Her five-star pedigree and immense talent certainly tell part of the story. But there’s another interesting indicator surrounding Kansas freshman S’Mya Nichols that could project where her KU basketball career is headed.
Her home address.
Nichols, who signed with KU last November after a standout career at nearby Shawnee Mission West, is the lone Kansas native on the 2023-24 roster.
And while sunflower power has not always been a precursor for a solid KU career, some of the best players to ever come through the KU women’s hoops program have been Kansans.
Lynette Woodard hails from Wichita. Lisa Braddy is a native of Kansas City, Kansas. Both were KU legends.
A quick review of the KU rosters during the past three decades revealed that the program has featured 18 players who signed with the program out of Kansas high schools. At least five of those would land on any short list of the best players to ever come through the program, alongside names like Woodard and Braddy, Tamecka Dixon, Lynn Pride, Angel Goodrich, Carolyn Davis and the stars on the current roster — Holly Kersgieter, Zakiyah Franklin and Taiyanna Jackson.
Natalie Knight and Kylee Kopatich, who both came to KU from Olathe South, are among the best 3-point shooters in program history. Crystal Kemp, of Topeka, was a powerhouse scorer throughout her KU career. Forward Jennifer Trapp, of Lawrence High, and guard Danielle McCray, who starred at Olathe East before becoming a big deal at KU, is one of the two or three best players to ever suit up for the KU women’s program.
Nichols, who was ranked No. 22 nationally in her class by Collegiate Girls Basketball Report, has a long way to go before she plays her way into that company, but her status as a Kansan and skill set entering college have given her a leg up.
Interestingly enough, she’s the first Jayhawk from the Shawnee Mission school district since Sue Kelly played for the Jayhawks during the 1980-81 season.
At a solid 6 feet tall, Nichols is the type of player who can do damage with her size and quickness. Despite recently recovering from two ACL tears, she still looks as explosive as ever, a testament to how hard she has worked to get back to form.
She’s good off the dribble, uses her body and balance well to score in the paint and also has next-level court awareness that helps her pick the right play to make in nearly every situation, whether it’s for her or a teammate.
On most teams, Nichols would start from Day 1 and be the focal point of the offense. KU coach Brandon Schneider recently told R1S1 that he would be disappointed if Nichols does not start when the 2023-24 season rolls around, but it’s her ability to fit in as well as she stands out that should make her a perfect addition in the starting five next to four veteran Jayhawks who are all stars in their own right.
Nichols knows what she walked into, and the strength of the roster played a role in her picking KU over the opportunity to go just about anywhere she wanted.
Her three finalists were KU, Oklahoma and Tennessee. The last two schools on that list, you might remember, have won multiple national titles, so Nichols choosing to stay home in an effort to bring Kansas to that level was no small recruiting victory.
Beyond that, she seems to be the type of player who is at her best when she’s playing with other elite talent. The Jayhawks have a few of those types of players on the current roster and Nichols’ presence in the program could lead to more in the years to come.
“It’s hard to describe the impact that S’Mya is going to have on our program in every facet,” Schneider said when Nichols signed with KU last November. “S’Mya is a player who can play four positions offensively and we’ve seen her guard all five positions at a high level. Paired with her elite skill set, her versatility, size, strength and athleticism really stand out when you watch her play.”
Nichols possesses a terrific blend of cut-throat intensity and all-out joy, and she uses both to her advantage on the court.
It’s hard to say what her first season with the program will bring because the freshman guard has the luxury of knowing she can ease her way into it without having too much thrown at her too quickly.
But regardless of the numbers she puts up and the role she plays, it’s a safe bet that you’ll notice her when she’s out there.
Schneider’s Jayhawks are headed to Italy and Greece for a summer hoops tour next month. That trip, which will run from Aug. 6-16, should help the team develop its chemistry quickly, with Nichols getting a valuable opportunity to bond and blend with her new teammates well before preseason practices even begin.
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