HARRISBURG – Anyone who has seen Hickory Ridge girls basketball player Reigan Richardson has likely been baffled by her astounding skill set and has been left to ask some form of the same question: “Is that girl really a freshman?”
The answer to that is, of course, yes.
However, no part of Richardson’s game would indicate the fact that she is still playing in her first high school varsity season.
Through the Bulls’ 21 games this season, she is exactly even with senior forward and Western Carolina signee Gabby Smith with 13.7 points per game, a number which leads the team.
Richardson stands at around 6 feet tall, and although she is just a freshman, she is already one of the toughest and strongest players in the county. On the court, she is a matchup nightmare as she moves like a guard, but she can fight for rebounds and block shots with ease.
For the remainder of this season, and for the next three years, Richardson will provide opposing coaches a quandary as they try to prepare for Richardson.
So how did Richardson get to be one of the most exciting players in the state at such a young age? The story may surprise you.
Most athletes of Richardson’s caliber all have stories that involve a cliché like, “They were born with a basketball in their hand.” This is not the case here, though.
Basketball was not the first sport for Richardson, and in fact, it wasn’t really on her radar.
“I played soccer when I was younger,” Richardson said. “My friend wanted me to play on church league (basketball) with her, so that’s kind of where it all started.”
Her first season of organized basketball did not come until Richardson was in fifth grade, which many of the sport’s top prospects would call “very late.” However, the game spoke to her, and she quickly devoted a large portion of her time and energy to it.
“I really enjoyed playing basketball at the time,” Richardson said. “I was pretty good, but I had to train to get to where I am now.
“I like the competition and just the game itself,” she continued. “It just gives me a rush of energy.”
It also likely helped a bit that Richardson’s mother, Angelina McCall, was a college basketball player for USC Upstate in Spartanburg, South Carolina, and the athleticism was in her genes. McCall never pushed her daughter to play the sport, but she has been thrilled by her success to date.
“She was happy to see me play,” Richardson said of her mother. “She said that she didn’t know about all the skill in me.”
Just a year after beginning church league ball, Richardson made the jump to an AAU team in Charlotte, and her training began in earnest.
“The coaches were stricter, and they want you to be better,” Richardson said. “In church league, they just want you to play and have fun.”
It was here that Hickory Ridge girls basketball coach Tolonda Simmons got her first glimpses of Richardson in action.
“One of the things that I try to do with my kids or future kids is go out and see them play in the spring or during the summer with travel ball,” Simmons explained.
Simmons was instantly impressed with Richardson and knew she would be great once she reached the high school level. Part of these expectations came from Richardson’s prolific career at Hickory Ridge Middle School, where the Mavericks went undefeated in 2017 and dominated their competition.
Richardson was making a name for herself from the beginning, but that does not mean the transition from middle school to varsity basketball was not a tough one for her. Although she said she was not intimidated, she knew that she had to earn her spot on an ultra-talented team that already has three seniors signed to play college ball and was coming off a state runner-up finish.
“Not intimidated, I was just ready to go,” Richardson said. “I was just focused and ready to play with the girls, because I knew that they would help me get better and help me grow.”
Sky’s the limit
Richardson has been a staple of the 2017-18 team so far, and she said that the nerves of playing varsity basketball went away shortly after the end of her first quarter. Scoring 16 points in that debut probably helped, too.
Outside of games, though, it helped a lot that one of Richardson’s middle school teammates, fellow freshman Kennedy Calhoun, made varsity this year, too. The pair is very close, and Simmons said they are often referred to as “Peanut Butter and Jelly” around school.
Despite all this success Richardson has already accomplished, she remains humble and shy.
“That’s pretty much who I am, but I’m more aggressive on the court,” Richardson said.
Simmons agrees, saying that something switches when Richardson suits up and gets into a game.
However humble she may be, Richardson still has her goals set quite high, and she’s not shy when asked about them.
“I want to try out for the USA Basketball team, and I want to be a McDonald’s All-American,” Richardson said instantly.
While these are certainly lofty achievements, there’s no reason to believe she can’t check those off her “to do” list.
“She just has to continue to work day in and day out and understand failures come for success to come,” Simmons said. “She’s a very focused young lady, and I think she’s very hard on herself.”
Richardson’s situation is by no means common, and someone as young as she still is can be subject to succumb to the pressures of the outside world.
“I think there’s a lot of different people that have some very high expectations for her, along with myself,” Simmons said. “At the same time, Rome wasn’t built in a day. She is a freshman, and we want to make sure that she’s getting better day in and day out.
“She’s a kid that really steps up to those challenges,” Simmons added. “You love coaching that type of kid that’s pretty much like, ‘What can I do to help the team?’”
As a former college basketball player and college coach herself, Simmons has seen a lot of talented athletes in her day, but Richardson stands apart from the rest.
“Right now, she probably has the overall highest potential, to be where she’s at right now as a freshman,” Simmons said. “She has to continue to hone those skills and get better at them, and at the same time, just continue to be confident.”
Looking back, though, Richardson said she never expected to be here in such a short amount of time. And if she were able to tell her fifth-grade self what was to come, she doubts she would believe it.
“I don’t know,” Richardson laughed. “I was doing crazy stuff back then. I was always traveling.”
Richardson isn’t called for traveling much anymore, but she certainly is going places.