Janice Joseph-Richard was living her dream.
Division I women’s basketball coach. Six-figure salary. Nice home. Nice Car. Respect and adulation of peers.
It was the American Dream.
It all came to a sudden and dramatic halt the day she learned she was diagnosed with breast cancer, causing her to sit out her San Jose State University Lady Aztecs’ 2006-2007 season.
At the time, the former Louisiana College basketball star had no idea her life was about to change for the better.
“I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t scary,” Richard said. “The first 24 to 48 hours were really scary. I was in panic mode. My son was 7 at the time. The first thing you think about is ‘Oh my God! Who’s going to take care of him? How am I going to get everything taken care of?'”
Cross-country visits from sisters Pam Jones and Lillie Jackson were “great,” Richard said. But more often than not, she was alone with her thoughts. Often, those thoughts turned to home. Prior to her diagnosis, the Pineville native had never contemplated coaching at her alma mater. Her career had been on the fast track under the California sun, after all.
Even more lucrative days were ahead, she thought. But away from the lights and the sizeable recruiting budgets, her heart and mind began wanting for Pineville.
Richard credits her faith for her success. It was her faith, she said, which got her through chemotherapy, rehabilitation and seemingly endless hours alone.
“My faith is the center of my life,” she said. “I’ve been truly blessed. I would not have been able to get through any of it without it. Being part of a big family of eight brothers ad two sisters, I couldn’t ask for better support. I remember when my sisters would visit, I’d say ‘I want to go home. When my rehabilitation had ended, I knew where I needed to be.’”
Inheriting a team filled with freshmen and a lone senior appeared to be Richard’s next big obstacle. But the positive attitude and willingness to learn on part of her players has eased any transitional concerns, she said.
“I say all the time, this was put together by the coach before me,” she said. “This could not have gone any better if I’d gone into these young ladies’ homes and recruited them myself … They’ve gone through a lot this year. But they’ve accepted me. They work hard. They’re very young, and there have been challenges. But they’ve met them.”
Part of Richard’s newfound appreciation and perspective of home can be traced to one moment. While being treated for her breast cancer, San Jose State officials decided to move on and not renew Richard’s contract despite on-court success. She holds no ill will toward the school, but the non-renewal and subsequent support she’s received at LC has been a revelation, Richard said.
“It’s wonderful,” she said. “That’s the great thing about LC. It’s a small college. All of us are like family. It’s become a really strong support system in my life. (Division I) is all about business. Here, it’s small, close knit and people care about what’s going on in your life.
If she hadn’t been sure before, Richard was made sure she was in the right place recently when the school hosted its “Think Pink” game against East Texas Baptist University. Think Pink is a nationally recognized day in which NCAA basketball programs throughout the country observe breast cancer awareness. On this day, players blend pink into their uniforms and crowds are encouraged to wear the color. The Rutgers women, for example, wore all pink.
Richard said she wasn’t ready for the flood of emotions she’d incur when walking onto her home court and seeing the 1,500 LC fans bathed in pink. Meeting with local breast cancer survivor group, Sisters on a Mission, was also an impactful moment.
“I got very emotional,” Richard said. “I remember asking my trainer for tissue, because I’d been crying…It was a terrific night. You could see everyone cared and knew how important it was. We even won the game.”
Richard has given and continues to deliver speeches and inspiration to youths and adults alike at area school and group functions. She fondly recalled a visit to Huddle Elementary School, where she spoke as part of Black History Month festivities. There, second-graders performed a presentation in her honor.
Looking back, Richard said she is certain everything unfolded according to Divine Plan and that she could not have asked for a better future to which she can look forward.
And what of that Division I position and six-figure salary with the big house and car? Richard said she’s heard a “big-time” program or two have inquired about her.
“I’ve had some D-1 people gauge my interest,” she said. “But I’m not interested in that. I’m happy. I’m home. That’s what it’s all about. I’m happy.”