USC Women's Basketball

Newcomers getting crash course as USC prepares for Japan

It was the same as always. Dawn Staley questioned why a particular drill was run that particular way, and particularly pointed out how to do it correctly.

Reset, redo, good job. Try to remember that next game – which is suddenly much closer than the usual mid-November.

Defending national champion South Carolina held its fifth practice of the summer Friday, preparing for an end-of-June trip to Japan. The Gamecocks will play three exhibition games against the Japan women’s national team during the nine-day journey, also taking time to tour, study, learn – and scout, because Staley’s 2020 Olympic team also will play in Tokyo.

“You get a chance to throw some things at them,” Staley said. “We’re putting in a lot of stuff, because I want to see how quickly they process information, how quickly we can move or how slowly we can go in the fall. The players have picked up really quickly.”

The class of newcomers is on campus and will all travel to Japan, giving Staley a first glimpse at who’s going to replace the scoring and experience she lost. The Gamecocks have 14 players, 13 eligible (Te’a Cooper will sit out this season after transferring from Tennessee) but only seven have played in a game for USC, and only five for major minutes.

Alexis Jennings is ready to go after sitting out her transfer year and could slide into the spot vacated by all-SEC center Alaina Coates. If the Gamecocks stick with the two-point guard “speed” lineup they used for last year’s final 11 games, Ty Harris and Bianca Cuevas-Moore fill two of those spots.

Of course, top National Player of the Year candidate A’ja Wilson will helm a forward position. But who fills the rest?

Penn State transfer Lindsey Spann has one year to play but was mostly a sixth woman at her last stop. Will veteran Doniyah Cliney step into a role that Allisha Gray or Kaela Davis held? Will sophomores Victoria Patrick and Araion Bradshaw join Mikiah Herbert Harrigan in supplying big minutes? Which freshmen make an immediate impact?

“They’re going to have to play for us this year,” Staley said, before describing how the rookies have looked thus far. “Good, bad, ugly, all of the above. But there’s progress being made.”

Wilson, sporting a brand-new set of braces stapled to her luminescent smile, liked what she’s seen so far and is looking forward to the trip, outside of the lengthy flight.

“For us to have actual practices early in the season, it’s good for us,” she said. “Now later on when teams are getting together in the September, August area, we’ve already been together for a couple of months.”

Notes

Freshmen Lele Grissett and LaDazhia Williams plus Cooper and Spann sat out with minor injuries. All were standing on the sideline and should be fine for the trip. … Staley confirmed the addition of assistant coach Jolette Law, calling the Florence native a great asset for USC. “Every time we played Tennessee, (Law’s family and friends) brought busloads,” Staley said. “Hopefully, they’ll be wearing garnet instead of that other color.”

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