There’s a few things I remember from my first time walking on South Carolina’s campus. First is how pretty it was. It was fall time, so all these leaves were covering the ground — and it was really cool getting to see everyone doing their thing, and to see the place that I was about to call home. I also remember walking into Colonial Life Arena, and my head filling up with these amazing thoughts of playing out there in front of 18,000 SC fans cheering us on.
But the thing that sticks out most in my mind is what I saw when I walked into Coach Staley’s office.
SEC championship trophies. The 2017 national championship trophy. Just trophies on top of trophies.
Now, I said the campus was pretty…. but those trophies were beautiful.
When you say you’re coming to South Carolina, and when you say you’re coming to play for Coach Staley, there are a lot of expectations that come with it. And one of those expectations is that you’re here to win. Simple as that. If you aren’t ready to win, then it honestly won’t work for you in this program. Because winning isn’t just the goal here anymore. To us, right now? We feel like winning is the standard.
And that’s what I think about, when I think about how special our group is this year — and when I think about how ready we are to prove ourselves over these next few weeks.
One game from this season that I’d say tells you a lot about the team we have is when Stanford came to our place. It was #1 vs. #2. That’s big. And we got down to them early: by 14 at half, and then by 17 in the third. But being down didn’t faze us one bit — not even against the defending champs. We dug deep and found that spark. Our energy was suddenly just there, and everybody was doing their job. I mean EVERYBODY. We were getting defensive stops, we were scoring, the bench was going crazy. And we came back and won. And while it was just one game, I think even one game can tell you a lot.
Beating Stanford, I’d say it told me what our team’s secret weapon is. It’s that at this point, we almost look forward to being tested.
And we ALWAYS keep fighting.
But let’s be honest, not everything here is all serious all the time. We also know how to have fun. It’s real friendships with our group, and we’re constantly finding ways to stay loose. Like, I think I’m pretty funny — Breezy and Zia, though, those two are hilarious. It’s hard to even explain their sense of humor…. but once they open their mouths, you know you’re about to be laughing nonstop.
And honestly that’s more important than a lot of people understand. Because the way we’re all in this as friends, the way we have that chemistry off the court? I’d say it shows up in our chemistry on the court, too. We really like playing together — and we all want to work hard for each other.
This team, it’s helped me grow a lot. Not just by putting me in this position to win individual awards, which I’m grateful for and I thank God for. But also with these “little” things that might not show up in awards or on a stat sheet. Like, last year, I told you guys how much I hated losing, and how hard it was for me when I felt I’d let my team down. And I still HATE to lose — that will always be part of my mentality. But this season, and this team, they’ve helped me learn to not focus so much on the “letting everyone down” aspect. They’ve helped me learn how to focus on what's in front of us.
It’s really like this one thing that I hear Coach Staley telling us a lot:
“Keep the main thing the main thing.”
To me that means, like: Always keep the full journey in perspective. Be going forward, instead of backward. And be going forward to whatever it is that’s the “main thing” — whatever it is that’s the real goal.
And for us, like I said: The goal is a national championship.
I can’t even describe how badly we want to win this tournament. We want it bad. I’m grateful to be in these award conversations, but I’ll tell you what — being a national champion? That right there is THE award.
Thanks to everyone for reading.... and I just want to end this by talking to my team for a minute (y’all better be reading haha). I want to say, it’s such an honor to play with you guys. I love all you guys for real. And I believe in us. No matter what even happens, from here on out, I believe in us.
So let’s go out there and get this #NATTY.
I’m thinking that Coach’s office could definitely use one more trophy.