University at Albany women’s basketball coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson’s reaction when she first saw Shereesha Richards play basketball was, “Whoa!”

Three years later, Richards elicits a similar reaction from opponents.

The freshman from Atlantic Christian School in Egg Harbor Township has developed into one of the best players in the America East Conference already. In league play, she ranks seventh in the America East in scoring (12.4 points per game) and rebounding (7.1), tied for third in steals (2.5) and first in field-goal percentage (.670).

“It’s scary, isn’t it?” Abrahamson-Henderson said in a phone interview last week. “She could break a lot of records at Albany, definitely. … She should be a first-team all-conference player every year.”

The coach said she knew from the first time she saw Richards play that the 6-foot-1 forward was special. Abrahamson-Henderson said she smiled every time she found herself as the only college coach watching Richards, who was a first-team Press All-Star last season.

Abrahamson-Henderson also had an advantage when recruiting Richards. Her husband, Michael Henderson, and Richards are both natives of Kingston, Jamaica. They hit it off right away when Richards visited the school, and now the coach brings Jamaican food for Richards when her husband makes it.

“I like having another Jamaican around,” said Richards, who lived in Upper Township with Atlantic Christian coach Pam Hitchner during her three years there. “It just makes me feel a little more comfortable being here and being able to relate to people that are from where I’m from.”

Abrahamson-Henderson credits Richards’ Jamaican upbringing for a lot of her success on the court. Her work ethic and refusal to complain come from the “Jamaican temperament,” the coach said.

“Most freshmen cannot do what she’s doing, which is pretty amazing,” Abrahamson-Henderson said. “Most freshmen worry about making mistakes and they go less hard. She goes harder.”

Richards didn’t play much early in the season. Since conference play began, she has gotten to the point where she plays starters’ minutes, but she still comes off the bench. Abrahamson-Henderson didn’t want to mess with something that was working well, and the Great Danes are cruising toward an America East title and NCAA tournament berth. They enter the America East tournament on a 17-game win streak, finishing the regular season 25-3 overall and 16-0 in the conference.

“I feel like it’s gone by fast,” Richards said of her freshman season. “In the summer it seemed slow at the moment, but right now I’m like, ‘Oh, we’re winning all these games and it’s going by so fast.’ “

Abrahamson-Henderson said Richards has been the biggest reason for the team’s improvement from a 16-13 record last season. The second-year coach had most of her key players back, but she said the difference is the spark provided when Richards and 6-8 sophomore center Megan Craig come off the bench.

“It’s like, ‘Oh, my God, are you kidding me?’ " the coach said.

Abrahamson-Henderson said Richards likely has been the most athletic player on the floor in every game this season.

“She can jump, she can run and she’s got untapped speed,” the coach said. “Her explosion is so quick. I don’t even think she understands yet how explosive she is.”

In addition to that, Richards is “a coach’s dream,” Abrahamson-Henderson said.

“She is just a perfect kid,” the coach said. “You want her to be your daughter.”

Richards is modest when speaking about herself, repeatedly saying she is just enjoying the experience.

“Every game I get more comfortable playing with my teammates and knowing what I need to do next and try to improve in what we do on the court,” she said.

Richards said she is taking it one game at a time, but she admitted that making the NCAA tournament would be “definitely, definitely a happy moment for me.”

“Just going there, being a freshman, I think it would be pretty awesome,” she said. “I’m excited if we actually end up going. Even if we don’t get that far in the tournament, just to experience it would be really good.”

Contact Jason Mazda:

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