In roughly two months, the wildly talented, highly decorated, much hyped, No. 1 ranked recruiting class for South Carolina women’s basketball will officially arrive on campus and get to work.
(That’s not counting ESPN’s No. 10 overall prospect, Laeticia Amihere, who enrolled a semester early after a knee injury ended her senior season)
Initially, this group of freshmen was supposed to come in and face stiff competition for playing time with a long list of returners. Now, the youngsters might be pressed into larger-than-expected roles, after four Gamecocks entered their names in the transfer portal last week, including a pair of likely starters in Te’a Cooper and Mikiah Herbert Harrigan.
The departure of nearly half of last season’s non-seniors, all in the span of roughly 24 hours, raised some concerns and questions from fans — when other programs have lost that many players at once, it typically has indicated wider turmoil.
And for recruits, losing players with whom they may have already bonded during visits can be difficult. But the newest group of Gamecocks remain firm in their commitment to coach Dawn Staley and the program, they told The State.
“I wish everyone who’s leaving the best of luck no matter where they go, and I’m very thankful to them because of the platform they set at South Carolina and everything they’ve done for the basketball team and university,” in-state sharpshooter Olivia Thompson said. “It’s unfortunate, and it’s a loss that they’re leaving, but that’s part of it and it happens to every team, so you can’t dwell on it.”
Staley reached out to the recruits in a group text to inform them of the transfers, and Toledo, Ohio, guard Zia Cooke, the No. 7 overall player in the nation, said she responded to her future coach with a simple message.
“I just texted her (Monday) and let her know, I know she’s going through a lot because she’s got a lot of people leaving, but I just want her to know I’m still coming, and all of us are still coming, and I have her back regardless of the situation of who we have and who don’t we have. I’m not going to change my decision based off of people leaving,” Cooke said.
Rock Island, Illinois, wing Brea Beal, the No. 13 overall player in the class, also said the transfer decisions did not worry her at all and said Staley took time to express support for the departing players.
“She’s just saying she wishes everybody the best doing different things … everybody’s gotta do what’s best for them,” Beal said.
No. 3 overall recruit Aliyah Boston, a forward based out of Worchester, Massachusetts, did not respond to an interview request.