USC Women's Basketball

Behind the scenes on Mikiah Herbert Harrigan leaving, then returning, to USC

After conversation with Staley, Mikiah “kiki” Herbert Harrigan back on team

Mikiah "kiki" Herbert Harrigan decided to stay with the Gamecocks for her senior season.
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Mikiah "kiki" Herbert Harrigan decided to stay with the Gamecocks for her senior season.

When the news broke last week four South Carolina women’s basketball players had entered the transfer portal and intended to leave the Gamecocks, three of the names seemed to make some kind of sense.

LaDazhia Williams and Bianca Jackson weren’t likely to get much playing time as juniors and wanted opportunities elsewhere. Te’a Cooper had been expected to go pro after this year anyway.

But forward Mikiah Herbert Harrigan’s decision was a shock. The rising senior already ranks fifth in program history in blocked shots and was expected to play a pivotal role for the Gamecocks in 2019-2020. Yes, coach Dawn Staley had docked her playing time for undisclosed reasons in one NCAA tournament game, but she had become a fan favorite and potential All-SEC player in her final season.

On Wednesday, however, South Carolina confirmed Herbert Harrigan would actually be returning to the program after all and withdrawing her name from the transfer portal. In her end-of-year press conference, Staley gave some insight into why Herbert Harrigan wanted to transfer in the first place and what was done to repair their relationship.

The pair met last week as part of the coaching staff’s annual post-season meetings, and it was then, Staley said, that she first got a sense of what was bothering the star player.

“I thought in our discussions, Kiki wanted to revisit how I saw her in our program, and when you don’t know (how I see you), you tend to think the worse, like I’m not needed, and that’s furthest from the truth,” Staley said. “I think with maturity and growing up and understanding your worth, some players need to hear it. They need it verbalized to them to make them a lot more comfortable. Kiki is one of those players that needed to hear it. She’s a tough player. You think she’s tough-minded, but she’s 21 years old, and sometimes 21-year-olds need to hear it in order for them to have a certain comfort level.

“That’s on me. I should have done a better job of not allowing that space in which she could think negative thoughts and then give it to her support system.”

Staley added that she has frank discussions with players about how she sees them fitting into South Carolina’s system and what she thinks they can accomplish in the future during the recruiting process, but updating those views, reaffirming them and allowing players’ voices to be heard can be critical.

“I think when you sit down and actually talk to a young person and figure out what it is that bothers them, what it is that moves them, what it is that they aspire to become, the conversations are a lot better,” Staley said. “When you’re having to hear from other people other than the source — and I’m our team’s biggest source. I’m the one that really can have the biggest impact in their life, but I also am a truth-teller. And it’s not always something that they want to hear, but I also through this process learned that I have to sit down and give them a voice and let them talk and let them figure out what they want in life and we put a plan together and we work towards that.”

Along those lines, Staley said she believes she and Herbert Harrigan will have much better communication about hopes and expectations moving forward. With that in mind, Staley said she has high hopes for Herbert Harrigan’s senior campaign.

“I anticipate Kiki to have an incredible season. I think she’s one of the best players in our conference on both sides of the ball,” Staley said. “There’s room for her to grow. Obviously her handle has to get better going both ways. She’s very strong going right. We got to work that left hand in order for her to balance out what she’s doing from driving right.

“Her midrange is great, her 3 ball is pretty consistent when she shoots it. Defensively, I just think she needs to work a little bit harder, not just getting blocked shots, because that’s a form of defense, but it’s not the total package when it comes to defending. So we have to bump her up in those areas and get her ready to be drafted in the WNBA draft next year.”

Greg Hadley is the beat writer for South Carolina women’s basketball and baseball for GoGamecocks and The State. He also covers football and recruiting.