By Kevin Wilson
They were separated by one year, one classification and 28 miles. Now, they’re together with a determination to revive Zia basketball.
Eastern New Mexico University junior guard Laci Lee and sophomore forward Elizabeth Richards represent some of the best talent from the last few seasons of New Mexico high school basketball, but the two were relative strangers to each other until Zia coach Dan Buzard recruited them in consecutive years.
Buzard saw the pair on the court a lot last year — the 5-foot-10 Lee and 5-foot-11 Richards were the top two in minutes played last year for ENMU — and he thinks both of them will play a role in helping the Zias turn the corner.
“I think they both need to step up and be leaders on the court,” said Buzard, who is coming off a 7-20 mark in his first season at ENMU head coach. “I think they need to be in the scoring mode. They’re both very capable of putting points on the board.”
Lee averaged 8.0 points, 4.6 rebounds and 4.2 assists last season as the Zias’ primary point guard. Buzard said he’d likely use Lee more at the shooting guard position this season and have Richards be a “multipurpose” player, like she did in 2002-03 to the tune of 9.6 points and 5.3 rebounds per game.
“I see them both getting better,” Buzard said, “but in different roles than what we envisioned when we recruited them.”
Both were arguably the best players on their teams, and both had won in the postseason. Lee was part of Portales’ Class 3A title in 2001, while Richards led Texico to three-straight 2A titles from 2000-02.
Because of their difference in classification, the two never played against each other except in summer scrimmages. Richards remembered playing against Lee in the summer of 2000.
“I thought she was a major threat,” Richards said of Lee. “I thought she was one of the better players out there, if not the best player.”
Now that the two are teammates, Richards adds that Lee is a “wonderful leader.” Lee thinks her job as a leader is easier with players like Richards around.
“She’s just a great person,” Lee said Wednesday as ENMU completed its second week of practice. “She’s been a great teammate and I know that she’ll always have my back (on the court). She never stops hustling, she never gives up.”
Lee was pleasantly surprised to find that Richards had the same Christian belief system as she did, and the quality has helped on long Lone Star Conference road trips.
Before that, Lee had never really gathered much of an opinion on her teammate.
“I don’t really remember much of those scrimmages, but I watched her play at the state tournament because they always seemed to play before us,” Lee said. “She was always where the ball was, trying to get the ball.”
Richards is still the same way. The pair would like to translate their winning ways in high school to Greyhound Arena, but they know it’s easier said than done.
“This year, it’s been a little different,” Richards said. “We’ve had to put a lot more time into it.
“We don’t want another losing season.”