A key component to two MAAC championship teams during his time at Manhattan, Shane Richards is making a professional living in NBA G League by outworking his competitors and embracing challenge head-on, much as he did in Riverdale. (Photo by Vincent Simone/NYC Buckets)
UNIONDALE, NY -- The uniform and number have changed since his last appearance around these parts.
The game, the fight, and the endless commitment, however, have not.
Plying his wares as a rookie in the professional ranks, Shane Richards may not be recognizable to the casual observer while he charters his maiden voyage in the NBA G League as a member of the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, the developmental affiliate of the Houston Rockets. But for those who know the native New Yorker well and have watched him grow from token shooter to all-conference talent during his time at Manhattan College, where he became the school's most prolific three-point shooter before graduating in 2016, the only noticeable difference is the red on his jersey where the Jasper green once was.
Drafted by the Erie BayHawks in last October's G League draft before being traded to Rio Grande Valley shortly thereafter, Richards' initial attempt at a first professional campaign was shelved due to torn cartilage in his knee, a malady he admitted to possibly having played through during his senior year at Manhattan. But in typical Richards fashion, he battled back, and now revisits the injury and rehabilitation as a turning point in his career.
"Thinking back now, I probably should have just ripped it off and played anyway," he said following the Vipers' win over the Long Island Nets Wednesday night at Nassau Coliseum. "It really made me a better person and better player as well. I'm more mentally tough, I'm physically the strongest I've been in a while, and I'm actually grateful for that experience. I really think that it changed me as a person, and it was for the better."
A veteran in the sense of having to consistently earn whatever he has achieved, but still a youthful; yet battle-hardened, 23 years of age, Richards' recovery and presence on a roster filled with collegiate standouts and legitimate professional talents has placed him in a favorable position as he carves out the next chapter in a career dedicated to not only perseverance, but also seizing any and all opportunity within his reach.
"It's awesome," he said of the transition from the college game into the professional level. "I really don't see too much of a difference, obviously the game and the rule changes, but otherwise, I feel good. We're in a great place right now."
"You have to fight for everything, especially in this league," he reiterated, not sugarcoating the commitment needed to make a living in the highest vestige of basketball. "Coming from a small school and with all the talent we have in this locker room, every day I have to fight for minutes, and I'm fine doing that. I've been doing that my whole career. I'm having a great experience, I get paid to play basketball and travel the country. I really have no complaint. I shouldn't even be here right now, technically, after the injury I had. I believe if you love what you do, you'll never work a day in your life."
Richards' saga began with a reputation burnished through shooting at the famed 92nd Street Y, just blocks from his house, and was further enhanced by his lack of a Division I scholarship offer before signing with the Jaspers in the 2012-13 offseason. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that having to scrap is seemingly the only way he knows in the basketball world, a relentless work ethic he credits Manhattan head coach Steve Masiello for helping cultivate long before the realization of playing professionally entered his stream of consciousness.
"The main thing I would say he helped me with, more than anything, is just the mental aspect of the game," Richards said of Masiello and his impact. "Before I came to college, I didn't even know that existed. I was just the kid who played off emotions and was always trying to prove myself and all that stuff. I didn't understand it at first with him, but as I look back on it now, I'm extremely grateful for how he coached me. Now that I look back on it, I think it made me a stronger person mentally, for sure, and that's really carrying over. I believe my mind is bulletproof right now, honestly. Nothing fazes me anymore, especially coming from what I had to overcome last year. The fact that I'm here, man, I'm blessed."