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The S'Mya Diary - Part XII

My freshman year with the Jayhawks, by S'Mya Nichols

5 min read

She’s one of the most highly recruited Jayhawks in KU women’s basketball history and her goals and expectations for her career, this season and this team are sky high.

She also happens to be a native Kansan who joined Brandon Schneider’s program to help take KU women’s basketball to another level.

Join us as we chronicle Year 1 of the S’Mya Nichols era at Kansas and look for new editions of The S’Mya Diary each week throughout the 2023-24 season.

The S'Mya File

Age: 19 | Height: 6-0 | Position: Guard

High School: Shawnee Mission West | AAU: Missouri Phenom

Notable: One of six sisters in her family, Nichols was the nation's No. 5-ranked prospect at her position and rated No. 22 overall in the Class of 2023 by Collegiate Girls Basketball Report... She was one of 50 players on the Naismith Girls High School Player of the Year Award watch list and a McDonald's All-America nominee, and she was a member of the 2022 Team USA U18 National Team, which won a gold medal at the FIBA U18 Americas Championship... Scored more than 1,000 points in her prep career while earning several all-state and all-league honors... Committed to Kansas in October 2022, choosing KU over Tennessee, Arizona Oklahoma, Missouri and many others.  

We started this, unofficially, with Nichols sharing her thoughts about her first ever Late Night in the Phog. And she has agreed to provide R1S1 Sports with an insider’s look at her first season as a Jayhawk.

In Part XI, we took a look at Nichols’ stellar performance in a couple of huge wins over ranked teams down the stretch that helped Kansas secure a spot in this year’s NCAA Tournament.

The 8th-seeded Jayhawks are out in Los Angeles for that and will take on No. 9 seed Michigan at 1 p.m. central on Saturday on ESPN News.

In this chapter, we’ll take a closer look at Nichols’ emotions and excitement about the postseason, from the Big 12 tournament to Selection Sunday and a spot in the Big Dance.

Nichols’ first taste of postseason basketball at the college level came in her third meeting with BYU in the opening round of the Big 12 tournament.

“Their intensity was a bit stronger than it’s ever been. They came out as a different team. It’s postseason, though. Everyone’s a different team. Everyone’s better because it’s do-or-die.”

It wasn’t just BYU that had a new vibe. Nichols, too, felt something new within her – nerves.

“The first half, it was different.”

That game, which KU won before bowing out in a hard-fought battle with future No. 1 seed Texas, was played in Kansas City, Missouri. And while Nichols grew up on the Kansas side of the state line, playing in KC still meant something.

“It was really cool, it was cute, everybody was screaming. It was great. It means a lot to play here, but I feel like playing for my teammates means more. I’m not really out there playing for my city, I’m playing for the people who play for me.”

There was no extra juice or emotion from playing at T-Mobile Center or hearing her name called in such a venue. In fact, she doesn’t really ever even hear her name called during starting lineup introductions.

“Mostly, I just hear “freshman” and then I know it’s my turn.”

From there, the Jayhawks jumped into the start of a two-week break between games, with Selection Sunday sandwiched in the middle. Nichols enjoyed her first experience with the Selection Show, which the Jayhawks watched at head coach Brandon Schneider’s house.

“I woke up excited, but I was still confused because I didn’t really know what Selection Sunday was. I mean, I did, but not being in it. I had never watched a Selection Sunday before until being involved.”

“My teammates and I ate, we were joking around, we were all really jittery.”

As the show rolled on and the Jayhawks waited for their name to appear, Nichols sat with assistant coach Marqu’es Webb at the island behind her teammates and picked her brain about what was happening.

“I was sitting there asking coach Qu’es a whole bunch of questions because I did not know what was on that screen. But once I saw Kansas pop up on there, I was really excited. I got home and I called everyone and I was like, ‘Mom, we’re going to Cali.’ It felt great. It was definitely all about living in that moment.”

From there, it was on to practice, where the Jayhawks got to work throughout the week at an even higher level than before.

Winners of nine of their last 11 games, Nichols’ team is one of the hottest teams in the country entering the NCAA Tournament. She knows that. They feel that. And she believes it will serve them well over the next several days.

“I have high hopes heading into the postseason. We’ve been playing really well, consistent and as a team, and I think we’ll go far. Our team is really determined.”

Having a handful of veterans who have been on this stage and played in this event before has helped her prepare for what’s ahead.

KU seniors Holly Kersgieter and Zakiyah Franklin said they’ve tried their best to explain to the underclassmen what the tournament atmosphere is like, with Kersgieter saying, “It’s just different and it’s hard to really explain to them until you’re there and you feel it.”

Nichols understands and is embracing that.

“It’s exciting. I mean, it’s my first one so it’s not like I really know what’s gonna happen, but I’m excited.”

As for the best advice she’s heard from those KU veterans?

“Stay calm. Anything can happen and it’s just important to stay the course and keep taking steps. It’s all about going all the way.”

Check out past entries of The S'Mya Diary...

• Part I - My first KU media day

• Part II - The lull before the start of the season

• Part III - A look back at my KU debut

• Part IV - Life on the road

• Part V - Disappointment in paradise

• Part VI - Not 1 but 2 career-high outings

• Part VII - Have a holly jolly Christmas

• Part VIII - Frustration gives way to history

• Part IX - Breaking down the Big 12

• Part X - Adjusting to opposing defenses

• Part XI - Coming up clutch when it counts

• Look for Part XIII next week, as Nichols and the Jayhawks make their way through the NCAA Tournament.

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