Editor's Note: The original version of this article appears in the November issue of Spurs & Feathers magazine. To subscribe, visit here.
Mikiah Herbert Harrigan knew the questions were about to come and did not hesitate to answer them when they did. The normally-reserved South Carolina senior even broached the topic herself.
“I know questions about transferring are coming up,” she said midway through an interview at SEC Media Days in Birmingham, Ala. in early October.
So for the next five minutes Herbert Harrigan sat and answered them all.
Yes, the talented forward entered her name into the NCAA transfer portal after South Carolina ended its 2018-19 season on March 30. Yes, she was frustrated. Yes, she contemplated her future and yes there was miscommunication — or lack thereof — between her and South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley.
“I was talking with my family, people that are close to me in the basketball world, just trying to figure out what was best for my future,” Herbert Harrigan said. “I put myself in the portal. But me and coach Staley had a conversation about it and cleared up some stuff.
“And I decided to come back.”
It was an emotional time for Herbert Harrigan, who has been a key player for Staley the past three years, including playing in every game on the 2016-17 national championship team as a freshman.
“I knew in the back of my mind I didn’t really want to leave,” she told Spurs & Feathers. “But there were certain things in the back of my mind I needed to be clarified.
“When I told [Dawn] I broke down crying. When I was in the office with the coaches and I told them, I broke down, just knowing in the back of my mind that this is really where I want to be.”
Because of it, South Carolina features one of the SEC’s premier all-around talents and a player with WNBA aspirations. The versatile forward has averaged 13.8 points, 6.2 rebounds and 2.2 blocks so far this season. With 30 more blocks she will move into second on the school’s all-time list behind A’ja Wilson, who had 363.
“I think she’s one of the best players in our conference on both sides of the ball,” Staley said in April.
In mid-October Herbert Harrigan was named preseason second-team All-SEC. “But it’s preseason. You’ve still got to go out there and prove yourself,” she said. “I’m looking forward to going into the season and showing what I have.”
Her skill set includes one of the best mid-range jump shots in the conference and an ability to be an elite defender and shot blocker.
“There’s room for her to grow. Obviously, her handle has to get better going both ways,” Staley said. “She’s very strong going right. We’ve got to work that left hand in order for her to balance out what she’s doing from driving right.”
“I put pressure on myself just knowing I have to get better,” Herbert Harrigan said. “I’ve been working on my ball handling. I’ve just been working on my game and trying to make it so I can go to the next level.”
She has also worked on staying consistent.
Last season Herbert Harrigan posted higher scoring (11.1) and rebounding (5.3) averages in 12 games against ranked opponents than in 21 games against unranked opponents (10 and 5).
“I think Kiki wants to complete the task of putting an entire season together,” Staley said. “It’s good to see players rise up to the challenge of playing ranked teams, but really good players play that way their entire seasons, and not just take it up another notch.
“You’ll see Kiki play with a lot more consistency this year.”
For Herbert Harrigan, improved consistency will be the result of better mental preparedness.
“I’ve been working at keeping my emotions under control,” she said. “Just going out there every night and performing.”
On that front, Staley has seen improvement as well.
“She’s breaking a record as far as not having any issues,” Staley said at SEC Media Days. “She’s communicating a lot more. I think Kiki’s just maturing at the right time for her, where it’s not too late. She’s not going to look back at her South Carolina career and think ‘I should have done this’ or that.
“She’s actually acting on the things she needs to get better at.”
That began once last season ended.
“Our season obviously didn’t end the way we wanted in to finish,” she said. “So there was a lot going through my mind at the time.
“… There just wasn’t enough communication as I would have liked toward the end of the season, and that was on my part too. After me and coach Staley sat down and talked about it, we were both in a much better place. And we are right now.”
It took a teleconference with Herbert Harrigan, her mom, her travel ball coach and Staley to smooth the rough patches and get back on the same page.
“It was nothing major,” Herbert Harrigan reassured. “It was about me personally trying to accomplish my goals and go forward.
“We got to talking and we decided that this is the best place for me to finish out my career.”
Herbert Harrigan called her offseason “great.” She’s ready to be a focal point of the team and be a leader for the team’s uber talented freshman class.
“You know, it’s my final season. I have a lot of goals set for myself,” she said. “Just staying focused. I’m in a lot better place than I was previous years.”
Herbert Harrigan also used the word great when describing this season’s team. “Once we all fit into our roles and we all come together, I think we’ll be pretty good,” she said.
The 6-2 forward will be at the center of it all.
Said South Carolina senior point guard Ty Harris, “It’s great to have her back. I love my sister and I was going to hate to see her leave. She stayed and we’re looking to have a great year.”