The best recruiters are never complacent. They don’t land one prized prospect or one elite class and call it quits.
They know that success is fleeting, that other teams won’t stop recruiting, and they also know once their team wins a championship, the hunt is on to win another. The only way to do that is sustain what’s worked and augment it to get another.
So one wouldn’t find Dawn Staley taking a week or two to head to the beach after winning the national championship she’d chased for nearly 30 years. South Carolina’s coach was canvassing the state and country, texting, calling and hosting recruits all the while, net-lace around her neck as she strove to keep the Gamecocks on their current perch.
With the wave of talent in the Class of 2018, Staley knew to strike when the iron was hot, and hers was scorching. The Gamecocks have already nabbed one Top-10 national recruit (Destanni Henderson) and are heavily in contention for five more prospects in the Top 26, four that join Henderson in the Top 10.
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“It’s a great class, it’s a great class,” said Staley, who is prohibited from discussing unsigned recruits. “Hopefully we can continue to get some more commitments from players who feel like all of their dreams can come true at the University of South Carolina.”
Henderson is the top-rated point guard in the class and the No. 9 overall prospect. She pledged in January and is expected to sign in November. If the Gamecocks don’t add a player for next year’s team, they will have four open scholarships for 2018-19 after Henderson fills the first.
The potential other newcomers? Recruits rated third, fourth, fifth, seventh and 26th in the nation.
Olivia Nelson-Ododa from Winder, Ga., checks in at third. She was the No. 1 overall recruit, but a knee injury midway through last season dropped the forward two spots in the most recent rankings.
That hasn’t stopped her 12 finalists from calling – besides USC, Nelson-Ododa has Notre Dame, Connecticut, Tennessee, Maryland and next-door Georgia bidding for her services.
Nelson-Ododa is writing a blog about her recruitment for USA Today and has been open about her injury and how it might affect her senior year. She also lauded the Gamecocks for their accomplishments.
“It was cool to see South Carolina win the national title last month,” Nelson-Ododa wrote. “Of course Coach (Dawn) Staley is one of the coaches recruiting me and to talk to her after she won was really cool. That’s a big goal of mine when I get to college, so to hear about that night and see them win was cool.”
Izabella Nicoletti, a native of Brazil who preps in Raleigh, ranks fourth in the country and has USC among a lengthy list of colleges. Aquira DeCosta (fifth) has USC among her final five, and NaLyssa Smith (seventh), a 6-foot-2 Texan showing off her dunking skills on Twitter, has the Gamecocks in her top 10.
Elizabeth Balogun, from Chattanooga, Tenn., is ranked in the top 10 at guard and rounds out the group at 26. Balogun has the Gamecocks included in a long list.
If Staley pulls in some of those targets, the class would be one that would rival, or perhaps trump, the Class of 2014, the one that brought Doniyah Cliney, Bianca Cuevas-Moore, Kaydra Duckett, Jatarie White and top overall recruit A’ja Wilson to Columbia. That class was rated second in the country behind UCLA and was the culmination of a local recruiting cycle that also landed Asia Dozier, Alaina Coates, Khadijah Sessions, Tiffany Mitchell (Charlotte) and Aleighsa Welch.
Staley hoarded her homegrown recruits and the program took off, becoming an NCAA Tournament staple and then a Final Four pick at the beginning of every season. Yet she never quit adding; everything was meant to get to a national championship.
She got there. But she wants to win more. The title has become a springboard for her to still covet South Carolina recruits, but also take her platform nationwide.
“Certainly, we got a lot of interest,” she said. “So we’re in a lot of doors that we’re probably getting in a little earlier than normal. But it’s a great feeling.”
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The Class of 2018 could bring a wave of talent to South Carolina that rivals the Class of 2014, which ranked second in the country and featured No. 1 overall recruit A’ja Wilson. Looking at one player who has committed and some of the other players who could pledge to the reigning national champs:
PG * 5-8 * Lehigh Acres, Fla.
Recruiting rank (nation/position): 9/1
The skinny: No mystery here – the best point guard in the class committed to the Gamecocks in January
F * 6-4 * Winder, Ga.
Recruiting rank (nation/position): 3/1
The skinny: The top-ranked recruit in the country before a knee injury ended her junior season, Nelson-Ododa dropped two spots in the rankings but has no shortage of suitors (USC, UConn, Florida State, Notre Dame, Tennessee, etc.)
G * 5-10 * Raleigh, N.C.
Recruiting rank (nation/position): 4/2
The skinny: A native of Brazil, Nicoletti has been a staple on her country’s youth national teams. Able to score and pass equally, she’d be a quality addition to anybody’s backcourt.
G * 6-2 * Sacramento, Calif.
Recruiting rank (nation/position): 5/1
The skinny: Also a former top-ranked player in the country, DeCosta has whittled her list to the Gamecocks, Tennessee, Louisville, Baylor and Cal.
F * 6-2 * Converse, Texas
Recruiting rank (nation/position): 7/2
The skinny: Smith picked USC as her first official visit, where she took a selfie with Dawn Staley and the national championship trophy.
G * 6-0 * Chattanooga, Tenn.
Recruiting rank (nation/position): 26/7
The skinny: Nigerian by birth, Balogun has prepped in Tennessee since the eighth grade. The Lady Vols are recruiting her, but so are many other SEC schools.