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‘I cried for a long time’: Shawnee Mission West standout relives gold medal journey

COVID sidelines KC-area star for international hoops showcase
S'Mya Nichols - USA Basketball
Posted at 5:23 PM, Jun 25, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-25 18:35:47-04

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — Named one of the nation's top girl's basketball players, Shawnee Mission West senior S’Mya Nichols didn’t appear in USA Basketball’s 10th straight gold medal triumph.

“I wouldn't say depressed, but I was really sad,” Nichols said Thursday, recounting a positive COVID test that sidelined her for the entire 2022 FIBA U18 Women’s Americans Championship in Argentina. “I called my mom and I cried for a long time."

Quarantining in isolation and watching her teammates compete through YouTube live streams, Nichols described the experience as frustrating and rewarding.

“At first I was literally like, 'Do I even deserve to get a medal?'” Nichols said.

The No. 1 ranked U.S. side steamrolled through the international competition, beating opponents by an average margin of 45 points across the six games.

KC-area stars Jada Williams and Grace Slaughter claimed gold with USA Basketball’s U16 team in 2021.

RELATED STORY: ‘Ready to dominate’: 2 Kansas City-area players chosen for USA Women's U16 National Team

“I didn't want to just completely get away from it,” Nichols said. “I was there. I was in the same country. So I kind of just stuck with it."

Despite being unable to compete, Nichols was cleared from protocols to celebrate her golden accomplishment with teammates after the U.S. cemented a narrow 5-point gold medal win over rival Canada.

“She handled it, I would say better than any other 17-year-old could possibly handle it,” Shawnee Mission West girl's basketball coach Mark Rabbitt said, adding Nichols was itching to play in a team scrimmage hours after returning from Argentina.

Despite initial disappointment, Nichols says she's thankful to have had the experience.

“When I had to bend over and get the medal on my neck, I was like, 'Okay, I did work for this. I do deserve this,'” Nichols said.