Kamesha Hairston has always been dynamic with the basketball in her hands. But this season, the sophomore forward is out to prove that she is more than just a scorer.
As the Owls’ newest offensive weapon, Hairston’s role has changed plenty since last season’s Atlantic Ten Championship run. As a freshman, she provided a spark off the bench. Now, Hairston is being looked to for all the intangibles.
“It’s been about me playing more complete instead of playing just offense or defense,” Hairston said. “And with that, I’m helping the team in things like rebounding, blocking and defense.”
Through six games, Hairston isn’t just an alternative scoring threat to junior center Candice Dupree. She is at or near the top in several key categories. With 10.1 points per game, Hairston is one of four Owls averaging double-figures in scoring. After seven starts, Hairston has 19 offensive rebounds and 13 steals. She also ranks third on the team in blocks with five.
Players outside the program have taken notice of Hairston’s play. In a 65-51 loss to LSU on Nov. 23, Hairston was matched up against Seimone Augustus, a national player of the year candidate. Hairston held Augustus to just six points in a second half in which the Owls narrowed the No. 2 Tigers’ lead to three points.
After the game, Augustus commended Hairston’s play.
“Hairston did what she had to do for her team,” Augustus said. “She stuck with me the whole time, made it tough to get off passes and do my thing. She’s good.”
Hairston grabbed the attention of national scouts while at Bowsher High School in Ohio, until she sustained a season-ending ACL injury her senior year. Though she didn’t play much that season, she still averaged 21 points, nine rebounds and four steals per game in her shortened high school career. She was named to the Toledo all-city first team three times and was twice named first team all-district.
But none of the accolades mattered to Hairston. When her health permitted her to play, she just wanted to win.
“My high school career was difficult because my school really didn’t have a winning program until my junior year,” Hairston said. “It was a struggle because I was the only one scoring, and I like to win.”
Hairston said she has carried this custom into her collegiate career. She would rather have “a 10-game winning streak than score points,” she said.
“Any time we get a win, who cares how many points I score, you know?” she said. “We always need more offense, but when the day is over, wins matter most.”
Temple wasn’t the only school recruiting Hairston. Indiana, Ohio State and A-10 foe Massachusetts pursued Hairston, she said. But each of those offers had been made during her junior year, prior to her knee injury. According to Hairston, Temple was the only school to stick by her after the injury.
“Temple was the one school that said to me, ‘No matter what, we got your back,'” Hairston said. “I really liked that.”
Hairston said committing to Temple was an easy decision after meeting Dawn Staley, her future coach. She was introduced to Staley during her initial campus visit as a high school student. She remembers being in awe of the former Dobbins Tech High School and University of Virginia star.
“I was thinking, ‘Wow, I just met Dawn Staley and she’s real cool,'” Hairston said with a laugh. “She is one of the reasons I’m here. I like how she breaks down the game. I like the way she took me in [after my injury].”
Staley said Hairston has qualities that help the program.
“Kamesha poses a little something different because she’s taller and she’s a perimeter player,” Staley said. “She’s smart, disciplined. Those are qualities I like.”
Temple’s remaining non-conference opponents include Rutgers and Big 5 rival Villanova. Each season, Staley’s program seeks to knock off some of the nation’s top teams. Hairston said the players would need to be consistent to get a few quality wins and alleviate the Owls’ offensive hardships.
“[Dupree] isn’t the only one who has to score for us,” Hairston said. “Coach says, ‘If Candice gets 15 points, someone else has to get 15 points.’ So I’m trying to be the one that gets coach that 15. I’ll do whatever she asks of me because I want to win.”
Christopher A. Vito can be reached at email@example.com.