Nearly 1,000 miles of road separate Columbia, South Carolina, from Rock Island, Illinois.
It’s a long way, longer than any current USC women’s basketball player must travel to return to her hometown. But it’s a distance one of top best recruits in the class 2019 could be willing to go to join the Gamecocks.
Brea Beal is ranked as the 13th best player in the nation by ESPN and 16th by Prospects Nation. At 6 feet tall, she features a strong jumper extending to the 3-point line to go with the ability to attack the basket on offense, according to talent evaluators.
She’s one of several elite wing prospects in her class that Dawn Staley and her staff have been aggressively pursuing — she received an offer over a year ago, and the coaching staff has already gone to Rock Island for a home visit. When Beal announced her five finalists, South Carolina was included, alongside Michigan, Louisville, Duke and her home state school of Illinois.
Beal made the trip to Columbia the weekend of Oct. 5 for her official visit, stopping by the first ever Gamecock Tipoff event, attending the football game vs. Missouri and meeting one of her all-time favorite players — A’ja Wilson.
“We have the utmost respect for A’ja and the work she puts in and how hard she plays, and the importance of her time in college basketball, she really changed (things) for a lot of girls moving forward,” Kevin Beal, Brea’s father, told The State. “She’s a good role model for (Brea) to have, so I guess they exchanged numbers and they’ll stay in contact. A’ja, she’s on the up and up. She says it as it is.”
Kevin Beal has a wealth of experience with both recruiting and basketball, playing college ball for UTEP in the mid 1990s. That experience, he said, means he’s also very familiar with Staley and her legacy as a player and coach.
“If you have any clue of basketball, if you’ve been around basketball as long as I have, you know the history of Dawn Staley. So (Brea’s) mom even, she’s not a lifer ... she even knew the prestige and the legacy that coach Staley brings,” Kevin Beal said.
Kevin Beal also praised Staley and South Carolina for arranging to have athletics director Ray Tanner and university president Harris Pastides meet with Brea and her family.
“That seemed like a priority of (Staley), to make sure that happened, and for both of them to take the time out of their day to make time to visit for us, it was really impressive, we really appreciated it,” he said.
All in all, Kevin Beal said he felt that his daughter and USC’s staff “meshed well,” and Staley’s straight-shooting style left him feeling reassured that should Brea pick South Carolina, the distance wouldn’t be an issue.
“I don’t want to speak for her, but the reaction we got from her and watching her interact with the team, it felt like a good fit,” Kevin Beal said. “I like the city, I like the campus, of course I like the coaching staff. ... When you’re sending your kid away, you want to make sure they’re in good hands, whoever they’re going to play for or whoever’s responsible for them does just that, takes care of them as if they’re their own, and that’s the feeling we got.”
Now, Duke is the only school left on Beal’s list of finalists that she has yet to take an official visit to. The Blue Devils already have three commits in the class of 2019, which, if every player from this season’s roster who can return does, would put them at the maximum allowable number of scholarships. Kevin Beal said the family is still deciding on when to take that visit.
As far as a final decision, Kevin Beal said Brea is set to announce her choice on her birthday, Nov. 8, at her high school, though she will likely make a decision sooner than that.