Kema Dashiell remembers crying in her car before Robert Morris' women's basketball games and practices. She wasn’t jealous that her teammates were able to play — and win — basketball games. She wasn’t upset that they were getting noticed or that they were on their way to earning a bid to the league championship game.
“I just wanted to contribute,” she said. “To take that shot or take that charge.”
Nia Adams felt it, too. After playing at a high level her entire career, she was now banished to the sidelines with no timetable on an injury that, at times, seemed it would never go away.
Both injured a season ago, Dashiell and Adams return to the court for their senior campaigns after the most trying season of each of their careers while Robert Morris’ women’s basketball team had its best season to date. Their legacies will begin to become cemented in Moon Township as the Colonials open the season at Youngstown State on Tuesday.
“I could see it in Nia’s face,” Dashiell said of those trials and tribulations. “If she was thinking too far ahead or too far behind, she got down.”
The two formed a bond that got them through the season, though. It was a connection that helped eliminate negative vibes, depressing thoughts and anxiety.
“Her and I really kept each other accountable for being in the moment,” Dashiell said. "I think having someone there with you really helped. I told her I wouldn't make it through the season without her. Our teammates battled opponents, but we battled mental thoughts. You really had to battle insecurity, anxiety, depressive thoughts. That's something that a lot of people don't know about it.”
Adams credited Dashiell, too.
“We relied on each other to basically just enhance our leadership skills all the time,” she said. “We knew we needed to make an impact.”
That impact was in the way they carried themselves — truly putting the team first.
“Those two were able to be leaders without being on the floor. There’s a great humility in that. That’s probably our top pillar,” coach Charlie Buscaglia said. “Even though they’re not getting the glory, that’s not whats important. If they can’t be out there, they can still help them on the sidelines or in the locker room or off the court with class or life decisions.”
[caption id="attachment_716547" align="aligncenter" width="480"] Nia Adams (left) and Kema Dashiell. - JASON COHN / RMU[/caption]
The late Barbara McCool instilled passion into Kema Dashiell when she was in eighth grade, and it was then that she learned about the impact someone could really have on a person.
A newcomer on the basketball circuit, Dashiell was afforded the opportunity to practice with the high school team while still in eighth grade. McCool, who later passed away after a fight with cancer, wanted Dashiell to be challenged — to see how high schoolers handled adversity and how they practiced and played day in and day out.
“When I got to practice with them, there was a different type of aggression and urgency there,” Dashiell recalled. “When I got to see their mentality, that really, really helped me.”
She went on to score 1,688 points in high school, earning all-conference honors in all four years while being named the Daily Times (Salisbury, Md.) Player of the Year as a sophomore. She was named team MVP twice.
Buscaglia helped recruit Dashiell to Robert Morris as an assistant, and she signed on for the 2014-15 season. She quickly became a contributor for the Colonials during her freshman season and was primed to be a standout player during her senior season a year ago, but she sprained her foot just before the season and was out 4 to 6 weeks.
Dashiell came back against Delaware State on Dec. 6 and then tore her metatarsal ligament three days later against Lafayette when she went up for a reverse layup.
“I thought, man, will I ever come back?” she recalled.
Her senior season on the court was over, but she didn't lose it all. She just transformed into a new role, one she excelled in.
"She focused on how the team is doing and how she could be better. She has a strong faith in this team, and she’ll come to me and ask to me how I'm doing as a leader," Buscaglia said. "Sometimes I can tell her she can do this better, and she wants to hear that. That's being a leader."
Nia Adams cut her teeth amidst the nation’s best female players, and Charlie Buscaglia said he knew he needed to find a way to sign her to Robert Morris’ squad after he watched her play with the EYBL Nike Elite New Jersey Sparks.
“She was out there in big moments. I saw that she was fearless against that level of players,” the coach said. “She wasn't afraid to mix it up and be physical.”
After committing, signing and redshirting with Robert Morris, Adams was inserted into the daily rotation for the Colonials, providing that same fearlessness against opponents. But nagging shin splints her junior season halted all of that, limiting the 5-foot-11 guard to just three games after earning a starting job.
“I was definitely heartbroken that I couldn't play with my team,” Adams said.
That’s when her fearlessness would really kick in, and Buscaglia has seen it maintained through the preseason now that Adams is back on the court.
"She learned a lot of being grateful. Now she's out there and I can see her thrive," the coach said. "We really focus on that. on the court, you can see how much they value things."
[caption id="attachment_716552" align="aligncenter" width="640"] Kema Dashiell (left) and Nia Adams (third from left). - JASON COHN/RMU[/caption]
Anyone can go and recruit a player who drops 25 points a night, Buscaglia said. The players that get hyped when their team is up 20 or 30 points are easy to come by. He’d rather recruit the player that continues to clap even when the team is losing, he said.
“Obviously, everyone is in love with the flashy stuff during the games like grabbing rebounds with one hand or throwing a behind-the-back pass, and anyone can say that kid can play. That's the easy part,” said Buscaglia, who has been known for finding hidden gems during the recruiting process. “The hard part is finding those who handle adversity well. How they act when they aren't playing well or how they pick their teammates up. It’s easy to clap your hands when you have some success, but what about that player clapping their hands when they’re 0-for-5? Those are things I look for.”
Buscaglia said he saw that in both Dashiell and Adams when he recruited them to his father’s team ahead of the 2014-15 season.
“Your actions will speak much louder than your words,” Buscaglia said. “We saw that come to fruition with these two.”
In college sports, legacies are oftentimes built around statistical records or championships. For Dashiell and Adams, legacy has little to do with either. That won’t change for the duo as they head into their final season with the Colonials.
“I hope I can leave RMU and people will say that I was a good leader,” Adams said. “That I put myself out there and put the team first.”
For Dashiell, it comes back to that word impact.
“I just want to leave an impact. I want girls to remember me as selfless and as someone who contributed to the program and to their development,” she said. “After the lights are turned off and my shoes are hung up, what means the most is what impact I leave behind.”
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