By CHRIS CHRISTOPHER
Shakena Richardson is excited and it’s easy to see why.
The former Neptune High School girls basketball standout has returned to the Garden State.
“I am happy to be here,” she said. “It’s my home state. I will play for a great university (Seton Hall) and a great coaching staff. I am just happy to be home. Of course, I missed New Jersey (while playing for Florida State University). My whole family is here and I missed them a lot. There is a different kind of play in the Big East (Conference) than the ACC (Atlantic Coast Conference). There is a lot of style and flair in the Big East and I missed the whole environment in the northeast.
“My family and friends will be at my home games. They are only 40 minutes from Neptune.”
Richardson will play guard for the Pirates as a graduate student.
“Seton Hall fits me the best,” she said. “I clicked with the coaching staff and it is in New Jersey. I will do whatever I can to help the team win. I will play whatever role is necessary for my team to help it win.”
Richardson was rated the No. 4 point guard in the nation and the No. 18 overall prospect in the country by ESPN coming out of Neptune after averaging 13.8 points, 3.0 assists and 4.0 steals per game as a senior with the Scarlet Fliers. She led Neptune to an 89-4 record in her final three seasons in the lineup. The highlight of her career came during her junior year when the Scarlet Fliers won the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions.
Richardson played at Rutgers University from 2011-13. She graduated from Florida State with a criminology degree during the summer of 2015. She will major in communications at Seton Hall with an eye on a career in law enforcement.
Richardson’s lone season of play with Florida State was last winter when she averaged three points, 2.6 assists, one rebound and 0.8 steals in 11.7 minutes per game as a redshirt junior reserve point guard. She generated 90 total assists to just 55 turnovers. She sat out her junior year with the Seminoles under NCAA transfer rules.
“Thank you FSU for an amazing two years!!” she said on Twitter. “I’m so lucky to have met so many wonderful people along this journey. I love my teammates and will miss them all so much. Time to start another chapter in my life journey. I’m extremely blessed to have so many opportunities to succeed in so many different aspects and to think it all started with this thing right here.
“Means the world to me to share this milestone with my family though I don’t know what I’d do without them. We’re one of a kind (lol). Now, I’m ready to head back to Jersey and finish up at Seton Hall.”
Anthony Bozzella, the Pirates’ coach, was thrilled when he learned of Richardson’s decision to transfer to their South Orange campus.
“It was like Christmas Day,” he said. “She is a wonderful kid who gives a great effort. She has assimilated herself here like she has been here for years. She leads by example. She got here early. She shoots extra and stays after practice and supports her teammates. She is receptive to change. She just wants to get better and be the best she can be. I am proud of her and she is a winner.
“She always has a smile on her face. She is always ready to compete and she is a great competitor. As a coach, that is what you want. I love her. What a great kid! It feels like I have been coaching her for five years and I have only coached her for a month. She is a respectful, hard working and articulate young lady.”
Bozzella said Richardson will play a prominent role for the Pirates.
“She is our starting point guard,” he said. “No doubt about it. She will play a lot of minutes. She knows she is the man and she knows it is her spot.”
Bozzella said Richardson is sharp mentally.
“Her strengths are her maturity, her knowledge of the game and her experience,” he said. “She played in two tremendously successful programs. I think she has the overall demeanor and work ethic to succeed here. She has a lot of talent. She is a very strong defender. She will probably guard the other team’s best scorer. She is physically strong and can handle herself coming off screens.”
The Pirates were one of the Big East’s top teams last year, winning 28 games.
“We were in the top 20 in scoring in the nation,” Bozzella said. “She will have a chance to blossom as she will have the room to create space and showcase her abilities, which are tremendous. Our offense will allow her to blossom into the player she was coming out of high school. She will get a great opportunity to play a lot of minutes again.”
With the Scarlet Knights, Richardson appeared in 59 games and started 12 over two seasons. She averaged 5.0 points, 2.7 assists, 1.4 steals and 19.7 minutes per outing in 30 games, including 11 starts, as a sophomore in 2012-13. In Big East play, she averaged 5.5 points, 3.1 assists. 1.7 steals and 22.3 minutes in 16 games. She appeared in 29 games as a freshman in 2011-12, averaging 2.1 points and 1.2 assists per showing.
“She needs to back into the condition to play 32-35 minutes per game,” Bozzella said. “She has not done that at the college level yet, but she will as she is tough and smart.”
Turns out Richardson and Bozzella are not strangers.
“When I coached at Iona, I saw her play 20 games in high school,” he said. “I saw another 200 or 300 hours of film on her. I coached against her for maybe one game when I was at Iona. I saw almost all of her games on film when she was at Florida State and I felt very comfortable knowing she was coming here.”
Bozzella said he learned of Richardson’s decision to transfer to Seton Hall in July.
“My first emotion was, ‘Thank God,’ ” he said. “I was very happy to hear it and I was so thrilled as she is the missing piece.”
At the age of 22, Richardson brings plenty of experience to the lineup.
“Being older helps a lot,” Bozzella said. “She knows about time management and how to play in the games. She does not get too high or too low. She is passing that knowledge to our other players. She has taken our freshman point guard, T.T. Smith from Los Angeles, ranked as the 85th best high school player in the nation, under her wing. She would have a great chance to play a lot of minutes if not for Shakena.”
“I am so experienced as it’s my fifth year,” Richardson said. “I have been playing for a while. I have a different outlook on the game. I have a lot of experience. I go out there and play as hard as I possibly can and help the team win. I want to win. I like to set people up for baskets. I am quick and can get to the rim. You can pick your poison. Being highly regarded coming out of Neptune was nice and a blessing. It feels like so long ago now. I am ready to go out with a bang.”
Richardson chose Rutgers over numerous schools.
“I just wanted to stay home basically,” she said, “and at that time I felt it was the best fit for me. It was a dream to go to Rutgers and I was sold on going there early on. IO transferred to Florida State because I was not playing at Rutgers on the basketball side of things. The opportunity came for me to play at Florida State and I felt it would be nice to play in such an elite conference at such an elite school.
“Leaving Rutgers was not that tough. It was tough to leave my family. It was a sacrifice I had to make, but it was not that tough.”
Richardson enjoyed playing for the Seminoles.
“Overall,” she said, “I had a great experience. I played in the Elite Eight in the NCAA Tournament. I had a great experience, but I did not get out of it what I thought I would. I thought I would get a chance to show what I could do on the court, but the injuries (resulting in operations on both feet) came upon me and set me back a little bit. Now, I feel great. I am healthy and ready to go. I will work hard and get after it.
“I don’t feel any pressure on myself. I feel more in my comfort zone than anything else. I know what I am capable of doing. I am thankful I am getting the opportunity to play college basketball for the third time.”
Richardson played at Neptune for coach John Brown.
“The recruiting process was fun and I felt fortunate and blessed to have had so many schools coming after me–around 60-80,” she said. “Half of those schools offered me scholarships.”
She offered advice to others.
“Don’t give up,” she said. “Trust in your heart and try to make the right decision the first time. Even if it is not right, change your mind and keep pushing.”