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Baylor's DiDi Richards makes triumphant return 5 weeks after scary spinal injury

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On Oct. 24, Baylor senior guard DiDi Richards collided with a teammate during practice. She jumped to intercept a pass, got knocked on her hip, and hit the floor hard. Lady Bears coach Kim Mulkey told ESPN that it sounded "like a football collision without the pads."

Richards, last season’s national defensive player of the year, passed out briefly. When she came to on the floor of the court, she couldn’t feel her legs. At the hospital, she was told that she had suffered a spinal cord injury without radiographic abnormality. That kind of injury causes temporary paralysis, but according to ESPN, one doctor wasn’t sure if Richards would ever be able to play basketball again.

But on Tuesday night, just 38 days after that freak accident, Richards made her season debut with the full use of her legs. She had four points, seven assists, and two steals over 30 minutes, and helped spark Baylor’s 67-62 victory over South Florida.

"It was a very emotional day," Richards said after the game, via ESPN. "It was exciting to play a game again, because I haven't played since March. It's always been my role to bring energy to the court, and I think that's what we needed."

Baylor 's DiDi Richards (2) shoots during the first half of an NCAA women's college basketball game Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2020, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
Baylor 's DiDi Richards shoots during the first half on Dec. 1, 2020, in Tampa, Florida. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

Intense rehabilitation

Richards managed to heal up in just five weeks, but it wasn’t an easy road back. Though she started regaining some feeling in her legs several hours after the injury, she used a walker up until a few weeks ago. She made it to team COVID-19 testing just two days after the injury, and it was a shock for Mulkey and the team to see her like that.

"I kept a poker face, for sure," Richards told ESPN. "There were definitely times where I would be kind of discouraged, so I'd just go in my room and lay there watching TV, or sometimes even cry. I definitely had some hard times throughout this process."

Her determination helped her make it through. After her first neurologist told her that she may never play basketball again, Richards got a second opinion. The second neurologist had treated similar injuries before and had a much brighter view of Richards’ future.

"The second doctor was like, 'Go, go, go, go, go!' until your brain tells you to stop," Richards told ESPN. "And I was like, 'OK, yeah, I can do that.'"

Richards charged into rehab full force. With the help of an anti-gravity treadmill, Richards was able to do some assistance-free walking on Nov. 5. By Nov. 18 she was shooting jump shots, and she was cleared to play on Nov. 30, one day before she made her triumphant return to the court.

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Richards revealed to ESPN that despite everything she was going through, she never had any doubt that she’d be able to make it back onto the court.

"I never really thought I wasn't going to play this season," Richards said. "I just knew that somehow, some way I was gonna get off that walker. I didn't know how quick it was going to be."

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