Cy Ranch’s DiDi Richards named All-American amidst team’s dizzying run
In the hypercompetitive UIL District 17-6A, Cy Ranch Girls Basketball is proving itself the crème de la crème.
The Lady Mustangs are dominating what is arguably the toughest district in the state, racing out to a 7-0 record while outscoring opponents 438-272, or by roughly 24 points per contest. Consequently, Cy Ranch was recently ranked by the Texas Association of Basketball Coaches as the ninth-best girls 6A team in the state.
Cy Ranch is treating every game like an elimination playoff bout, and it shows in the team’s effort and intensity, headlined by senior guards Deauzya “DiDi” Richards – named last week to the McDonald’s All-American Game – and Ariana Whitfield. Head coach Tresa Hornsby says that the two players remember last year’s second-round playoff exit against Tompkins all to well, and it drives them every day.
“Last year when we finished, we knew that we underachieved,” Hornsby said. “Tompkins beat us in that regional quarterfinal game, and I think it was an awakening for our girls, especially DiDi and Ari, and they have something to accomplish this year, goal that they set.”
Whitfield is averaging 10.4 points and 3.5 rebounds per contest, an important complementary piece to the Lady Mustangs’ cornerstone, DiDi Richards, who is averaging 18.3 points and 8.3 rebounds (both team highs) per contest, along with 2.3 assists and 2.0 steals.
Proud to be an All-American
It is hard to convey in words or numbers just how dangerous and effective Richards has been. The fact that only 24 student-athletes are selected to the McDonald’s All-American Girls team nationwide says a lot about the season she’s having though, and Hornsby has been blown away by the opportunity she has, as a coach, with Richards as her centerpiece.
“Those two kids [Whitfield and Richards] are amazing kids,” Hornsby said. “And to have a McDonald’s All-American on the team – wow. You don’t get to coach those kids very often, if at all. I’ve been coaching 28 years, and it took that.”
Richards is following in the footsteps of other Cy-Fair ISD All-Americans like De’Aaron Fox (2016), Nancy Mulkey (2016), Chiney Ogwumike (2010) and Nneka Ogwumike (2008), and – as it turns out – she heard the good news last week that she had been selected right when she needed it most.
“I found out Sunday, after my Dallas Cowboys lost,” Richards said. “I had to watch that, but it made me feel better, a lot better.”
Her selection is the fulfillment of a longtime dream that she barely dared to voice in her earlier playing years. Richards, humble nearly to a fault, did not necessarily think of herself as a big-time national-level star in the making as a freshman and sophomore, but she watched the All-American Game quietly hoping and planning.
“I’ve been watching it since I was a freshman,” Richards said. “I didn’t think I was going to be a big time player. I didn’t know about that until I played with Ariel Atkins and Brooke McCarty and they made it, so I watched them and I’ve been watching it ever since.”
Hornsby confirmed that she knew Richards aspired to play with the very best basketball talent the country has to offer, but wondered whether she belonged.
“Getting this honor – she’s always wanted it,” Hornsby said. “She’s talked about it. I’m not sure she thought she could get it. She’s very humble. And when she did get it, she was so excited.”
The All-American selection will act in some ways as the culmination of a career marked by growth and determination, defined by the fulfillment of tremendous promise. Richards was named Cy-Fair ISD’s Newcomer of the Year as a freshman in 2014, and made First Team All-District as a sophomore and junior. Hornsby chalks her progress up to her work ethic and tenacity.
“Since I saw her as an eighth grader, I’ve watched her closely,” Hornsby said. “She came over here and made our varsity as a freshman, and made an impact immediately, started immediately. And she’s in the gym every single day. There’s not a day she isn’t. She’s in the gym on Saturday, if we don’t have practice, she’s in the gym. Sunday, she goes to her workouts.”
As the accolades grew for Richards, so did her commitment and focus. Never too enchanted with the bright lights of stardom, Richards kept her head down and derived her pride and confidence from time spent in the gym, not the Twitter mentions or articles or honors.
“It’s been an amazing experience watching her grow,” Hornsby said. “And she’s had to grow into being the superstar, being looked at, dealing with all of that. She’s just matured. She’s come to a point where she’s matured enough to know, ‘I’ve still got to work,’ and she still does.”
Richards will take the court at Chicago’s United Center March 29 as a member of the West squad in the 40th McDonald’s All-American Games, but until then, she and the Lady Mustangs have plenty of work to do if they want to make this season a special, even historic, one.
And they can.
All for one, one for all
Richards is surrounded by talent. Hornsby says that there is a stark difference from last season to this season in terms of the ability of the rest of the squad to step up.
“We’ve had a complete team effort,” Hornsby said. “Last year, we looked for DiDi, looked for Ari and that was it, those two kids. This year, everyone’s contributing, and of course, that’s what it takes to get deep in the playoffs.”
Whitfield once again provides a terrific second option, and Hornsby says that junior guard Jala Buster is exceeding every expectation and proving herself a reliable and valuable weapon on a nightly basis.
Buster is averaging 11.2 points and 3.5 rebounds per game on the season, but those numbers are trending upward as she has begun to demonstrate that she can explode and pour in the points with the right opportunities.
“Jala Buster has stepped up,” Hornsby said. “Last year, she started out on JV, moved to varsity, moved back to JV, back and forth, and she just wasn’t ready. And she came back this year so ready. And she’s done some things – and no one expected her. She’s just exploded, and she’s faster than fast and no one can really guard us. She’s made a huge impact on our success.”
Though Hornsby says it is vital to focus on the next game wholeheartedly, especially playing in 17-6A, there was a point during the season that the players on the team collectively began to realize that they were capable of pulling off something truly special this year.
“At first, I think they didn’t realize the opportunity that was facing them,” Hornsby said. “It’s, ‘hey, you’ve got a shot at going really deep, a shot at going to San Antonio.’ And then we just kept preaching that to them, and they started getting a little more serious. We haven’t really had to pound them.”
Though Cy Ranch is gearing up for its toughest matchup in district play – Cy Woods, Friday at 7 p.m. – and nothing is guaranteed, the harbingers of lofty success are present and plainly visible: one of the 25 best players in the country, a potent second-option, an improving and maturing cast of supporting roleplayers and a determined, long-tenured top-tier coach.
The sum of the parts is enormous. The question is whether the Lady Mustangs can continue to grow and become even more than the sum of those prodigious parts.
If the answer is yes, then it is going to be hard to keep Cy Ranch out of San Antonio come March.