July 7, 2015
By Brad Muller | More Features
South Carolina rising senior point guard Khadijah Sessions isn't accustomed to sitting on the bench. But after having volunteered to be an assistant coach for a boys Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) under-10 team, she is transitioning from having the ball in her own hands to hoping the knowledge that she passes on sticks to her young pupils.
"It's two different things," Sessions said. "I've always seen it from a player's point of view, but coaching young kids has woken me up to a lot of things in understanding how our coaches see things. It's difficult to sub and make changes and juggle a bunch of talent. It's like Coach (Dawn) Staley always said, `When you're number is called, you have to be ready to play.' I preach that to these little boys. Sometimes it's hard for them to understand why they're not in the game. So I'm seeing where she is coming from."
The team, known as the Columbia Supersonics, is coached by Kareem Pratt, who is in his third year with AAU basketball, and he has been involved with coaching youth basketball for eight years. Pratt enjoys having help from someone who is making the most of her abilities.
"What she has done really well is be a role model for the boys," Pratt said. "She has shown them that through hard work and dedication to your craft, and also being a good student, you can be very successful at a high level. She is also our `spark plug' coach to a large degree. She brings the energy to the boys and the motivation to really lift their spirits up when they need it."
"It doesn't get old with kids," Sessions said. "They just love you. Just knowing you can put a smile on someone's face who doesn't really know you, it's a very special thing. You may have a bad day, but you see a little fan who wants to take a picture with you, and it just makes you feel good."
I've always seen it from a player's point of view, but coaching young kids has woken me up to a lot of things in understanding how our coaches see things.
Sessions became involved with the team after Madden Collins, son of Staley's special assistant Ariana Moore, asked her to work out with him and come to a game. Pratt noticed Sessions and asked her to help out.
"I started going to all of the practices and helped them work on their form with shooting," Sessions said. "I went to their games and sat on the bench and just shared things from my point of view. It's been very interesting."
With the season running most of the summer, Sessions is juggling her work and workout schedule to make the games. The more she sits on the bench, the more she understands what her own coaches are trying to do.
"I really see where (Associate Head) Coach (Lisa) Boyer is involved with all the substitutions and seeing how many fouls people have and all those other things they keep up with during a game," Sessions said. "So I see a lot from her angle. Coach Staley comes to the games, and she's like one of the parents. She's yelling at me, and I'm looking at her. So I told her I see the other side of it now. It's pretty fun."
Playing for Staley, Sessions has been mentored by the best, and now she can't help but laugh at the irony as she finds herself saying many of the things her own coaches say, which she didn't always want to hear.
"I catch myself all of the time," Sessions said. "Now I see there is another side to everything. One of the things I learned is that I didn't think I could get so fired up like Coach Staley, yelling at the officials and making sure they see every call. I'm crazy as a player, but I didn't think I had that kind of fire in me. So now I see where she's coming from."
Although she's a young woman in her 20s, Sessions has not had any problems relating to the young boys on a level they can understand.
"It's different dealing with little boys," Sessions said. "They're very smart, and they have a knack for basketball and scoring. Madden may be the most knowledgeable person about basketball I've met for someone his age. He actually critiques my game, which is really interesting. That's why I like hanging around him. He can tell you every stat I had in every game and how many minutes I played. That's what he and a lot of guys do. They're constantly studying basketball. I think it's easier to coach little boys. They're actually really good nine year olds."
As she prepares for her senior season with the Gamecocks, Sessions knows she'll probably have a few extra personal fans in the stands. She also knows they won't be shy about making sure she practices what she preaches.
"I was talking to one of the kids after his game," Sessions recalled. "I told him maybe if he would make half of his free throws, it wouldn't have been so close. He said, `I was just shooting free throws like you today.' I couldn't argue with that, so I had to let it go and take the win. They jump on me all the time. So now I have to get in the gym and shoot some more free throws."
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