Dallas Wings coach Fred Williams wanted to get former South Carolina women’s basketball players Kaela Davis and Allisha Gray plenty of minutes in the preseason.
The pair might be WNBA rookies, ready to start their first seasons Sunday in the Wings’ opener, but they’ve already shown something on the next level.
“They come in with a lot of energy, a lot of excitement and a lot of minutes in preseason play to show what they can do, performance-wise,” Williams said. “These players, I felt like, in the draft were pretty much pro-ready as far as their body structure and their basketball IQ. I think they’re going to do a great job for us to help us get to another level.”
Davis, the 10th pick in the draft, was Dallas’ top scorer in the preseason, averaging 13.5 points per game in 19.5 minutes. Gray, the 4th pick, was the team’s No. 3 scorer with 11.5 points in 20 minutes.
Williams said he can see the aftereffects of Davis and Gray having played together in Columbia. They move well off one another, having familiarity that reminds him of the chemistry he sees from players who play overseas together.
The coach also likes the size they bring as perimeter players and what that allows him to do with lineups.
Williams said one of the reasons Davis and Gray factor so heavily into his plans is the preparation they got from USC coach Dawn Staley.
“They understand the game,” Williams said. “When you have a great teacher like Dawn Staley to get them prepared for the pro level, they pretty much understand the language that we’re speaking in training camp and some of the things we’re trying to do.”
Gray and Davis followed similar paths, both being top-seven recruits in their high school classes and becoming all-conference players at ACC schools before transferring to USC. They were top-four scorers and No. 2 and 3 options during an NCAA title run. Both declared early, forgoing a final year in college.
They should be in line for prominent roles as Dallas is in the midst of a youth movement. The team cut fourth-year players Tiffany Bias and Jordan Hooper, leaving five rookies on the roster before the last set of cuts.
Mitchell poised for a jump
Former South Carolina guard Tiffany Mitchell opened her career with a solid first season in 2016. The All-American averaged 8.6 points, 1.4 assists and 20 minutes a game for the Indiana Fever, but tailed off after a strong start.
Heading into Year 2, with some changes on the roster and a coaching transition from Stephanie White to Pokey Chatman, ESPN analyst Rebecca Lobo sees Mitchell improving.
“Players make such a significant jump between their rookie and second year,” Lobo said. “I expect that from Tiffany, especially with a new coach, different opportunities, different system, different focus without (recently retired WNBA all-star and MVP) Tamika Catchings there.
“I would expect her to have one of those breakout seasons.”
Lobo said she was uncertain if former South Carolina center Alaina Coates, picked second in the WNBA Draft, would be able to have much impact this season.
Coates is still recovering from recurring ankle issues that prevented her from playing during the Gamecocks’ championship run in the NCAA tournament.
Former Gamecocks in the WNBA
A look at the four former South Carolina women’s players playing professional basketball:
Drafted: By Dallas, first round, 2017 WNBA Draft (4th overall)
High School: Washington County (Sandersville, Ga.)
Of note: In the preseason, she was the team’s No. 3 scorer with 11.5 points in 20 minutes per game.
Misc: Brother A.J. plays football for the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
Drafted: By Dallas, first round, 2017 WNBA Draft (10th overall)
High School: Buford (Suwanee, Ga.)
Of note: She was Dallas’ top scorer in the preseason, averaging 13.5 points per game in 19.5 minutes.
Misc: Father, Antonio, played 13 years in NBA for Pacers, Raptors, Bulls, Knicks; was president of NBAPA; and is currently an NBA analyst for ESPN. Twin brother A.J. plays basketball at Central Florida
Drafted: By Indiana, first round, 2016 WNBA Draft (9th overall)
High School: Providence Day School
Of note: In 2016, only the fourth Fever rookie to play in all 34 games, averaging 8.3 ppg. She was named to the WNBA All-Rookie Team.
Misc: Earned the USC President’s Award, the highest annual award bestowed on a student-athlete, honoring achievement in athletics, academics and community outreach
Drafted: By Chicago, first round, 2017 WNBA Draft (2nd overall)
High School: Dutch Fork
Of note: She’s still recovering from recurring ankle issues that prevented her from playing in the NCAA Tournament.
Misc: Uncle, Ben Coates, played with NFL’s New England Patriots and Baltimore Ravens. Went to same high school as U.S. Open champ Dustin Johnson