By Jeff Owens | File photo by Artie Walker Jr.
Dawn Staley got some bad news recently when four players from her 2018-19 team announced they were planning to transfer.
That news got a lot better Wednesday when Staley confirmed that star forward Mikiah Herbert Harrigan had changed her mind and would remain at South Carolina. Staley said she learned Tuesday that Herbert Harrigan had decided to return for her senior year.
“Kiki Harrigan is in the fold,” she said. “… I found out yesterday and Kiki and I and her family had a really great discussion on how we move forward and how we got to the place where she wanted to transfer. The conversation was great and our program is healthy.
“Contrary to what some people may believe, it is healthy. It is in a place where we are thriving and everybody who continues to be a Gamecock, their dreams will come true. I look forward to our team next year, whoever that is comprised of.”
Staley’s Gamecocks finished 23-10 overall and second in the SEC at 13-3 before advancing to the NCAA Sweet 16, where they lost to national champion Baylor.
Staley met with each of her players after the season and found out that Herbert Harrigan, guards Te’a Cooper and Bianca Jackson and forward Ladazhia Williams had each decided to transfer. Cooper, a transfer from Tennessee, led the Gamecocks with 11.9 points per game, while Herbert Harrigan averaged 10.4 points and 5.1 rebounds and led the team in blocked shots. Jackson averaged just four points in about 18 minutes per game, while Williams averaged just 1.6 points in seven minutes per game.
Staley declined to elaborate on why Cooper, Jackson and Williams decided to transfer.
“I don’t know the reasons why,” she said. “… I wish ‘em well and I want them to find their happiness, find their bliss and if I can help them in any way, I surely will.”
She said she will not meet again with the three about returning. Jackson has announced she will transfer to Florida State, while Cooper and Williams have not yet announced where they will play.
“We are going to be move forward with the people who expressed that they really want to be Gamecocks,” she said.
Staley said she met with Herbert Harrigan and her family over the weekend to discuss her reasons for wanting to transfer. Herbert Harrigan was suspended for the first half of South Carolina’s first-round NCAA Tournament game against Belmont for an undisclosed team violation. Senior guard Bianca Cuevas-Moore, Herbert Harrigan’s roommate, was also suspended.
Staley said she believed she had a good relationship with Herbert Harrigan until their postseason meeting.
“Heck, I thought it was pretty good up until last Tuesday,” she said. “… Kiki, who was probably best friends with Bianci, they probably haven’t had favorable conversations in their dorm room about me, but I think when you sit down and actually talk to a young persona and you figure out what it is that bothers them, what it is that moves them, what is is that they aspire to become, I think the conversations are a lot better.
“… I’m a truth-teller, and it’s not always something they want to hear. But through this process I have learned that I have to sit down and just 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 toward that.”
Staley said she thinks Herbert Harrigan’s family didn’t want her to leave, but that the rising senior had concerns about her role on the team.
“Kiki wanted to revisit how I saw her in our program,” she said. “When you don’t know, you tend to think the worst, like I’m not cared for, I’m not needed, and that’s farthest from the truth. With maturity and growing up and understanding your worth, some players need to hear it. They need you to verbalize to them, to make them feel 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 to feel a certain comfort level. That’s on me. I should have done a better job at not allowing that space in which she could think negative thoughts and then give it to her support system. We are going to do a better job at communicating a lot better.”
Staley expects Herbert Harrigan to have a big senior season.
“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,” she said. “There is room for her to grow. Obviously, I think her handle has to get better going both ways. She is very strong going right; we have to work that left hand in order her for her to balance out what she is doing driving right. Her mid-range 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. That’s a form of defense but it’s not the total package when it comes to defending. We have to bump her up in those areas and get her ready to be drafted in the WNBA Draft next year.”