COLUMBIA, S.C. – Dawn Staley didn’t get to spend much time savoring her U.S. team’s run to the FIBA AmeriCup championship. Less than two days later, the national coach was back barking orders and looking for more out of South Carolina at the Gamecocks opening practice Tuesday.
Staley spent the past two weeks away, the first at a training camp for national team members playing in the FIBA event, then last week competing in Puerto Rico. The Americans won all six tournament games with an average margin of victory of more than 38 points. They took gold Sunday night with a 67-46 win over Canada.
“It was a lot of newness, a lot of fun,” Staley said of the event. “It didn’t seem as pressure packed.”
Staley saved the pressure for the Gamecocks, who enter the season with the country’s No. 1 recruiting class that includes four of the top 11 prospects from last year’s high school class according to ESPN.
“You can’t stand still,” Staley said during one time out. “You’ve got to keep moving.”
Staley said she also was amped up to start working the Gamecocks out. She understands that it’s only day one with more than a month to go before South Carolina opens the season against Alabama State on Nov. 5. Things ramp up in a hurry with the second game on Nov. 10 at Maryland.
“The anticipation was there,” Staley said. “The execution wasn’t. But it’s good. We’ve got to have a team that needs probably to understand both sides of the basketball.”
The 12-woman roster includes five freshman and Destiny Littleton, a Texas transfer who is awaiting an NCAA waiver to see if she can play immediately instead of sitting out.
The highly regarded freshman are 6-foot-4 forward Aliyah Boston, the country’s third-ranked recruit; 5-9 point guard Zia Cook (No. 4); 6-3 forward Laetecia Amihere (No. 10); and 6-foot guard Breanna Beal (No. 11).
“I think they realize they realize they’re good individual players,” Staley said. “But how we get that to mesh as a team, we’re a long way from that.”
Staley had some help on the scout team with WNBA players A’ja Wilson and Tiffany Mitchell. Wilson was a three-time SEC player of the year while Mitchell won that honor twice.
Having both former Gamecocks stars on the court can help speed up the learning process, Staley said, and give the newcomers a glimpse of what may await them after college.
Tyasha Harris, the team’s returning senior point guard, said it’s been fun watching the first-year players meld to South Carolina way of high-tempo on offense and relentless effort on defense.
“They know what’s expected and we have standards they have to live up to,” she said.
Beal, from Rock Island, Illinois, acknowledged she was winded after a three-hour practice, something that rarely if ever happened in high school. She said she and the other first-year players know they’ve got to learn and contribute quickly if the Gamecocks hope to challenge for SEC titles.
“We’re willing to learn. We go through trial and error,” Beal said. “With having the upper class and the coaches there to guide us, it won’t take long.”
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