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The S'Mya Diary - Part IX

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

4 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 VIII, we took a look at how Nichols navigated the frustration of opening Big 12 play on a losing streak and what the big mid-season win over Baylor meant to her.

As the Kansas women’s basketball team reaches the midway point of the Big 12 Conference schedule — and a crucial five-game stretch that could be huge for the outcome of their season — it seemed like a good time to talk to Nichols about what she has learned about the Big 12 during her first taste of it.

For years, the Shawnee Mission West product came over to Lawrence and watched the Jayhawks play, seeing the same teams she’s now battling with from the sidelines year after year.

Does what she watched and learned from that perspective stand up to what she’s experiencing today, and, more importantly, did it teach her anything about how to handle it.

Here’s a look.

“I feel like what it takes to win in this conference is consistency and just playing hard. I believe this conference is very smart. All the players are very smart and know their roles and do their roles very well. It’s a really confident conference.”

Now that she’s one of them, Nichols is right there with them, but she said one of the most popular feelings she gets from opponents throughout the conference is the pride of being on a Power 5 basketball program.

Watching all those games showed her how physical the league can be. And as a player who prides herself on using her body to make life hard on her opponents, Nichols has loved that aspect of Big 12 play.

“It’s just as I expected because I expected it to be really physical. I also expected it to go in my favor when it came to physicality, just because I’m a bigger freshman.”

“I feel like anyone who decides to go to college for basketball already knows it’ll be physical. You can definitely see that when you’re watching games.”

That’s not to say bully ball works on everybody. And Nichols has showcased her slick moves, exceptional footwork and great vision as much as her power game throughout conference play.

"I've learned to adjust," is the way she puts it.

“If I shoot four 3-pointers and I miss all of them, I stop shooting.”

“I’ve just tried to find a different way to get some points on the board and get my teammates open for wide-open shots that they are making. It’s really important to just change it up and switch it up. I might be open, but somebody else is open, as well.”

As someone who spent most of her pre-KU career dominating opponents and doing whatever she wanted on the court, Nichols has discovered that finding success in the Big 12 takes more than just physical skills.

“(We’ve talked a lot) about determination lately. Staying determined and making sure teams know that we’re determined on the court.”

"I’ve learned that even if you made it hard on them the first time and they still won, now you have to bring it even more in the second matchup. It’s basically, punching them in the face to let them know, this isn’t gonna be easy anymore.”

How do you do that?

“Energy. Not taking any plays or possessions off. And, ideally, playing for each other and playing for something that we love. That’ll keep us going.”

The Jayhawks (11-10 overall, 4-6 in Big 12 play) will travel to TCU this weekend for a 6 p.m. Saturday night tipoff against the Horned Frogs.

After that, it's back to Lawrence for home games against Houston (Feb. 8) and Cincinnati (Feb. 14) before a rematch with BYU on the road on Feb. 17.

As of today, those four teams are a combined 9-28 in Big 12 play, so the opportunity for a little run appears to be there.

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

• Look for Part X next week, as the Jayhawks' return home for two of their final four home games this season.

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