Back in New Zealand and enjoying her game

Otago Gold Rush forward Zoe Richards has returned from the United States and made a big impact....
Otago Gold Rush forward Zoe Richards has returned from the United States and made a big impact. PHOTO: PETER MCINTOSH
Zoe Richards has never let being overlooked bother her.

She was not usually recognised as the star player on her teams growing up.

She never had a trial for a national team and the black singlet was always way off in the distance.

But that has not stopped her finding her own way.

The 21-year-old forward has just completed her third year at college in the United States.

She was named the most valuable player of her Eckerd Tritons team, helping it to the NCAA division two national tournament.

On her return to Dunedin she rejoined the Otago Gold Rush two weeks ago, along with twin sister Brittany - who plays in Alaska - and had an immediate impact.

The side has won all three games since.

In a game involving several Tall Ferns, Richards was as impressive as anyone on court.

She had 15 points, nine rebounds and drew seven fouls as the Gold Rush took down the table-topping Auckland Dream last week.

It would not be a surprise if she at least caught one eye from the national selectors.

Although as the team prepares to play the Canterbury Wildcats at the Edgar Centre tonight, that would not be on her mind.

"For me, I just play my butt off and do my part to help the team in whatever I can do," she said.

"I just want to play my best out there and be the best I can be.

"If I don't play for New Zealand, I don't play for New Zealand.

"As long as I enjoy myself and have fun and am doing well.

"If there's the opportunity for that it'd be great, but it doesn't define me as a player."

Sparkling footwork, mobility, a reliable finish and an ever-growing shooting range feature strongly in Richards' game.

Her time in the US has helped immeasurably - both at Gillette College initially and at Eckerd in Florida the past two.

Players had a clean slate there and were

judged on how well they played, not by their reputation or teams they had made in the past.

She has learnt to play against big, strong athletes.

That has shown on her return.

"In America I play as a five-man, so I need to step up and play against the stronger and bigger bigs.

"There are bigger bigs in our league, so it's always me inside battling.

"I've spent a lot of time with the coaches working on being really aggressive towards them.

"They've helped to show me different ways I can use my skill set to get past them."

She will go back for her final season later this year.

Alongside basketball, she will complete her degree majoring in communications and minoring in psychology.

It had been the "best decision" she had ever made to go, and it was one she recommended.

Beyond that she would see if she could play professionally somewhere.

For now though, it was nice to be home.

She enjoyed representing Otago and playing alongside her sister and the girls she grew up with.

A tough match awaited tonight, and a win would go a long way towards securing the Gold Rush a top four playoff spot.

Otago Gold Rush v Canterbury Wildcats

Edgar Centre, tonight, 7pm

Gold Rush: Natalie Visger, Nicole Ruske, Natalie Smith, Zoe Richards, Aleisha Ruske, Annabelle Ring, Brittany Richards, Olivia O’Neill, Bronwyn Kjestrup, Hayley Gray, Hannah Matehaere, Soraya Umaga-Jensen.

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