USC Women's Basketball

National champs abroad: Trip to Japan jump-starts next season

Replacing talent isn’t a foreign concept. That’s the cycle of college athletics, and South Carolina has had to do it every year.

But replacing chemistry can be tricky, which is why the national champion Gamecocks are getting a head start on it this month by taking a foreign trip.

“I think it’s a good trip, one, because we get to practice 10 days before we go and the freshmen and newcomers, they get an opportunity to get a taste of what a practice feels like,” coach Dawn Staley recently said. “The anticipation of it, at the end of September, October, they’ll have in the summertime.”

The Gamecocks are heading to Tokyo June 27-July 5 to play three exhibition games against the Japan women’s national team. USC will play on June 30, July 2 and July 4 in a quick tuneup for USC’s newcomers.

All of the Gamecocks’ freshmen – Haley Troup, Lele Grissett, LaDazhia Williams and Bianca Jackson – are on campus, as well as graduate transfer Lindsey Spann and transfer Te’a Cooper. They’ve joined the returning team for 10 full practices before the trip, vital for the installation of USC’s offensive and defensive systems.

“And it’s also helpful for the terminology, the pace at which we want to play, things we want to implement,” Staley said. “And just also games, just being able to suit up and not have the pressure to perform and have to win.”

Don’t get Staley wrong – of course USC wants to win because it is a game. But in terms of being a must-have, the results from the trip will be much better defined than the W or L on the score sheet.

It’s about getting to know each other, on and off the court. While the players are already in their dorm rooms and practicing, nothing forces players to be around each other more than a trip where they’re strangers in a strange land. Not everybody will be as gregarious as All-American A’ja Wilson; the younger players will have to be guided by the other veterans and feel their way around this first taste of college basketball.

Frank Martin gave a lot of credit for his team’s run to the Final Four last year to a summer trip to Costa Rica. Pushed up from this summer due to needing to break in a lot more new faces than originally thought, the jaunt allowed the Gamecocks’ newbies to get used to full practices and their teammates.

Same idea with the women’s trip to Japan. USC lost a lot of scoring talent and will have to discover its options this season. Where do the freshmen fit in? Where do Spann and transfer Alexis Jennings, who was around last year but didn’t play, factor?

Normally stuck with NCAA rules of eight hours with an individual per week during the offseason – and only two with a coach, the other six with the strength coach – Staley received 10 full practices and three games by scheduling this trip.

Staley started installing offense during last year’s offseason, a complete change from her usual defense-first philosophy. It worked, but she didn’t like it.

This year, she’ll probably switch back to defense, which has gotten a head start.

“From a defensive standpoint, we’re probably starting off a little bit sooner than what we usually do,” Staley said. “The offensive chemistry was something I thought needed to take place early. We lost that, so I think defensively, we need to switch it up a little bit and go back to what our go-to is.”

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Journey to Japan

What: USC coach Dawn Staley will take the Gamecocks to Tokyo, Japan.

When: The trip spans from June 27 to July 5 and includes three exhibition games (June 30, July 2 and July 4) against the Japan National Team.

Of note: It will be the Gamecocks’ first international trip under Staley. Per NCAA rules, the Gamecocks are allowed 10 team practices to prepare for the trip.

Staley says: “It’ll be educational both in basketball and personally for our program.”