USC Women's Basketball

Top-10 recruit gives Dawn Staley, Gamecocks first commit of 2019

Dawn Staley on South Carolina’s depth, experience before 2018-2019 season

South Carolina women's basketball coach Dawn Staley discusses the Gamecocks' depth and experience, especially in the backcourt, ahead of USC's exhibition opener against Lander on Friday.
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South Carolina women's basketball coach Dawn Staley discusses the Gamecocks' depth and experience, especially in the backcourt, ahead of USC's exhibition opener against Lander on Friday.

Dawn Staley continues to build South Carolina into “Point Guard U,” as top-10 recruit Zia Cooke, the second-ranked point guard in the class of 2019, announced her commitment to the Gamecocks on Monday evening.

Cooke announced her decision at Rogers High School, popping balloons filled with garnet glitter. Shortly after her announcement, she was overcome with emotion addressing fans.

“I want to thank my parents for always being behind me this whole journey. Even when I wanted to give up on myself, they wouldn’t let me,” Cooke told the crowd. “ ... This whole city has been proud of me even at my least. And South Carolina, next year, I’ll put you on my back. We up next.”

A Toledo, Ohio, native, Cooke averaged 21.7 points, 4.6 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 3.1 steals per game as a junior, leading her high school to a state championship. She also competed for USA Basketball in the U17 FIBA World Cup this past summer.

Cooke, ranked No. 7 in the nation by ESPN and No. 6 by Prospects Nation, will join a loaded position group for the 2019-2020 season that will include senior Tyasha Harris, an All-SEC performer, and sophomore Destanni Henderson, one of the highest touted recruits in the 2018 class.

“She’s a scoring point guard who can create that bucket when a team is struggling to score,” Prospects Nation managing editor Chris Hansen wrote of Cooke. “There’s a toughness about her game too that her teammates feed off of.”

“Explosively athletic lead-guard with combo skills; finds the rim with regularity, bring body control, draws contact and finishes plays in traffic; rises on jumper in mid-range game, manufactures shots to the arc,” ESPN’s Dan Olson’s scouting report of Cooke reads.

South Carolina began recruiting Cooke when she was in eighth grade, her father, Stratman Cooke III, told The State before her decision, as did Jolette Law, then an assistant at Tennessee who eventually came to USC.

“Zia really believes in (Staley), she really believes that she’s a person who can make her better,” Stratman Cooke said at the time. “Zia has always looked up to coach Staley. When Zia was little, this was before Zia’s time, I was a very big fan of coach Staley’s when she played basketball, so I would show YouTube videos of her ... for Zia to see, and Zia had never even met her and wanted to play for her. She said I want to play for the best because I want to be the best.”

Zia Cooke reiterated that point to ESPN after her commitment.

“It’s tough making a decision between three great schools and the people that coach there,” Cooke told espnW. “I want to make the right choice. I went with my gut.

“It’s been a dream of mine to be coached by Dawn Staley.”

In the end, Cooke told The Toldeo Blade, South Carolina and Louisville were “neck-and-neck,” but Staley’s bond with her made the difference.

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The Gamecocks also have a preferred walk-on commit in the class of 2019 in local standout Olivia Thompson, a Lexington native and three-star recruit, according to ESPN.

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