Missouri guard's tough play on basketball court belies her compassion

Wednesday, January 20, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CST; updated 11:10 a.m. CST, Wednesday, January 20, 2010
Senior Toy Richbow started 28 games for the Missouri women's basketball team as a sophomore.

COLUMBIA — Toy Richbow first started playing basketball at the age of 12, playing outside with the neighborhood boys using a portable basket her father had bought. Although small in stature, Richbow’s heart and toughness made it possible to beat the guys. When she started playing organized basketball a year later, her domination continued.

Growing up in Detroit, Richbow idolized Isiah Thomas, a Hall of Fame point guard who led the Detroit Pistons to two NBA Championships in the 1980s. At 6-foot-1, Thomas made up for his lack of size with an relentless toughness and competitive fire. A small point guard herself (only 5-foot-6), Richbow wanted to model her game after Thomas’. 

“I pretty much was inspired by him,” Richbow said. “Just his toughness and his size. His way to control the game.”

Richbow even adopted Thomas’ jersey number, 11, and set out to become a successful floor general. It has led the senior point guard to her starting role for the Missouri women’s basketball team.

“With Toy, you just get a package of physical toughness and, for most of the time, mental toughness,” said RaeShara Brown, a fellow backcourt player for the Tigers. “She just brings about that experience and that veteran leadership you need on the floor.”

In her fourth season with the Tigers, Richbow is posting career-high numbers in points, rebounds and assist-to-turnover ratio. But statistics don’t show the true value Richbow brings to the team.

“I think especially this year, her leadership is outstanding,” Missouri coach Cindy Stein said. “She knows how to talk to people now. She knows how to get people tuned in to what we need to do.”

And at the point guard position, leadership is of paramount importance.

While it’s helped Tigers that Richbow follows in Thomas’ footsteps on the court, it is equally important that she doesn’t follow in his footsteps off the court. As an employee of the New York Knicks, Thomas and Madison Square Garden were sued for sexual harassment in October of  2006 and Madison Square Garden was eventually ordered to pay $11.6 million in damages.

But Richbow is a model of virtue off the court. Her dream job is to open her own adoption agency.

“Growing up in Detroit, just seeing the lack of opportunities that people around me have,” Richbow said. “I’d just like to own my own adoption agency and just being able to help other people and little kids. I just know it’s tough coming from an area where I’m at. A lot of them are less fortunate. Some of them didn’t have the opportunity like me to receive a scholarship and get out. I just think doing that and trying to help guide people and give them opportunities, basically somewhat like I had or even better.”

Richbow is often looking out for her teammates and trying to guide them in the right direction.

“When I came in, her leadership as a sophomore came in,” Brown said. “Showing me the ropes, taking me under her wing and really breaking the game down for me. Trying to help me understand what to expect from Big 12 play.”

It’s nothing new for Richbow. Coming from a family of 13 children, Richbow is used to a nurturing environment.

“Growing up around a big family, especially when you go away from home, you have a great support system,” Richbow said. “It’s always a good feeling to go back to. Growing up as one of 13 is just a great experience. You always have somebody to play with.”

With 13 children, that had to lead to some competitive five-on-five games, right?

“That’s the funny thing,” Richbow said. “Out of 13 of us, only two of us are athletic.”

The other being her younger brother, Benjamin, who always tagged along in her neighborhood basketball games.

Now, as part of the Missouri women’s basketball family, she is cherished just as much. Whether it’s her quirky alter ego acting or coming to practice with candy in her shorts, Richbow always provides a laugh for the team.

Richbow is also known for her writing skills, which she perfects in the wee hours of the morning. She often stays up until 3 or 4 a.m. writing poetry and short stories even though she wakes up at 7 a.m. for class.

“I’m like a night owl,” Richbow said. “I sleep randomly throughout the day.”

Richbow has always acted as an uplifting force for the team. Heading into a game against No. 13 Oklahoma at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday night at Mizzou Arena, the Tigers will need that motivation. At 10-6 overall and 0-3 in Big 12 Conference play, the Tigers are looking to end a four-game losing streak.

Stein says she knows she has something special in Richbow.

“She can do anything that she wants to in life,” Stein said. “She has the drive and the work ethic to be very successful in whatever she wants to do."

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