The art of the game: USC women’s bond includes their tattoos

dcloninger@thestate.comMarch 22, 2014 

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    NCAA TOURNAMENT

    Who: USC (27-4) vs. Cal State Northridge (18-14)

    When: Sunday, 5:30 p.m.

    Where: Seattle

    TV: ESPN

— All the parents accepted it.

Eventually.

“My first tattoo was when I knew it was legal to get them,” Khadijah Sessions said. “My mom was about to take me off to college the next day, and I finally showed her. She was just like, ‘Oh my God, when did you get it?’ It was supposed to be a surprise.”

South Carolina’s women’s team has overwhelmed most opponents all season with a brand of “together” basketball. The No. 1-seeded Gamecocks, tipping off their NCAA tournament today in Seattle, seem to be the same player among five on the floor, each committed to playing high-energy, winning basketball.

They’re also together in their brand of skin adornment. While none got them together, most players have at least one tattoo, usually with an image of a basketball.

“I got mine, I was still in high school, senior year, in May or March, kind of right before graduation,” said SEC Player of the Year Tiffany Mitchell. “I had always wanted one, and I knew I wanted something dealing with basketball. I chose the quote, ‘Live as if you were to die tomorrow, learn as if you were to live forever.’”

Mitchell’s is on her left shoulder, around the shape of a heart with basketball stripes inside it. The location is a popular one among the Gamecocks and many other female athletes.

“We wear the racerback jerseys, so it’s kind of a popular spot,” said Asia Dozier, whose right shoulder has the phrase “Blessed and Highly Favored” scripted onto it. “Then you can cover it up when you don’t want it to be seen.”

Coach Dawn Staley doesn’t mind if her players get tattoos, but prefers that they stay hidden while on the court. Olivia Gaines and Sessions, who have 13 tattoos between them, use wrist-to-deltoid sleeves to cover theirs.

“After my first one, I just kept going and going,” Gaines said. “I have seven. ‘God First’ was my first one. I was 18.”

Most chose them as a sign of devoting themselves to the sport, coupled with the first taste of independence. Dozier, for instance, was inspired by her uncle, Terry Dozier. He used to answer “Blessed and highly favored,” whenever his niece asked how he was.

“I kind of gave my mom an idea it was coming,” Asia Dozier said. “He used to say that when I’d talk to him, and I liked it so much I told her I was going to get a tattoo of it.”

Mitchell had been toying with the idea of getting one with Mahatma Gandhi’s well-known quote ever since she read it in high school. She decided to combine it with basketball and, after school one day, went with a group of friends to the local ink shop.

The only problem was coming home. Mom was waiting.

“At first, I don’t think she was too happy,” Mitchell said. “She didn’t want me to get a tattoo. But when she read it and saw the significance behind it, she was fine with it.”

While Sessions and Gaines have several tattoos, most are sticking with just one. Of the 12 players, only three are tattoo-free.

But most of them are so similar that they were immediately noticed and compared.

“I got mine probably about a month and a half after my 18th birthday, kind of for the simple fact I could get it and my parents couldn’t tell me no,” said Alaina Coates, who also got the shoulder-blade heart-basketball combo but with Japanese letters underneath. “I wanted one for a long time, and I liked the basketball heart symbol from ‘Love and Basketball.’ I really like Japanese characters, and I thought it looked kind of cool.”

Mitchell, Dozier and Sessions each saw the freshman’s ink the first day of practice. If she wasn’t welcomed before, that cemented it.

“It wasn’t anything planned,” Mitchell said. “But it is kind of cool most of us have one, in that same spot.”

Follow Cloninger on Twitter at @DCTheState.

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