Most of South Carolina women’s basketball’s much-ballyhooed recruiting class of 2019 got to campus over the past two or three weeks, moving in and participating in their first practices with coach Dawn Staley and the Gamecocks.
Comparatively, Laeticia Amihere (that’s pronounced Luh-tee-shuh AM-e-here) is a grizzled veteran.
In January, a knee injury ended the high school senior season of Amihere, ESPN’s No. 10-ranked player. It was the second major knee injury for the Mississauga, Canada, native in two years, but she didn’t have time to mope. Staley had an idea: Enroll early, like increasingly many football recruits do, and get a semester’s worth of experience while rehabbing.
“That hasn’t happened before; there’s not any women’s basketball player that has come in January. It’s known for the football players but never for the women,” Amihere said of her family’s reaction to the plan. “So we had to make sure it was even possible before that, so when we had that meeting, we knew it was possible, then we went straight for it.”
Going straight for it meant finishing an entire semester’s worth of high school work in an extremely compressed time frame.
“Right when I got off the phone (with Staley), I still had a semester of high school to go through, so I had to sign up for four online classes and work from morning to night every day just to finish that homework and all the credits in a week,” Amihere said. “And then when I finished the credits I got here and started working.”
Arriving on campus in late January, Amihere has had six months to get accustomed to college life, so when her fellow first-years started arriving, she was able to give them some guidance.
“It’s a good advantage to lead the freshmen ... lead them in a way where, if I came at the same time, it wouldn’t have been the same,” Amihere said. “I always want to be a leader here, but that also gives me an extra push.”
At the same time, Amihere is still trying to work her way back onto the court. After tearing the ACL in her left knee as a junior in 2017, she injured her right knee and is still in rehab, unable to participate in full practices. She remains confident she’ll be back before the start of the 2019-2020 season.
“I’m able to work three times a day with (strength and performance coach Molly Binetti), three times a day with the trainers here,” Amihere said. “Whereas if I’m home, I’m going to school from 9 to 4, which I don’t really have a lot of time to rehab.”
When she does return to full health, Gamecock fans can expect to see one of the top athletic talents in the NCAA — Amihere gained viral fame in 2017 by dunking at the age of 15, and she continued to throw down slams even after her first injury.
She first started touching the rim in eighth grade and, with the encouragement of teammates, began developing her dunking talent after practices.
“Before I was too shy to try it, because you don’t really see it in the women’s game. But a lot of people would hype me up during practice, and after practice I would stick around and just try it a little bit. And you’d see the cameras coming and it would hype me up a little bit more, so from that I just started trying,” Amihere said.
Of course, dunking isn’t all Amihere brings to the table — her high school coach has described her as a multi-dimensional threat that could play or defend almost any position on the floor. But there’s an undeniable amount of publicity that comes with being a women’s basketball player who can dunk, something that actually surprised Amihere.
“I really didn’t think it was a big deal until the video got viral, so I was like, ‘Oh, maybe I should have done it a little more,’ ” Amihere said.