If South Carolina point guard Khadijah Sessions was frustrated, coach Dawn Staley said she never showed it. The freshman waited, watched and hoped for months on the bench.
“You have so much legacy in high school and coming over in the same state at the next level, yes, it’s a little bit of pressure,” said Sessions, a Myrtle Beach native.
The wait ended when she had to step in for senior Ieasia Walker at Florida earlier this season. It was then that she and Staley realized the adjustment period for learning Staley’s complex system at point guard was nearing its end.
Staley said she believes Sessions is ahead of the curve for a new college point guard. She rotated in and out of the starting lineup with fellow freshman Tiffany Mitchell for the last four games of the season.
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As the Gamecocks (23-6, 11-5) prepare for the SEC Tournament in Duluth, Ga., this week, Sessions’ development comes at a much-needed time. USC is a No. 5 seed and will play Alabama on Thursday.
“If she wasn’t as open-minded and as coachable as she has been, I think that process would have taken a little bit longer,” Staley said. “She’s been chomping at the bit to get in the game and to show why she was one of the top high schoolers in the country. Now is the time in which we feel real good about what she’s able to contribute.”
Staley isn’t shy about how demanding she is on her point guards. A point guard herself – an Olympic gold-medal point guard at that – Staley has high expectations coupled with a challenging volume of information for her players at that position to learn.
Sessions said it took her the preseason and the first half of the regular season to reach the knowledge level Staley requires. Staley calls herself a “perfectionist” when it comes to her old position, wanting her point guards to know where everyone’s supposed to be on the floor, where everyone is the most effective and how to lead both the offense and defense.
“It’s a very, very hard thing because you actually have to run the team,” Sessions said. “You have to know the one through five positions. You might not be playing it, but you have to run them and you have to lead them into certain things. Big decisions and stuff is on the line.”
Staley said the transition from high school to college basketball is most challenging for point guards, but the transition was faster for Sessions because she had Walker helping her, just as Walker had former point guard La’Keisha Sutton to help her. It was Walker telling Sessions not to take Staley’s harsh criticism to heart. Sessions said Walker constantly tells her what plays to run against certain defenses.
“She’s done most of it on her own,” Walker said. “I’m just there piggybacking, telling her, ‘Good job and keep doing what you’re doing.’ ”
When Walker graduates after this season, the baton will have been passed to Sessions.
“I think with her being from the state of South Carolina, she wanted to play,” Staley said. “She wanted to play in front of her people. She’s won state championships on the Colonial Life Arena floor, so she wanted to be a huge part of our success. Sometimes that takes a little bit of time and a little bit of patience, but once they get it, they’re able to fly.”