USC Women's Basketball

Jersey roots, and rivalry, bond South Carolina’s Nelly Perry and Donyiah Cliney

Nelly Perry and Donyiah Cliney grew up fewer than 100 miles apart, but to hear them say it, they were in completely different worlds.

The redshirt senior guards for South Carolina women’s basketball are both from New Jersey, with Cliney living in Newark, near New York City, and Perry in Camden, near Philadelphia.

In a place with as little land as New Jersey — it’s the fourth smallest state by area and roughly a quarter the size of South Carolina — the difference between the northern and southern parts of the state may not seem like much. But it is.

“It’s two totally different directions,” Perry said Wednesday, as Cliney nodded in agreement. “Two different sections.

And that’s led to some friendly banter.

“We talk a lot about Jersey stuff,” Perry said. “The slang, the food, competitiveness, we bring that in, like, ‘Oh, South Jersey is better than North Jersey,’ and we have our reasons.”

Competition aside, it’s still a connection between two players who went from high school in the northeast to college in the south — Cliney straight to South Carolina, and Perry to Clemson, before she became a grad transfer at USC.

Even before Perry made the jump to Columbia, she and Cliney were chatting about their shared roots.

“I knew her playing at Clemson, so I always used to talk smack to her,” Cliney said. “It was kinda cool to see her playing at Clemson, the way she played, and then seeing her come here. It was different, it was cool at first. I was talking to her all the time, I made her feel comfortable here.”

Now, the Jersey natives will be on the same side when Clemson comes to play Carolina this Thursday, a matchup that will clearly carry a little added emotion for Perry as she faces her former teammates.

“I didn’t mention anything to her about facing her other team,” coach Dawn Staley said. “But Nelly’s a solid citizen, she’s always prepped to play, and while she’ll probably be jittery a little bit, she won’t show it. But hopefully we’ll have her back, and all of Gamecock nation will give her some comfort in knowing that she’s a Gamecock now.”

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Perry herself has publicly been all-in with her new program for a while now — she joked this summer that she’s gotten rid of all the Clemson gear in her closet and said Wednesday she’ll tell people in the future she went to college at South Carolina.

“We made her get rid of,” her orange gear, Cliney joked.

But there aren’t really any bad feelings — Perry said she still occasionally speaks with her teammates and is more excited than nervous to be playing them. And for their part, they’ve only joked around about her switching teams.

“Overall it’s been a great adjustment,” Perry said. “I like it, I’m happy, just ready to compete.”

The chance to compete was key for Perry’s decision — Clemson never posted a winning ACC record in her time there, and she saw firsthand from the other side of the rivalry what South Carolina was building.

“I came from a place where I guess I was the main player, the top player, and now I’m fitting in, adjusting, and I want to compete for something,” Perry said. “I just wanted to go wherever I felt like was best for me.”

How much she’ll actually play Thursday against Clemson is still unclear. Staley said Perry is just now recovering from a month-long hamstring injury, which kept her to just 15 minutes of play in the season opener against Alabama State. Still, Staley remains convinced that she will play a vital role for the Gamecocks this year.

“I really liked what she did against Alabama State,” Staley said. “She brought a certain calm, she made the extra pass, she made good basketball plays, and that’s encouraging to see.”