Welch ready for change, challenge

Aleighsa Welch
Aleighsa Welch

South Carolina coaches Steve Spurrier and Darrin Horn have stated on many occasions that in-state recruiting must be their prime focus.

USC women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley has lured several noted prospects to Columbia, but recent signee Aleighsa Welch is the first of them to hail from the Palmetto State. Considering the strength of the Class of 2012 within the state, Staley is certainly hoping Welch’s decision to play for the Gamecocks is a sign of good fortune to come.

The Goose Creek forward is ranked 88th in the Class of 2011 by ESPN HoopGurlz. The 6-foot forward averaged 19.1 points and 10.3 rebounds, while shooting 72 percent from the field, last season, helping the Gators to their first state championship.

She has mostly been a post player throughout her prep career but is slated to move over to small forward at USC.

“One thing that people haven’t seen is that she can play a guard position,” Goose Creek coach Tim Baldwin said. “In the state championship game last year we had her bringing the ball down. She feels very comfortable handling the basketball and being away from the basket.

“With her physical abilities she just ends up around the basket a lot because we do a lot of full-court pressing. So, she’s going to flash to basket and she’s a relentless rebounder. That’s what I think will help her a lot. She’s going to be more physical than most [small forwards] in college. She can also shoot the ball. She just doesn’t.”

Staley and Co. plan to make her a little more selfish, however. Welch has shown an ability to be an outside threat in AAU events, though it’s most advantageous for Goose Creek to have her dominating in the post. Depending on how teams are playing against her, she splits time as a back-to-the-basket and face-up player.

The Gamecocks believe she has the tools to make a transition to small forward, where her toughness may create mismatches. She could also see some time at power forward.

“I’m more known as rebounder,” Welch said. “They really recruited for my athletic ability and my slashing and ability to get to the rim. I’m going to have to change positions when I get to USC.

“They told me that I’ll play the three and the four, mostly the three because of my size. If they have any mismatches inside at the four spot, I’ll be able to take a post player outside and work off the dribble. But because of my size, I’m going to predominantly be a three.”

Welch admittedly isn’t used to performing some of the on-court tasks she’ll inevitably have to learn to succeed in the SEC. However, she is hoping to broaden her game to become a better shooter, passer and playmaker. The USC coaching staff has asked her to work on her outside shot.

She was at her best on the biggest stage of her career. She scored 36 points and had 15 rebounds in the Class AAAA championship game last year, helping the Gators overcome a 21-point hole. That’s good news for Staley – the coach described Welch as a “winner” – whose program could use another clutch player.

“With her overall want to win, she’s going to do whatever she needs to do,” Baldwin said. “In high school most kids her size have to do the rebounding and the physical part. When she gets to USC and sees she has post players to feed the ball to, she’s going to be dominant, I think. She’s a great passer, sees the floor well and is patient on the offensive end.”