Bolingbrook’s De’ahna Richardson Commits to WMU: “It Just Felt Like Home”

Bolingbrook girls head coach Chris Smith has had no shortage of talent since taking over the program in 2013. He can point to alumni currently on rosters at Central Michigan, Marquette, Northern Illinois and other colleges.

But with De’ahna Richardson he’s had some firsts. She was the first player to start her freshman season on varsity. In her junior season she became the first non-senior captain he’s had.

The groundbreaking Richardson, now a senior, became Smith’s latest player to join a Division 1 college program when she verbally committed to Western Michigan earlier this week. Smith said it wasn’t long after he met Richardson, while he coached her in middle school AAU, that he could see her potential to play at the next level.

“You could see a young kid who was really in tune with the game,” Smith said in a phone interview. “Not just from an athletic standpoint, but even just her understanding of the game. For a kid her age she had a good understanding of the game and just knew how basketball should be played.”

That basketball IQ and her height — listed at 6-0 — allowed her to come right in and make an impact for a team that went 24-5.

“She came in as a freshman post player because she was six feet,” Smith said. “At the time we definitely needed the height. So she came in and spent her first three years playing a post position as a 4, and sometimes as a 5. We talk about a true sacrifice because next year she’ll be starting at the 2 for us.”

Among Richardson’s strengths is that versatility on the court, and both she and Smith said that it’s one of the attributes the Western Michigan coaching staff plans to take advantage of when Richardson joins the team. Smith said that they’ll likely play her at both forward positions, most often as a stretch-4.

“She understands the game, she sees things before they happen,” he said. “She’s a tremendous three-point shooter, she can attack off the dribble, can play with her back to the basket. And she can guard anyone from the 2, 3 or 4.”

Richardson (No. 12) against Benet Academy in her junior season to win the sectional title.

In her final year before college, Richardson said in a phone interview that she plans to continue working on her three-point shot, her handles and being a more vocal leader. She said she’s spoken to former Bolingbrook players Jayden Marable (NIU) and Danyel Middleton (Marquette) about the transition from the high-school game to college. And it’s another former Bolingbrook star that Richardson looked up to as a leader in their lone high-school season together.

“[Central Michigan junior Jahari Smith] taught me you have to be vocal on the court,” Richardson said. “You can’t be too scared to talk to your teammates and just have to be a leader for them.”

Richardson said she began playing basketball in first grade and has been in love with it since. Her dad, as well as uncles and cousins, played the game, and she remembers always taking a ball with her when she went outside as a kid.

She said she began thinking about playing at the next level in middle school, looking up to WNBA players like Candace Parker, who played at Naperville Central before going on to win a WNBA championship and two MVPs.

The college recruiting picked up her sophomore year, even though she missed all but five games with a knee injury. Recruiting this past season was thrown off by COVID-19, and she only was able to make one visit: to Western Michigan in August.

The Broncos are just three hours from home and have a pipeline of Illinois players with current players redshirt junior Kia Brooks (North Lawndale), junior Kiana Cencula (Stevenson), sophomore Ashley Konkle (Benet), and fellow 2021 recruit Maggie Stutelberg, a shooting guard from Glenbard West.

She didn’t have to see any other schools.

“I knew as soon as I went to visit the campus,” Richardson said. “I’d had a virtual tour with them, since COVID didn’t let me have the chance to see them. I went with coach Chris [Smith] and my mom to get a better feeling, and that’s when I knew it was right.

“I really liked the campus, the people there as well, they seemed very nice,” she added. “”It just felt like home.”

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