David Cloninger

USC hoops recruiting: Help is on the way for men’s and women’s teams

P. J. Dozier from Spring Valley High
P. J. Dozier from Spring Valley High tdominick@thestate.com

Wednesday was the final day of the spring signing period for basketball. South Carolina’s men’s and women’s teams each added substantial pieces during the spring.

MEN

Frank Martin signed McDonald’s All-American P.J. Dozier and raw but talented athlete Chris Silva in the fall and added three more pieces in the spring.

Center Travon Bunch (6-foot-11) pledged in early March, and two-guard Jamall Gregory (6-4) signed in early April. Another center, Eric Cobb (6-9), committed on Monday.

The Gamecocks have filled their allotment of 13 scholarships and addressed some needs. Cobb and Bunch supply height, bulk and depth in the post after Demetrius Henry and Shamiek Sheppard departed, and Silva (6-8) can open the game with his rangy athleticism.

“Chris Silva … is an unbelievable athlete and fearless in how strong he plays,” Martin said in a statement when Silva signed. “I couldn’t be more excited to add him to our front line, and add his athleticism, toughness and shot-blocking ability.”

Gregory is a two-guard who can play the point, but who started to display more of an all-around shooting game in his final two years of high school. He can attack the basket or hit from outside, and with the way Martin likes to rotate his full bench, he stands to play if he can quickly master Martin’s defense.

Dozier is one of the most celebrated recruits in program history, a USC legacy who may be the most talented of his family. He can play point or the two, and if he can be the elite scorer he was in high school right away, he can take some of the pressure off Sindarius Thornwell.

Dozier also continues a trend of in-state players who could have gone anywhere but chose to stay home. Thornwell, Justin McKie, Marcus Stroman and Dozier decided on USC and perhaps that could influence one of the biggest prizes in the 2016 class who also hails from Columbia (Seventh Woods).

WOMEN

Dawn Staley had the deepest bench of her tenure last year and will have another one this year, although she signed just two recruits.

Shay Colley, a 5-8 guard from Canada, signed in the fall, and Staley announced on April 27 that she landed Virginia transfer Sarah Imovbioh. Imovbioh, a 6-2 center, led the ACC in rebounding last year and decided to play her final year elsewhere after graduating from UVa.

“She’s a proven winner on and off the court,” Staley said of Imovbioh in a statement. “I can’t wait for our university, Gamecock Nation and our community to see what a wonderful addition to our family she is.”

The Gamecocks’ biggest challenge for next season was how to replace the tenacity and leadership of Aleighsa Welch, and while it may be impossible for any player to fill that gap, Imovbioh supplies what Welch did best – rebounding. While not as tall as some of USC’s returning post players, Imovbioh has never had a problem holding her own in the paint and should step right into the vacated starting spot of center Elem Ibiam.

That gives Staley all sorts of options, as she had last year. Alaina Coates (6-4) can keep coming off the bench or start at power forward or Staley could elect to place A’ja Wilson (6-5) in the lineup. Wilson can play high and low but is more comfortable on the wing, but with opponents never knowing how to defend her since she can slash to the rim as well as shoot from 15 feet, Staley can choose between grace and brute force on the block.

Colley, who will play for Canada in the FIBA under-19 world championships in July (and might play against Staley and Wilson on Team USA), can play point or the two and can back up the Gamecocks’ plethora of guards. Khadijah Sessions stands to return at point guard and Bianca Cuevas will likely be her backup, but USC will always need subs in order to keep two-time SEC Player of the Year Tiffany Mitchell fresh.

The Gamecocks have two open scholarships, which Staley has traditionally liked to have for future purposes. While some fans wondered why USC didn’t sign any Top-20 talent as it did a year ago, Staley knows how hard it is to convince them to commit knowing they wouldn’t be playing major minutes right away.

Also, Staley has rising sophomores Doniyah Cliney, Kaydra Duckett and Jatarie White. Cliney didn’t play at all last year while Duckett had sparse minutes and White was injured half of the year. It’s basically three unknowns she can throw at opponents, along with two new players and a loaded returning roster.

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