Before speaking to reporters Tuesday afternoon at Beckham Field, South Carolina softball coach Beverly Smith set her phone down to reveal its background.
Her lock screen was covered with an image that’s quickly becoming a common scene around USC athletics: Champ holding a basketball.
The Havanese puppy is the fur child of Carolina women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley, but he’s been a fixture at the on-campus diamond this spring. No, Smith, won’t be taking Champ with her to Columbia, Missouri, for this week’s SEC tournament, but his owner will likely have a presence around the 12th-ranked Gamecocks as they head into the postseason.
Smith, the second-winningest coach in USC softball history, and Staley, the winningest coach in USC women’s hoops history, are longtime friends.
“Honestly,” Smith said, “our conversations aren’t much about coaching. She’s got her basketball mind and I have my softball (mind). We talk about a lot of different things, we solve a lot of the world’s problems. Leadership, things going on in sports, we’ll talk about those kind of things.”
Staley’s Gamecocks advanced to a fifth consecutive Sweet 16 in March. Smith’s Gamecocks are the No. 3 seed in this week’s tournament and are in position to be a top seed at their own NCAA regional for the first time since 2002.
“This is the time of year when I like to lean on her,” Smith said of Staley. “Certainly, I think she’ll come speak to our team about what it’s like in the postseason, the mentality of the postseason.
“She has been a great resource to draw from.”
South Carolina (43-13) will play No. 11-seed Mississippi State (36-20) at noon Thursday. The game will be televised on the SEC Network. USC swept the Bulldogs in late April.
A win Thursday and the Gamecocks will be in the SEC tournament semifinals for the first time in the eight-year Smith era. USC hasn’t won the SEC title since 2000.
“I think that they know they can go into any game and beat anybody,” Smith said of her players, a bunch picked 12th in the preseason SEC poll. “They believe that we have enough in our locker room to compete with anyone in the country. … I love the trust they put in each other. And to me, when you go into the game with that mentality, you never know what’s going to happen.”
Five Gamecocks were named to All-SEC teams on Tuesday, including second-teamers Kenzi Maguire, Mackenzie Boesel and Alyssa VanDerveer and all-freshman selections Jana Johns and Kelsey Oh.
Game 5: No. 3 South Carolina vs. Mississippi State, noon, SEC Network
G6: No. 2 seed Georgia vs. Arkansas-Kentucky, 2:30 p.m., SEC Network
G7: No. 4 seed Tennessee vs. LSU-Ole Miss, 5 p.m., SEC Network
G8: No. 1 seed Florida vs. Alabama-Auburn, 7:30 p.m., SEC Network
G9: Winner Game 5 vs. winner Game 6, 3 p.m., ESPNU
G10: Winner Game 7 vs. winner Game 8, 5:30 p.m., ESPNU
Winner Game 9 vs. winner Game 10, 8 p.m., ESPN2