There Is Only One Khayla Pointer

LSU's senior star stands alone in a Club of One

by Harrison Valentine, LSU Athletics Communications
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There Is Only One Khayla Pointer

Khayla Pointer set some goals for herself.

One of them, heading into her fifth and final year at LSU, was unprecedented: to finish with 1,500 points, 500 assists, and 500 rebounds with the Tigers.

On Thursday against Arkansas, with the point and assist totals already in hand, Pointer set the precedent, registering her 500th career rebound, making her the first player in program history to accomplish such a milestone. 

There is only one KP, and now she truly stands alone in a Club of One

But it was before accomplishing that first goal that it really hit Pointer. After being handed a stat sheet, realizing she was moving ahead of greats like LaSondra Barrett in points, Erica White in assists, it finally hit her that she was not just passing the greats, but becoming one herself.

Don’t let the accolades and success fool you. That stat sheet has been the only thing that’s been handed to Pointer. She’s earned everything.

“I set some goals for myself going into this year,” said Pointer. “I wanted to finish as a 1,500, 500, 500 player. I’ve got my points and my assists, but I think I’m a few rebounds away. It’s all so surreal to me. This is Louisiana State University. This is one of the big programs that are around.”

Pointer has been coached by a relative for most of her life. Her late-father, Kirk, was a speed and agility trainer, her AAU coach and an integral part in her development since the age of three. When Pointer got to Baton Rouge, she was coached by her aunt, Nikki Fargas. Basketball has always run through her blood.

Literally.

That changed with the arrival of Kim Mulkey. It took Pointer a moment to grasp that the Hall of Fame coach, who holds the third-highest winning percentage in women’s basketball history and wears three national championship rings, was walking into the facility to meet her and become her next basketball coach.

Her eyes admittedly wide, there Mulkey stood in front of Pointer, addressing the team about winning over their trust.

“She walked into the locker room and I couldn’t believe that she was right there in front of me,” Pointer said. “It didn’t really sit in until a month ago, to where I wasn’t coming to practice still mesmerized that I was playing for a Hall of Fame coach. It’s been everything that I thought it could have been.”

The point guard, Mulkey says, has to be an extension of the coach on the floor. To be able to take all the credit, but in return, all the blame. To know every position on the floor and the responsibilities of those around them. That relationship between Coach and point guard is different from the rest, and that bond was established early on because they had no other choice.

There are moments when Mulkey has to be hardest on her point guards for those very reasons, but she also knows the praise that’s coming their way in the end. It’s a fair trade-off for both. 

“It does take time,” Mulkey said on building trust with her new players. “But I think both of us realized we don’t have time. She has one year. You try to build it by making her a captain, you try to build it by making sure the ball is in her hands and she’s the one shooting when we need something big to happen on the floor.”

“It was different for me, just from the aspect of not playing for somebody that wasn’t a relative,” Pointer said on the transition to a new coach. “I didn’t want anybody to think (Nikki) gave me anything and I played because we were related. I always went the extra mile with her. But the transition wasn’t necessarily harder than just the practices.”

IT DIDN’T TAKE LONG for Pointer to notice a difference. Mulkey’s first practice was longer than any practice any of the seniors have experienced wearing LSU across their chest. For better or worse, it was at that moment the entire team knew it was going to be different this season.

A whole lot different.

“It was very different,” said Pointer. “Our practices last year weren’t as intense. It was completely different with Coach Mulkey. We were getting after it. It was definitely tiring. We were like ‘this is how it’s going to be this year?’

The work at practice is contagious. So is the wisdom and knowledge Mulkey has showered Pointer with in just eight short months on the job. In fact, Mulkey’s instruction has been so valuable to Pointer that she feels a future career in coaching could be on the horizon.

Coach Pointer? Maybe one day. Being able to pick the brain of a legend is a good place to start.

“She makes me want to be a coach now,” Pointer said. “I’m usually just picking her brain. She’s made me see the game in a different way. I’ve been blessed for our relationship, and how she’s been able to coach me and make me a better player.”

The relationship between Mulkey and Pointer has developed as well as either of them could have hoped. But it was at the San Juan Shootout in Puerto Rico when Pointer really felt it click.

Mulkey called on Pointer to take the important shots at the end of the game and provided her with some words of encouragement that went a long way. That’s all it took. A belief from the head coach in her point guard. There was nothing left for Mulkey to prove to her: she was all in.

“That was when I felt like me and Coach can really do something special this year,” Pointer said.

“She’s been nothing but a trooper,” Mulkey added on Pointer. “She’s been a warrior for me since I’ve got here.”

Pointer does want people to know one thing: Kim Mulkey isn’t quite like she’s portrayed to be. She’s one of a kind — for her sense of humor in practice, for her coaching, for her words of encouragement when nobody is watching or listening. Sure, she’s tough. But all the great ones are. You have to play for her to understand.

“Her sarcasm, her countryness, her sense of humor … all that put together makes her one of a kind,” Pointer said of Mulkey. “But you wouldn’t know that unless you played for her. She’s nothing like people say she is.”

Mulkey thinks Pointer deserves more national recognition. What can’t she do? That’s a question that Coach would ask those still not convinced. She can shoot the three. She can pass the ball. She can defend. She can rebound. And, on top of all that, she can play multiple positions.

The recognition comes with winning. It’s also not something Pointer craves. But it is something she deserves. Her impact simply cannot be put into numbers. Well, it can, according to HerHoopStats.com, who says Pointer has the fifth highest Win Shares (6.4) in the nation, a metric that calculates the number of wins a single player produces for her team.

It’s time to call Pointer what she is: one of America’s elite guards. 

Period.

“I don’t think she gets enough recognition,” Mulkey said. “I think we recognize her at LSU. She needs to be talked about more. She’s one of the primer, elite guards in the country. What is it that she cannot do that makes somebody better than her?”

Pointer has seen it all at LSU. From empty to packed arenas. From eight wins in a season to a 17-4 record to start it. From unranked to the Top 10. She’s done it all with two other seniors by her side in Faustine Aifuwa and Jailin Cherry, and they wouldn’t have done it any differently.

“We’ve had struggles together, we’ve cried together and we’ve won together,” said Pointer. “We’re just trying to take it all in. It’s a new experience that none of us have been a part of. I’m happy that we’re doing it together.”

The excitement surrounding the LSU’s women’s basketball program has never been higher in Pointer’s career. Playing in front of nearly 10,000 fans against South Carolina was not something she, or the rest of the senior class, was used to. But that’s the new normal for a program rapidly on the rise.

Look at the social media interactions. Look at the lines outside the PMAC to get in before a game. Look at the results on the floor. The buzz is here, and here to stay.

“It’s amazing,” she said. “I didn’t realize how big fans made a difference, but we obviously do now. I’m just so blessed for this fifth year and everything that has come with it. We’re on the court sometimes and we can’t even hear what Coach is saying. We’re just soaking it all up.”

Mulkey will always have a soft spot for her first senior class. They chose to stay when it would’ve been easy to leave. They bought in when it could’ve been convenient to check out. Instead, LSU’s three seniors realized the potential that was ahead, and it was an opportunity too good to jump ship.

“I thank Khayla, Faustine and Cherry for staying because they certainly didn’t have to,” Mulkey said. “I didn’t come here with nothing to work with. There were pieces in place. They bought in to what we were doing, and I’m forever grateful that I have them here to do what we’re doing this year.”

“That was her aunt and she stayed,” Mulkey added of Pointer. “That told me a lot about that kid. I got on her hard, probably harder than anybody, but she always responded. Trust is not something that is given. It’s something that is earned over time. She had to learn to trust me, and I had to learn to trust her.”

As the heart and soul of the Tigers, Pointer brings so much to the team on the court, but so much off it, too. Intangibles that are invaluable, leadership that can’t be replicated. To be a calming force in times of adversity. To make those around her feel comfortable when it starts to feel turbulent. 

If you built the ideal point guard, they would have everything Pointer has.

“I try to be a calming influence for us,” Pointer said. “I want my teammates to trust me. I want them to know they can count on me. I want them to feel comfortable when we’re on the court.”

Pointer’s favorite player growing up was Candace Parker. She’s a player that she’s always admired, both from afar and up close. Fargas, a former assistant at the University of Tennessee, would bring Pointer to watch Parker play. That’s why she wears the No. 3 with the Tigers.

She also tries to mimic her game after Chris Paul, another professional hooper who wears the No. 3. All three of them, Parker, Paul and Pointer, have something in common, and it’s not their last name starting with the letter P. It’s getting buckets.

“I loved her,” Pointer said of Parker. “I’ve watched her journey. She’s always someone that I’ve admired and she’s the reason why I wear three.”

Call her KP3, and with just under two months left in her LSU career, legacy isn’t exactly something she thinks about often. But, she does want to be remembered as someone that left it all out on the floor, or, as her father would always say, a kid that “always found some work.”

HER LAST GOAL means the most. Pointer’s father passed away less than three weeks before her freshman season at LSU. It was devastating. He was her rock, her inspiration, and to experience that at such a transformative time in her life made it that much more difficult.

It left her questioning a lot: her love for basketball, whether or not she even wanted to stay in Baton Rouge. But now, Pointer says, she looks herself in the mirror proud of how far she’s come through tragedy. The pride has nothing to do with accolades, stats, or even basketball, really. It has everything to do with getting back to the person that she was supposed to be all along.

“He’s my why,” Pointer said. “He’s the reason I do everything. I’m trying to accomplish our last goal we had together which was being drafted to the WNBA. I try to play for him. I know in big games, I know in any game period, that he’s in the stands. He’s the reason that I love and play the game.”

Her tattoo, which reads “RIP Dad” on her right forearm, is something you might see Pointer tap after hitting a big shot or winning a big game. 

His presence is always felt. His teachings, too, still imprinted in Pointer like the tattoo on her forearm. He pushed her on days when she didn’t feeling like waking up, and motivated her when she felt uninspired. She owes so much to him, but she also has one more promise yet to keep.

The last time Pointer talked with her father, it was a conversation about the big-picture. The ultimate goal has always been to play in the WNBA, and that goal, something her and father often discussed, is within reach. 

It was their goal – together – and it would mean everything to achieve it for him.

“The last conversation I had with my dad was us talking about making it to the WNBA,” said Pointer. “That’s why I feel like I have to finish that goal for us.”