During a weekend in April to celebrate the successes of South Carolina women's basketball's only in-state player last season, Dawn Staley got a tip that would lead her to the next one.
Staley was in Columbus, Ohio, for the Final Four in April, on hand to witness her star player A'ja Wilson receive All-American and player of the year awards, when she ran into Ginnell Curtis, coach at Northwood Academy in Charleston, at the airport.
The two began talking about Northwood's star player, forward Elysa Wesolek, who was then still a signee with Western Kentucky but considering a change after the team's coach left for a new job.
"I just asked coach Staley, did she hear about the Western Kentucky coach leaving, and she was like, yeah, she told me she knew her very well, and then I told her my player that had signed there, she was thinking about getting her release," Curtis said. "She was like, 'Can she shoot?' And I was like, 'Yeah, she can shoot!' I said, 'She can shoot the 3-pointer, she can shoot the 15-footer, she can post up,' so I think that sparked her interest when I said those things."
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The State
After that, it was simple, Curtis said — "Dawn just started doing her magic, contacting people to get more information."
Just a few weeks later, the 6-foot-2 Wesolek announced her commitment to USC, ensuring the Gamecocks would continue to have a Palmetto State native on their roster.
"Once I got my release, I was able to go back and get in contact with her, so we were able to just constantly be in communication after that," Wesolek said. "It feels pretty good to continue the South Carolina tradition, and just to keep bringing that aspect into the South Carolina program."
Wesolek doesn't just want to be known for her home state. Pegged by ESPN as a three-star prospect, she is the lowest-rated of Carolina's incoming freshmen. With Wilson gone, Staley will need all the frontcourt help she can get in 2018-2019. Redshirt senior Alexis Jennings and junior Mikiah Herbert Harrigan likely will get the most playing time, but Wesolek believes she can work hard to earn a key reserve role.
"Yeah, I’ll get some minutes, but those minutes are going to be earned," she said. "You can’t just hope and pray that you’re just already going to be getting five, 10 minutes a game. You just gotta go out there and show in practice and in workouts that you are willing to increase those minutes and keep going."
Curtis is a firm believer that Wesolek will exceed expectations typically associated with three-star players.
"With her versatility, that’s a plus," Curtis said. "You have players who come into college, they’re good penetrators, they’re good shooters, they play the post only, but Elysa being able to do all those things is going to make her more of a threat. She’s always been a gym rat, so Dawn and her staff are going to push her and do the same.
"I expect great things. She’s going to surprise a lot of people."
For Staley, there's an undeniable value in having an in-state player on the roster, keeping the roster rooted in South Carolina even as the team's successes mean the Gamecocks can get recruits from all over the country. But beyond that, Staley praised Wesolek's intangibles on the floor.
"Great character player. She can shoot the ball, she makes really good decisions out there on the floor," Staley said. "She's just young, but I like them young and fearless, and she's definitely that."
Wesolek said she plans to stand out to USC's coaching staff by spending any free time she gets on the Carolina Coliseum practice courts, working out or improving some aspect in her game.
"I don’t stop improving at any spot, I work on every little thing," she said. "Just let it come to me, and if there’s an opportunity to take it, take it. The sky’s the limit."
And regardless of whether Wesolek sees the court this season or not, she already has the blessing of Wilson, who got in touch shortly after she signed.
"She reached out and just said 'congratulations' and if I needed something, I could contact her whenever," Wesolek said. "So she was really open, so it’s pretty great to know that even though she’s not going to be there next year or when I’m there, she’s still going to be able to be there and reach out, which I thought was pretty family-like and arms wide open."