Tyasha Harris has now accomplished something A’ja Wilson, Tiffany Mitchell and every other South Carolina women’s basketball great never did when they were her age.
Having played just two years of college ball, Harris has already trained with the U.S. senior national team, logging her first practice Monday at the Carolina Coliseum alongside coach Dawn Staley, a trio of former Gamecocks in Wilson, Mitchell and Allisha Gray and 14 other top players.
The training camp is part of Team USA’s buildup to the FIBA Women’s World Cup later this month, where 12 players will be selected to represent the U.S. in one of women’s basketball’s biggest international competitions.
After a WNBA season in which teams were forced to play a more compact schedule, and with the league’s playoffs still ongoing, USA Basketball had to bring in several college student-athlete as pro players pulled out for a variety of reasons.
“When you look at our conference and you see what great guards we have in our conference, she’s the first one that comes to mind,” Staley said of the decision to invite Harris. “Not because she’s mine, but because you look at who’s on the SEC first and second teams ... and her name was, for me, highlighted.”
A second-team All-SEC point guard last year and the Gamecocks’ record holder for assists in a season, Harris on Monday competed with — and learned from — players like world championship winner Odyssey Sims, WNBA All-Star Layshia Clarendon and the NCAA’s all-time leading scorer, Kelsey Plum.
“It’s kinda like starting high school or college all over again, like you’re a freshman again, just being a young player trying to soak in all the information,” Harris said of the experience. “And with (South Carolina), I have most of the experience on the team, so I’m the person talking to and leading them, and then here, I got to get talks.”
“I think it was just the opportunity to compete against the best of the best. That really kinda helps you in a way that you can’t put into words,” Wilson said. “You might not necessarily see it now, but in the years to come. Coming into my senior year, I know that really helped me. Because I’m like, I played against the best of the best, I know I can push through an SEC school, things like that.
“It’s very rare that you can be around such great players like these ... and play them and just pick their brains. She’s one that’s going to really capitalize on this moment.”
Harris will have one experience Wilson didn’t have a year ago — after another practice Tuesday, there will be an intrasquad exhibition game at Colonial Life Arena on Wednesday open to the public.
That game was the only part of the camp Harris originally thought she’d be participating in when Staley called her a week and a half ago to offer her the spot.
“When she told me, she said, ‘Would you like to scrimmage against the team?’ And when they say scrimmage, I said OK. I thought they just meant scrimmage Wednesday. And after our practice Sunday, it was like, no, you’re going to be in the whole training camp,” Harris said.
After one practice, Harris critiqued her performance, saying she could have been more aggressive offensively in attacking the basket and trying to score, but one of her old teammates thought she did a great job.
“It should definitely be a big confidence boost for her to be able to come out here and compete with WNBA players,” Gray said. “I know a goal of hers is to be able to make it to the next level, and then only as a junior as well, that’s definitely a confidence boost. Ty can play, and I’m very confident and proud of her for taking this opportunity.”
Harris’ chances of actually making the final roster for the World Cup are exceedingly small at the moment, but she will be relied upon heavily by USC for the upcoming 2018-2019 season. And Wilson said her time with Team USA will help her with those expectations.
“All eyes are gonna be on Ty. I hate to say it, I hate to put the pressure on her, but it is; and she’s really gonna have to capitalize and embrace that. I’m hoping I can just continue to help her in that situation,” Wilson said.
Staley agreed, and pointed out that while Harris in all likelihood won’t make the final roster this time, she’ll have chances in the future, and this training camp is the first step towards those opportunities.
“She’ll be a different player because of this experience, and I know sometimes a lot of college coaches want their players to not participate in something like this because they can get hurt, but there are valuable lessons in her being in here,” Staley said. “She wants to be a pro, she wants to be an Olympian, and you can’t get this type of experience anywhere else besides doing it, so I’m not afraid of her getting hurt. I think I’m more afraid of not having her prepared for these types of moments.”