She’s not the mom of the group.
Tyasha Harris makes that distinction clear. She’s a leader, a veteran and an extension of her coach on the floor for South Carolina women’s basketball. But she’s not the team mom.
“We’re not going down that road,” Harris said after the team’s first practice.
Instead, she’s the big sister, especially for the Gamecocks’ five freshmen, the No. 1 recruiting class in the country that arrived on campus with plenty of hype but a lot to learn to meet Dawn Staley’s high expectations.
“It kinda really really hit me when I was talking to one of my teammates before weights. ... We were talking about age and she said, ‘I’m 17 years old,’ and I’m just like, ‘Woah, I’m 21,’” Harris said Thursday at SEC media day. “And it just (hit me), I’m really the big sister and I know all the ropes. My thing is really leaving a legacy, just trying to show them the ropes so when I leave, we can continue on with our standards.”
And while Staley juggles the complicated dynamics involving that talented freshman class and the team’s veteran players, the key to making it all work could be the senior point guard from Noblesville, Indiana.
“I think she’s the leader. The most important job for her this year, can she can infuse the No. 1 recruiting class in the country? And they’re that good, that recruiting class,” Texas A&M coach Gary Blair said. “But Ty Harris, she’s a leader, a USA player. ... I think she’s very good. That’ll be the No. 1 role, not her scoring average going up or down, but her making the freshmen play within the system.”
Thus far, that role has been pretty easy, Harris said, thanks to the humility of the newcomers.
“They’re great kids, great players, great people. They love it, but they come in humble, very humble and willing to learn and listen,” Harris said. “And I think that’s the biggest part about being a basketball player, just knowing you have the hype and you have the ability to be great, yet you have the qualities to listen and learn more because you know that there’s always more to learn.”
But as multiple other coaches speaking in Birmingham noted Thursday, freshmen can be fickle, and the grind of the season can wear down young players. If and when that happens for the Gamecocks this year, Harris has the leadership ability to rally people and keep them going. SEC preseason player of the year Chennedy Carter, of Texas A&M, knows Harris from their time playing together with USA Basketball. Despite being conference rivals, she still gets help from her.
“She’s really a great support system. She’s someone I can always look up to,” Carter said. “To this day, I can text Ty, call Ty, FaceTime Ty, and she’ll answer. That’s one of the people I really love to have in my corner. She really has my best interests at heart, and I have hers.”
Arkansas point guard Amber Ramirez, who also knows Harris from their time with USA Basketball, agreed.
“She’s a great point guard. Playing with her on USA was great, and seeing her and seeing what she’s done for the program at South Carolina has been great. She does great things on and off the court,” Ramirez said.
With the massive influx of talent, including a transfer in Destiny Littleton who has a reputation as a pure scorer, one might expect Harris to settle into her typical job of distributor, a role she’s excelled at over her first three seasons to put her within striking distance of the program’s career record for assists.
But Carter and Staley both said they’ve noticed a difference in her approach. While her scoring average held steady in between 10 and 11 points between her sophomore and junior years, she’s ready to step up this season, not just when desperately needed, to “call her own number” and become an option in her own right.
“I’ve asked Ty to do what she does. She probably has to go what she did for us as a freshman in facilitating, but also being aggressive offensively. I think Ty, she’s balanced, she’s more balanced now,” Staley said. “She’s attacking the rim, she’s shooting the basketball, she’s being the consummate point guard even when she doesn’t have the ball on the floor, like giving directions and being the example of what our point guards need to be, now and in the future.”
Part of that balanced change was the approaching end of her college career, Harris said. But part of it was sparked by one of her little sisters on the roster.
Freshman Zia Cooke “told me, she’s like, ‘What’s your difference throughout how your college career went?’ And I was trying to tell her, I was more of a facilitator and I try to pick and choose my spots here and there, and she was like, ‘No, I want you to be a scorer. I want you to get yours as well as you giving us ours.’ And that kind of hit me, because having a younger player be like, ‘Go ahead, shine,’ that type of thing, was kind of cool just to hear that.
“There’s things you know you got to step up and do, and it’s my time and I feel like I gotta let it go ahead.”