New team, new season for Staley's Gamecocks
Meeting the media for the first time in the 2017-2018 season, South Carolina women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley did not hold back in describing the progress her team will have to make to defend its national championship, or the challenges it will face along the way.
At the same time, Staley also said she believes a title repeat is within reach.
South Carolina’s first official practice of the year took place Tuesday, just one day after a USA Basketball training camp that Staley ran and Wilson attended in Santa Barbara, California, and Staley’s time with the best WNBA players in the country left her with high expectations for the Gamecocks.
“California was great, especially compared to what we’re looking at right now,” Staley said after practice Wednesday.
“They’re in a good place, they’re focused, they’re trying. But every now and then we’ve got to test them and give them some things they’re gonna see throughout the season, just testing them mentally. They’re failing today but, obviously, we’ve got a few weeks to get it right.”
That comparison between the U.S. national team and South Carolina was one Staley used again when describing the mental challenges the team will face this season as defending national champions.
“People ... want to have the bragging rights of knocking off a national champion, and you get people’s best effort,” Staley said. “I almost equate it to every time we go as the USA team, every time we go play in a tournament outside the country, we get everybody’s best effort because we’re ... the USA. And that’s what defending national champions have to bear when you’re going into another season.”
From a personnel standpoint, Staley said the Gamecocks are still looking for ways to pick up the slack left by WNBA picks Kaela Davis, Alaina Coates and Allisha Gray.
“We don’t really have any replacements” for those players, Staley said, “but we have players in here that have to play within themselves. Obviously, they leave a void of talent, and we’re probably not as talented as they were, but they do some other things. If (the incoming players) can play their roles to the best of their abilities, we can see the same kind of results.
The Gamecocks return two starters from last season – Wilson and sophomore guard Tyasha Harris. Otherwise, returning players like senior guard Bianca Cuevas-Moore and junior guard Doniyah Cliney will compete for playing time with graduate transfer guard Lindsey Spann and junior forward Alexis Jennings, who sat out last season after transferring from Kentucky.
During most drills Wednesday, the Gamecocks ran Wilson, Harris, Spann and Jennings together as a unit, alternating Cuevas-Moore and Cliney in the final guard spot. Staley highlighted guard play as the “biggest question mark” for the team coming into this season.
Staley also had her players running often, sometimes making them go again when a player failed to finish quickly enough. The intensity of the practice, she said, was meant to prepare her team for what’s to come this year.
“We want to make sure that our players are competing. They’re gonna compete for every drill, they’re gonna compete in all their scrimmages because that’s what we’re gonna be faced with all season long. Just defending our title, people are going to come at us, and we need to be prepared for that.”