‘Head of the monster’: Senior guard provides spark in team resurgence

Kahlaijah Dean leads team in scoring


Jordan Latimore

Kahlaijah Dean, Sacramento State women’s basketball point guard stands outside The Nest on Dec. 9, 2022 . The senior guard has started all 21 of the Hornet games this season.

Myla Booth

In sixth grade, Kahlaijah Dean tried out for the basketball team for the first time to just see what could come of it.

When she actually made the team, it altered the course of her life. 

“But then I came out being really good,” Dean, the senior point guard for Sacramento State’s women’s basketball team, said. It even took some convincing in her abilities for her dad to begin to come to watch her play. 

“[It wasn’t] until my last very last game, [of sixth grade],” Dean said. “He came out, and then that’s when it kind of all started for me.” 

Her drive for basketball and the desire to be a role model to future players took her from her sixth-grade team to over 1,000 career collegiate points. She has now become the focal point of the most successful Sac State women’s basketball team in eight years.

Dean grew up in Bakersfield with a big family of older and younger siblings. 

Growing up, Dean’s father took her to watch professional basketball all the time. They would attend Los Angeles Sparks WNBA and Lakers games all the time. She didn’t really look up to any particular player but knew she enjoyed watching basketball.

Dean said she always knew she wanted to be that player for people to look up to. She lets her play style speak for itself.

 “I just kind of wanted to play my own type of game, and become that new person for anybody out there,” Dean said. 

Dean started her college basketball career at Oakland University in Michigan. She was there for four years and thoroughly enjoyed her experience. According to her, every one of her OU teammates was an asset on and off the court.

“I loved the snow, weather, everything about it,” Dean said. “They really showed me love there and made me feel like there’s another home, being so far away from home.” 

After graduating from Oakland University with a bachelor’s degree in Business and Human Resources, she entered the transfer portal. Dean knew she wanted to be somewhere closer to home so her family would be able to see her play.

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Sac State’s head coach Mark Campbell stood out among all the other schools in her portal because he would FaceTime and communicated with her every week. It gave her a sign of certainty that he really wanted her to come to Sac State for who she is as a player and person. 

“That’s what really built our relationship and allowed me to commit here,” Dean said. 

Dean has averaged 21.7 points per game, 4.7 rebounds to go along with 4.4 assists in her lone season at Sac State, filling the hole in the lineup left by last year’s Big Sky MVP, Lianna Tillman.

“Lianna helped attract Kahlaijah Dean to come here,” Campbell said. “There’s steps to this.”

Dean said her new Sac State team has great chemistry together, adding that it’s just as enjoyable being with the team on and off the court. She loves the atmosphere here at Sac State, too.

“When we have home games, we have a pretty huge crowd, and the love that they’ve shown us,” Dean said. “ I’ve never seen [a crowd like this] before in my college career.”

Dean knew Sac State was a good landing spot in her transfer decision for many reasons and has now played a role in a culture shift for her team. . The team is already enjoying its most successful season in recent memory, totaling 15 wins for the first time since 2014-2015.

“She’s our leader on our team, and she’s very important,” Sac State redshirt freshman guard Benthe Versteeg said. “She will fight back, whatever [it takes] she will do.”

Despite it being her first year at Sac State, Dean has quickly earned the trust of her head coach.

“As a 5th-year senior, I just defer to her,” Campbell said. “She’s been through it all at this point in her career. [Dean] is the head of the monster; everything goes through her.”