Dec. 12, 2017
By Brad Muller | More Features
Khadijah Sessions never did anything half-speed. The former South Carolina point guard’s energy, enthusiasm, and emotion were on full display during her four seasons with the Gamecocks (2012-2016). Seeing South Carolina win the National Championship last year was one of the few times Sessions didn’t want people to see her emotions.
“It was definitely emotional,” Sessions said. “I know what it takes to be a Gamecock and what they had to go through all year. We hold hands at the beginning of practice, and we hold hands at the end. That was always the goal, and to see it unfold for Coach Staley and those girls was unbelievable. I dropped a few tears, although I didn’t want anyone to see me. I’m so happy for the state, the school, and our fans because they do so much for us.”
A native of Myrtle Beach, S.C., Sessions was one of several key in-state recruits that head coach Dawn Staley convinced to stay home and play, and helped rocket the Gamecocks to national prominence. She was instrumental in South Carolina’s current multi-championship run and rise in the national spotlight as she was the starting point guard for the Gamecocks’ first three SEC Regular-Season Championships (2014, 2015, 2016), first two SEC Tournament titles (2015, 2016), and the program’s first trip to the NCAA Final Four (2015).
“That was really special, going to the Final Four,” Sessions said. “During the moment, it was hard to take in. It was special because we had so many people backing us. To see what Coach Staley had done at Temple and at South Carolina, turning our program around and knowing that she believed in a bunch of South Carolina kids, was unbelievable.
“Having so many players from South Carolina at that time definitely made it more special. I don’t know how many teams can say that they went to the Final Four with mostly people from their state, or with people like Tiffany Mitchell (2012-2016) who came from right up the street (in Charlotte). What’s special about my class is that a lot of us knew each other before college. We had been playing each other all our lives. Then we were able to play together at one of the highest levels for one of the best coaches in the country.”
Her teammates voted her as one of the team captains two years in a row, and she led the team in steals in her junior and senior seasons. On the court, she was known for tenacious defense, aggressive drives to the basket, and even a flare for the dramatic evidenced by her 70-foot third quarter buzzer-beater against Kentucky in 2016. She also fired up the team in the pre-game huddle before tip-off.
We’re Gamecocks for life, so we’re going to cheer when we’re in town or wherever we are.
Sessions didn’t lack confidence when she arrived on campus, and the coaching staff had to rein her in at times during her first year. Looking back, Sessions appreciates the lessons that she learned.
“When I first got here I was overweight,” Sessions laughed. “I had a knee injury and I had to rehab, so I didn’t really get in with the team that first year until August. [Coach Staley] told me I had to be here with open ears and just learn. It was a struggle early in the season during my freshman year. I learned though, and Coach Staley has been there every step of the way.”
Staley always has high expectations for her point guards, and Sessions is thankful to former point guard Ieasia Walker (2009-2013) for taking her under her wing in that first year. As the point guard torch was passed to Sessions, she knew there would be tough times, but she was up for the challenge.
“Coach Staley wasn’t easy on me,” Sessions said. “She knew I could take a lot. I took it as love. She believed in me and let me run her basketball team for three years. I never went home during the summers. I stayed here in Columbia, trained and got better to make sure my body was in shape so I could play 40 minutes per game if I had to. We can talk now and laugh about a lot of things.”
Sessions went on to play professionally in Finland after graduation, but a knee injury brought her back to the U.S. to rehab and contemplate her future.
“Playing in Finland was fun,” Sessions said. “It was a little different with the main focal point of the offense running through me. They wanted me to score the ball a lot. It was a lot more physical than college basketball.
“I was learning different languages and trying different food. I think my favorite part was seeing how people in other countries live. I was travelling through a lot of different countries. There’s a lot of snow in Finland, and I didn’t have any snow boots. I didn’t come prepared.”
Since returning to the U.S., Sessions has dabbled in broadcasting and has served as an analyst for a few basketball broadcasts on SEC Network+.
“I’ve always been interested in broadcasting,” Sessions said. “It started in elementary school; I was on some TV shows that we did. It might be in my future. I still have a lot to learn. I’ve heard a lot from Gamecock [fans] who were pumping me up during the broadcasts. What I like about it is being able to show how much knowledge you have for the game. You can be the person that has all those things that people want to know about. Doing the Gamecocks’ games, I know a lot about Coach Staley, so I know a lot of what goes on behind the scenes. That makes it a little bit easier.”
Sessions had an opportunity to do some freelance broadcast work at last year’s Final Four in Dallas as the Gamecocks were winning the National Championship. She admits that there are also challenges in talking about her former team, and she is learning to separate the personal and professional side of the job.
“It’s hard because I know a lot of those girls, and you have to switch to being a professional analyst,” Sessions said. “The more you do it, the easier it gets. When I went to the Final Four, I found myself getting a little too happy a few times when we were beating Stanford. I was wanting to cheer, but I was working with the press, so that was hard.”
Whether she’s playing overseas, working a game as a broadcaster, or simply watching her alma mater as a fan with her former teammates, Sessions still has the passion that helped create a championship program.
“We’re Gamecocks for life, so we’re going to cheer when we’re in town or wherever we are,” Sessions said.
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