How early relationships landed five-star Reigan Richardson at Georgia

Georgia women's basketball landed a five-star for the 2021 class after other schools faded due to injury concerns.

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Georgia 2021 commit Reigan Richardson poses in the team locker room with head coach Joni Taylor during an on-campus visit. (Courtesy of Reigan Richardson)

ATHENS, Ga. — Joni Taylor crossed paths with Reigan Richardson as an eighth grader. From then on, Georgia’s head coach never left the now-heralded prospect’s side.

Richardson was an eighth grader on the AAU circuit. Taylor was there to give Richardson her first scholarship offer.

Richardson suffered a significant knee injury that sidelined her about 10 weeks. A quest to build her recruiting stature got sidetracked, but Taylor stayed consistent with check-ins.

A year later, an ankle injury devastated Richardson. Many schools knew of her capabilities as a player, but began to turn away after injuries in consecutive seasons. Taylor never left. Richardson would glance up and see her soon-to-be head coach at plenty of games and showcase events.

“She really proved her character to me,” Richardson said.

In the end, Richardson’s final call came to a program that gave her the first chance. Georgia got its prized recruit and beat out five other programs — Georgia Tech, Mississippi State, North Carolina, Virginia and Virginia Tech — for the Huntersville, N.C. product with a five-star moniker next to her name. Richardson joins four-star Kimora Jenkins as pledges in the 2021 class.

Richardson heard a lot about Georgia’s program through the perspectives of Maya Caldwell. Richardson plays in the AAU circuit alongside Caldwell’s younger sister, Nevaeh. Georgia hosted Richardson for a few games and trips around Athens, and the five-star has had longtime desires to end up at Georgia. She began using the Lady Bulldogs as comparison to her other contenders.

“What’s not to like?” Richardson said.

Georgia has two scholarship spots remaining in the class after falling short on in-state talents Sania Feagin, Kayla McPherson and Raven Johnson. Feagin and Johnson committed to South Carolina while McPherson left Georgia out of her final five contenders.

The Lady Bulldogs didn’t land Richardson by way of magic or any newfound tactic. They followed the same method that has led Taylor to many fairly-successful recruiting classes — relationship building. Georgia doesn’t approach the recruiting process as a sales job or an attempt to grab any available prospect.

“We pride ourselves on recruiting ladies who fit,” Taylor said in January 2018 and has repeated the same philosophy numerous times. “If you don’t fit, you don’t come to Georgia.”

Richardson quickly bought in. She takes advice from her mother and Ashley Rivens —who serves as Richardson’s AAU coach with Team Curry, assistant high school coach and individual trainer — into serious consideration. They all knew that Richardson had potential for on-court prosperity at any of her final programs.

But Taylor offered something that the others couldn’t match, and Rivens termed it as the “triple threat.” Rivens envisions Richardson improving in leadership, career path, public speaking and bursting out of a shy bubble under Taylor’s mentorship.

“It's not only her as a basketball player, but (Taylor) wants to develop her as a person,” Rivens said. “She'll help with Reigan becoming a woman in the world, and that came off as genuine.”

Richardson continues Georgia’s trend of landing five-star pledges as now-senior point guard Gabby Connally headlined the 2017 class and top-rated prospects Chloe Chapman and Javyn Nicholson joined the program in 2019. Richardson stands at 5-foot-11 and categorizes herself as a versatile two-way player. She singled out a few of her strong suits: physical defense, scoring at all three levels and range that extends beyond the 3-point arc. She earned Associated Press All-State honors following the 2019-20 season.

Rivens’ biggest impression is Richardson’s work ethic. On average, they train together six days per week. Rivens tells her athletes to work on a self-selected weakness for the final 10 minutes of a training session. Each of the trainees are working, but Rivens notices Richardson take it to another level and burst into full-on sweats while trying to improve.

Those around her, including Taylor, ensure extra effort is taken. Richardson knows that the sixth-year head coach pushes for more, but also stands alongside her through each step. The next step for Richardson is finding shot consistency and gaining confidence. Taylor might make that phone call to ask questions and pose more challenges.

“She's already holding her accountable while Reigan is still in high school,” Rivens said. “That's huge, because the sky is the limit. Once she knows the coach is in it for her, Reigan will give you everything that she has.”

Georgia lands a high-profile recruit after missing the NCAA tournament in consecutive bids. Richardson isn’t blind to the recent track record, but also knows of the program history and its previous spot atop the SEC. She awaits the “honor” of wearing a Lady Bulldog uniform, and knows the responsibility that follows it.

Once she transitions to college, Richardson hopes to represent the program in the same way Taylor stood by her through recent years.

“I want to help Georgia get back to the top,” Richardson said. “The program has the right leadership with Joni. I chose Georgia because they're on the border of doing something really special.”