by, Pete Janny, Sports and Managing Editor
Those who have followed the Manhattan College men’s basketball program in recent years can fondly recall the 2013-14 and 2014-15 teams that captured MAAC Championships and NCAA tournament berths under a rising star at head coach in Steve Masiello. Both of those teams were loaded with talent as evidenced by the success they had.
Among the collection of talent on those teams was Shane Richards. A native of New York City, Richards played for Manhattan from 2012 to 2016, and was a notable contributor on both those MAAC Championship teams. As an unheralded recruit out of high school with Manhattan being his only division one scholarship offer, Richards used his outside shooting prowess to turn himself into a Jasper legend, earning him the rights to program records for career three-pointers (311) and three-pointers in a single season (92) set as a senior during the 2015-16 season. Additionally, Richards ranks six in program history with 1,472 career points.
Four years after graduating from Manhattan, Richards continues to live out his dream as a professional basketball player. He currently plays for the Sioux Falls Skyforce of the NBA G League, an affiliate of the NBA’s Miami Heat. The Skyforce acquired his rights this past January and he appeared in four games for the team before the COVID-19 pandemic discontinued their season. Richards’ current stint with the SkyForce marks his second go-around in the G league, having played for the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, a Houston Rockets affiliate, during the 2017-18 season. It’s no secret that the G League exists in the shadows of the NBA, where the player perks are infinitely better than any other basketball league in the world. But that is completely fine with Richards, who has been living and breathing basketball since he was 11. After years of hard work growing up, Richards is proud to be playing the game he loves for a living.
“I have always wanted to be a professional basketball player, I knew that by the time I was 11 years old,” Richards said via text messages to the Quad. “I’ve had a great experience in my 2 years in the G league.. It’s definitely not for everybody, but playing basketball and working out is what I’ve done since the 6th grade; the only difference now is I get paid to do it.
His lone professional season spent outside the NBA G League took him to Poland, where he played for KS Spojnia Stargard. As daunting as adjusting to a new culture could be, Richards acclimated to this foreign lifestyle with relative efficiency, only taking him a few days to feel confident in his new milieu. But in addition to the cultural differences, Richards was soon exposed to a different style of basketball in Poland that placed a greater emphasis on skill than defense; just the way the Europeans like it.
“The hardest thing for me was adjusting to the culture and language, but after a few days you get accustomed to the differences and adapt,” Richards said. “The game is way different overseas. When you play overseas there isn’t a defensive three-second rule, so you can stay in the paint as long as you want. In the G league you can’t. The spacing on the floor is what differentiates the two in my opinion.”
Life for everyone has twists and turns. The game of basketball brought Richards to Poland for one year. A year later, he is back stateside, but sidelined due to a global pandemic. Isolation has been an odd experience for most people in the world right now. But for Richards, he is used to the remoteness, as someone always working on improving his game by himself behind the scenes. During quarantine, his line of communication with coaches has remained strong to keep him abreast on how to approach his workouts.
“With the gyms closed I just had to get creative with my workouts. I’ve stayed in contact with some of my strength coaches from the G league and we’ve created a program based on the equipment that I have at my disposal. They are extremely good at what they do, and I’ve been able to stay in great shape because of them,” Richards said. “The quarantine really hasn’t affected me like it has with others. I usually isolate myself down in Florida for the summers anyway so I can focus on training for the season without distractions. If the gyms were open right now I’d basically be living my normal life.”
Since turning professional, Richards has made sure to find the time to reignite old bonds with those he grew close to during his years at Manhattan. His Manhattan family always factors into his summer plans during the offseason for professional basketball. These reunions have come in different ways, everything from competing with old teammates on the court as part of a college alumni tournament to providing mentorship to current players during his visits back to Draddy Gym. Clearly, Richards is an example of an alum who embraces the maxim “Once a Jasper, Always a Jasper” to the fullest extent.
“We all stay in contact for the most part. This past summer a lot of us played in the TBT tournament together as part of Team Draddy. We weren’t able to win, but it was great to get on the court with those guys. This summer we will be playing in it again, obviously pending the virus.”
“Every summer for at least a week I‘ll go back and work out with the team. I try my best to give them advice on some of my experiences, and share with them what made our championship teams successful.”
As you might expect, Richards holds a special place in his heart for the two MAAC Championship teams he competed on. He attributes the success of both teams to the strong character they displayed every time they took the court, binded by their commitment and friendships to and with one another. Richards also loved the energy that Jasper fans brought to Draddy every game, helping turn the building into a true home court advantage.
“The thing that made those two teams successful was the bond that we had with one another. When we stepped on that court we were like a family; everyone knew their role, there was no ego, or selfishness, it was strictly business. That cohesiveness is what propelled us to those two championships,” Richards said. “Our fans throughout that run were incredible, and really made it enjoyable to go out and perform every night.”
Memories of the 2013-14 team evoke an equally painful and proud reminder of the scare that 13-seeded Manhattan gave four-seeded Louisville in the first round of the 2014 NCAA tournament. Although the Jaspers ultimately fell short, losing the game 71-64, Richards relished the opportunity to compete on that stage.
“Growing up every kid dreams of being on that stage,” Richards said. “To be in that game and almost knock off one of the best teams in the country was an incredible experience, and is something I’ll never forget.”
The opposing coach in that game was who else but current Iona head coach Rick Pitino. The controversial Pitino, who was fired from Louisville in 2017 for NCAA violations, was named the new head coach of arch nemesis Iona on March 14. In light of Pitino’s arrival at Iona, Richards expects the rivalry to intensify between the two schools.
“Rick Pitino’s resume speaks for itself,” Richards said. “I think it’s a great move for the MAAC, anytime we can bring more attention to our conference it’s a good thing. I know that coach Mas and Pitino are close but I also know how much Coach Mas hates to lose, so I’m expecting the rivalry to be rejuvenated this season.”
Richards is indebted to Masiello for all that his coach did to help him grow as a player. It was Masiello who helped him develop the mental stamina to handle pressure situations in games when adversity threatens. These underrated intangibles of the game that Masiello instilled in Richards and his teammates were a driving force behind Richards’ successful transition to the professional game.
“Coach Mas helped me with a lot of things during my time at Manhattan but the mental aspect of the game is where I learned the most,” Richards said. “He would test our mental toughness every single day and put us in situations in practice that were uncomfortable, so that when we faced similar ones during the season we were always prepared. It’s a skill that I feel has translated into my pro career, where you could put me in any situation and nothing is going to faze me.”
Still only 26 years old, Richards figures to have a lot of years of basketball left in front of him. For now, the sharpshooter is patiently waiting to get a shot in the NBA. And if that opportunity does come, he wants it to be with the Knicks, here in the bright lights of New York City.
“My long term goal has always been to play for the Knicks, and be part of the team that brings a championship back to New York,” Richards said.
And when he is not chasing his basketball dreams, Richards is just like the rest of us, enjoying the company of family and the featured shows on Netflix. Just know that when the pandemic ends, Richards will once again be ready to compete on the hardwood, just as he knows how to do best.
“During this pandemic I’ve just been working out and taking this time to spend with family. I’m a big Netflix guy, so I’m taking some time to catch up on some shows as well.”