Simone Pointer’s still in awe of the resolve her daughter Khayla Pointer has displayed in the three years after losing the driving force in her basketball career.
Truth be told Simone, a standout basketball player at Austin Peay University, isn’t certain she could have remained as undeterred and unyielding in her determination as Khayla, now a senior point guard and one of the questioned leaders of this season’s LSU women’s basketball team.
“When your backbone and soul pass away right before you go to college, and he’s the reason that you’re where you are, I don’t know if I would have been that strong,” Simone said of the Nov. 5, 2017 passing of her husband Kirk Pointer because of cardiac arrest. “I’m very proud of her.”
When the Tigers lost the services of leading scorer and emotional leader Ayana Mitchell on Feb. 2 to a season-ending knee injury, Khayla Pointer got a crash course becoming a team leader over the final nine games last season. It included increasing her level of play and vocal leadership.
Pointer was part of a collective effort, both physically and emotionally, of helping LSU keep its season together during an adverse time. The loss of the team’s best player pushed her to a new level as a player willing to take charge, superseding her scoring and passing.
It’s a trait that’s carried over and will be present this season from the opening tip until the final horn – a moment Khayla Pointer was long prepared for by her father prior her arrival at LSU four years ago.
She enters her final year starting with Friday night’s 2020-21 season opener vs. BYU in Las Vegas after putting together the best year of her career, 14.8 points, 4.7 assists, 4.0 rebounds, a sterling 1.73 assist-to-turnover ratio. She was voted LSU’s team MVP and second team by the All-Southeastern Conference and Louisiana Sportswriters Association.
“I know he’s very proud of me to see how I am now,” Khayla Pointer said. “I’ve been a lot stronger. These pains never go away. They become easier. You always feel it. He would have been exceptionally proud of the season I had last year. I know he’s looking forward to the one I’m going to have this year.”
Once again, for her fourth season, Khayla Pointer is reassured her father will have the best seat in the house.
“I always remind her,” Simone Pointer said of her daughter. “Your father’s always looking down on you.”
It’s why Khayla’s totally at peace on a basketball court – albeit at LSU or in high school where she won a state title at Holy Innocents Episcopal in Marietta, Ga. It’s where she grew up playing and learning the game from her father who served as her coach as an eight-year-old through a successful AAU career.
Their relationship was tightly woven and included many introspective discussions about life and basketball – both on and off the floor – that have since created a huge void in Khayla’s life as a young adult.
“I miss him a lot but very thankful for where I am today,” Khayla said. “I can go to the gym and remember the drills that I used to do. Things still come to me when I’m playing in the game. I wouldn’t be here without him and the love and support from my mother.”
Kirk Pointer, the coach, struck a demanding chord with his daughter to avoid any semblance of favoritism associated with her playing status.
If Khayla was to start, Kirk Pointer believed his daughter’s ability and understanding of the game had to be above reproach. The fact that she regularly played up one to two age groups was a strong indicator of just how good she was.
“He wanted her to know that she’s playing because she was actually good enough to play,” Simone said. “It made her the player that she is today.”
Kirk’s vision was for his daughter to play at a major Division I school and subsequently in the WNBA. She’s nearing the end of one of those objectives, while taking aim in several months at the latter.
After signing with LSU to play for her aunt Nikki Fargas (who is two years older than Simone), Khayla recalled the planning stages for which games her freshman season Kirk would attend.
Khayla Pointer left for Baton Rouge in June 2017, attended summer workouts and prepared for a three-game exhibition tour of Italy. She had plenty to discuss with her father, both her experiences abroad, and on the floor that further fueled her emotion for her first collegiate season.
Sadly, though, after working out a group of kids where he served as a speed and agility trainer, Kirk Pointer was found unresponsive from cardiac arrest.
He died three months shy of his 44th birthday.
“He prepared me for this moment and never got the chance to see me play in college,” Khayla said. “One goal we did set was for me to make it to the WNBA. It’s something that really drives me. I want to go and get that for my dad.”
Khayla Pointer accompanied the team for its first game of the 2017-18 season at South Florida which held a moment of silence in Kirk Pointer’s honor during the pregame. She played a total of 26 minutes, had two points and four assists, a block and a steal and then traveled a day later with Fargas to her father’s funeral in Memphis.
Pointer tried picking up the pieces and moving forward without her biggest inspiration. She averaged 4.4 points and 2.3 assists in 29 games in his first season, playing on a deep team with veteran backcourt teammates Raigyne Moncrief and Chloe Jackson.
She has since become a fixture in LSU’s starting lineup the past two seasons, having started 58 of 59 games, and developing into a consistent scorer at 12.5 and 14.8 points as sophomore and junior respectively.
In one of the more indelible moments in her career, Khayla recorded a double-double on her dad’s birthday last season with 24 points and 10 rebounds in a 75-65 win over Tennessee.
“I felt he was playing through me,” said Khayla, who has a tattoo of a rose on the inside of her right arm with the inscription ‘RIP Dad 02/13/74 – 11/05/17’. “It was an emotional night for me and my family.”
During the coronavirus pandemic Khayla worked diligently to strengthen all facets of her game from ball-handling to shooting. One of her father’s favorite axioms was for Khayla to try and fill up as many categories in a box score and become the all-around player he always envisioned.
“Her peace is knowing her dad is smiling down on her,” Fargas said. “He’s very proud of her and she’s continuing to do something they both shared and loved.”