Richards needs convincing, but others at Western believe

ON HIGH SCHOOLS

The Kickoff

December 18, 2006|By MILTON KENT

Everybody, it seems, knows how good Akeema Richards is, or will be. Everyone, that is, but Richards herself.

Richards, a sophomore guard at Western, is on the verge of blossoming into one of the area's best young players, if she isn't one of them already. She's drawn the attention of college coaches, and Richards was the only freshman to be named to The Sun's All-Metro squad last year, as a second-team selection.

But Richards is having a hard time believing the hype, even if it is legitimate.

"I know I played well last year, but I didn't think it was that good," Richards said. "I can do better."

If Richards does much better than last season, when she averaged 10.2 points and 4.2 assists while shooting 53 percent from the field, the No. 9 Doves may have a chance to repeat as city champions, as well as get back to the Class 3A state championship game.

"She's scary," Western coach Tiffany Silver said. "She developed so much as a freshman playing on that team last year. In most of the big games, where we needed someone to take over, she did it and that was as a freshman. And it just happened naturally. It wasn't that she set in her mind, `I have to do this or I'm good enough to do this.'"

On a senior-laden team, led by Zhondria Benn, who is now at Georgetown, Richards was, more often than not, the go-to player. Richards' clutch play came right off the bat, with a 12-point, nine-rebound game in her debut against Poly.

From there, it was just one big-time game after another, from a 14-point performance against Riverdale Baptist, then the top-ranked Washington-area team, in Western's 39-35 upset win in the Mayor's Academy showcase in January.

Next, there was a 16-point, 10-steal, six-assist game against then-No. 10 Southside in mid-February. Richards capped an impressive freshman season with a team-high 13-point effort in the state title game, where she picked clean River Hill's Keisha Eaddy, a first-team All-Metro selection who is starting as a freshman at Temple, on the Hawks' first possession and took it in for a layup.

"It [the season] was good," Richards said. "Good until the end. It [the 51-46 loss to River Hill] was disappointing, but things happen. They just didn't go our way."

With seven seniors on the roster last season, Richards probably wasn't supposed to be that vital a cog in the Western attack, but Silver said she knew the previous summer that Richards would probably find her way into the starting lineup by season's end, and the Western seniors knew it, too.

"They [the seniors] actually came to me last year ... and they were like, `Why isn't Akeema starting?' said Silver, who was in her first year coaching her alma mater last season. "I felt like she needed to take her time. She earned it. She was such a spark coming off the bench, and it helped us then. Because she sat on the bench, she kind of got comfortable with the game and she wasn't just thrown into it. But I had to let her make her way through it and pick her time."

Richards filled a similar role on the school's softball team, where, after having never played the game in an organized manner, she quickly moved up from the junior varsity into a starting role at shortstop on the varsity team. There, Richards hit .517 with 30 RBIs and was named second-team All-City.

With only three seniors on this season's roster, and Richards' big-game experience, the 5-foot-8 guard is a natural to assume the mantle of leadership. However, like last season, the quiet, sleepy-eyed Richards will apparently have to warm to the task of being vocal, which isn't a natural fit.

"It [being a leader] is fine with me," Richards said. "There are some things you have to do in life that you don't want to. I guess this is my time. I'm not saying I don't want to do it, but I have to step up and take responsibility for my team."

Said Silver: "I don't think she's ready for it [vocal leadership]. I think she's definitely starting to go to work on those parts of her game to bring it out. She's going to lead. They [her teammates] follow her, anyway, because of her abilities. We have vocal leaders and we have leaders that kind of do, and that's what she is. I don't need her to be a pumper-up or a go-getter, because I have other kids that can do that."

If her past is any indicator, Richards will be better at leadership than she realizes.

milton.kent@baltsun.com

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