pick her up and take her to AAU practices for four years, even before Richardson-Smith played for his teams. He would also spend another 40 minutes in the car with Richard- son-Smith to bring her home.
Ekanem said that between driving Richardson-Smith to and from practice and taking her to AAU tournaments across the state of Texas, the pair spent sometimes 18 hours in a car together at a time.
Those car rides helped shape Richardson-Smith into the person she is today, teaching her how to handle any “bad publicity” or “lack of attention” that came her way, according to Ekanem.
In addition to growing as a person, Richardson-Smith is always working to make herself a better, well-rounded player.
“She is a student of the game,” Ekanem said. “She has really expanded her skill set, especially ball-handling. She was just a scorer in high school, but she is a gym rat and now she can score, dribble and pass.”
“Tab wants to get better all the time. She wants to be the best that she can be,” Bozzella said. “She is really developing into an outstanding player. She needs to continue to work on her game and work every day at improving, and if she does that she can be one of the top players in the Big East.”
Richardson-Smith’s junior season proved that the previous was no fluke, as she went out and averaged 17.8 points in 33 games, earning her second straight Second Team All-Big East selection while leading SHU to its first NCAA Tournament appearance in two decades.
Heading into her senior season, Richardson-Smith will have to take on a new role with the departure of point guard Ka-Deidre Simmons. Richardson-Smith will now be looked to as the leader of a Pirates team that lost five players and welcomes four freshmen plus graduate-transfers Shakena Richardson and Aleesha Powell.
“She is a good role model, especially to the younger players,” junior Lubirdia Gordon said.
Feeding off of the energy that Bozzella always brings to the sideline, Richardson-Smith brings the same intensity to the floor every night.
“Coach Bozzella is passionate,” Richardson-Smith said. “He makes you want to go out and be the best that you can be.”
One thing is for sure, Richardson-Smith will never settle.
“Negativity is the one thing that makes her play better,” Ekanem said. “She is always out to prove somebody wrong.”
Kevin Huebler can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @Hueblerkevin.