OKLAHOMA CITY, OK — For some of the Lady Bears, they're playing for more than just another Big 12 tournament title this weekend. Didi Richards says she's playing to honor her grandfather and she thinks of him every time she laces up her basketball shoes and steps onto the court.
"There's this park in Houston called Doss Park, and they labeled him the Doss Park Legend,okay. So, don't play my Papa in one-on-one," Didi Richards, a sophomore guard for the Lady Bears, said.
Walter Patterson Jr, better known as Didi's Papa, was a basketball player and encouraged his granddaughter to let the game they both fell in love with take her as far as it could take her. But, in his mind, that meant UCONN.
"I was like Papa, you know we have UCONN on the schedule my sophomore year... he goes, alright, try not to get blown out. I was like, we will not get blown out, Papa. You need to come see or whatever. So, when we beat them, which was a great game, he watched the whole game... he called me that night and said, I guess I'll come to your next game," Richards added.
The next game was Papa's first and last game to see Richards play in person. He passed away on February 5th of this year, as the Lady Bears were climbing to the top, both in the Big 12 and nationally.
When we went number one, that was the first person I wanted to call. I was like, oh my goodness, he would never believe that we were number one. But, I'm happy he got to see us beat one of his favorite teams for sure. But, around the time that we had beat UCONN, he was like, "wow. y'all really have a chance. I hope y'all go really far." And I'm like,"thanks Papa," Richards said.
The Lady Bears finished the regular season as the number one team in the country and Big 12 champions. Even though Papa wasn't able to see it all unfold, Richards has made sure he's been with her every step of the way.
"He called me after every game. So, I guess I felt like this is a way, like basically still saying, that he's still calling me after every game or he's still watching my games. So, I feel like it's a need for me to have him somewhere, I mean I know he's here... and probably standing right next to me or whatever... but, I feel like I have him closer to me when he's on my shoes," Richards added.
So, every time she laces up her shoes and steps on the court, expect to see Rest In Peace, Papa scribbled in Sharpie on her shoes, marked with a heart.
"I want to continue to live out his name by playing at the level I'm playing and just being the person I am on the court. He always liked that I was this happy person. He never figured out why I was always smiling or whatever, so I want to continue smiling for him," Richards said.
And while she is usually always wearing that smile, Richards did shed a few tears remembering her post game phone calls with her Papa. She said nothing will ever replace that special tradition they shared, but now, after each game, she texts her Mimi so she and her grandma can remember him together.