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.
“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.