Several new faces, but the same commanding voice.
Dawn Staley stopped practice, asking why this defensive breakdown happened or explaining how good that backdoor cut was. Freshmen nodded and occasionally asked questions while the veterans grabbed a quick sip of water and got back on the court.
“We’ve got a really good team, but we’ve got to work through some things,” Staley said. “They’re a pretty unselfish group right now. We got a little ways to go from a defensive standpoint but they’re eager to learn.”
The Gamecocks are fully back on the court, a week under their belts as they begin what’s expected to be another terrific season. While USC lost a lot of talent and experience that constructed the program into one of the country’s best, it returns a lot as well.
SEC Player of the Year A’ja Wilson and fellow first-team All-SEC member Alaina Coates are two of the team’s three captains, joining fifth-year senior Tiffany “Slim” Davis. Kaela Davis and Allisha Gray, who each sat out last year after transferring from their previous ACC schools, are eligible juniors.
Staley is already seeing a notable difference. “Offensively, we just have more options on the floor,” she said. “We probably put in a lot more offensive things or concepts than we’ve put in this early on. From an offensive standpoint, I just feel like we have layers and layers of talent.”
Yet there are some questions that need answers. For starters, who plays point guard after the loss of three-year starter Khadijah Sessions? Junior Bianca Cuevas-Moore is presumably leading the group, but each Davis and freshmen Tyasha Harris and Araion Bradshaw could contribute.
Wilson is the likely go-to scorer but she’s had aches in her shins throughout her career. They haven’t limited her in her first two years and she didn’t play at all this summer, but there’s a looming cloud of what to do if she begins to tire or gets in foul trouble, especially if Coates is in the same situation.
“(Freshman Mikiah Herbert Harrigan)’s pretty good,” Staley said of the only other true forward on the roster. “With that post rotation, I think we’ll be able to hopefully not play A’ja and (Alaina) heavy minutes.”
As usual, Staley will search for the best five players and best rotations for the season. Gray, already in midseason form, will be crucial to those as well as the other freshmen.
* Tiffany Davis twice told The State this summer that she has another year of eligibility after 2016-17, due to several injuries during her career. Staley confirmed she has another year but the NCAA still has to sign off on awarding it.
* The Gamecocks will hold a free, open practice from 6-8 p.m. Thursday at Greenville’s Southside High.
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