USC Women's Basketball

‘Uno,’ seafood and A’ja Wilson: Gamecock newcomers building off-court chemistry fast

South Carolina women’s basketball has reloaded with the No. 1 recruiting class coming into the 2019-2020 season.

This year’s team features six newcomers: five freshmen and one transfer. But given the hype behind the class, they know they have to work hard to accomplish their goal of winning a national championship.

That starts with building chemistry on and off the court in the offseason.

“They just took us to this new seafood place, and that was pretty good,” freshman wing Brea Beal said. “We go out to eat a lot and hang out in each other’s rooms and play Uno, which is the most competitive game.”

Freshman guard Olivia Thompson emphasized the passion of playing Uno among the players.

“It gets really intense,” Thompson said. “Sometimes I have to step back and just let them play because I’m not the best at it. ... You have to get in people’s heads, and they definitely know how to do it.”

Thompson said this started when one of the players brought a pack of Uno cards with them to their apartment.

“We just went in there one night and started going at it,” Thompson said. “They are super fun to be around, but the Uno game does get intense.”

The newcomers have been on campus for two weeks bonding, practicing and taking classes.

Practicing together for the first few times comes with challenges, but freshman forward Aliyah Boston said the transition has been smooth.

“I think we’ve really gotten the feel of each other, even though we are just starting to play together as a full team,” Boston said. “It’s really interesting seeing what everyone likes to do and how we can just work off of each other to help the game go better.”

Transfer guard Destiny Littleton highlighted how team bonding is important for learning each player’s tendencies and keeping the freshman from getting homesick.

“One thing that is hard for teams with a lot of new players is finding that team chemistry not only on the court but off the court,” Littleton said. “I think we’ve done a good job with trying to include everyone and work around everyone’s academic schedules. ... It’s been a fun ride so far.”

Freshman forward Laeticia Amihere has been on campus since enrolling in January as opposed to most of her teammates arriving in the summer. She started treatment with the South Carolina medical staff after suffering a season-ending injury her senior year of high school.

“Looking at last year’s team and seeing what we can build on, I was at every practice and I traveled with them some times,” Amihere said. “Soaking up as much as I could was so beneficial for me.”

Freshman guard Zia Cooke said the team has spoken to a few former players, including A’ja Wilson, to add to their chemistry.

“We had some camps, and former players came back,” Cooke said. “Some schools that you go to, you never see the former players because they don’t want to come back. It shows that Coach Staley was definitely taking care of them ... and how they want to help us.”

The team will continue with classes, practices and more bonding leading up to the regular season in November. But for now, they are trying to work for their success, knowing it will not just be handed to them.

“We are setting goals really high,” Amihere said. “I want to go to the Final Four every year ... and prove that we really are the No. 1 recruiting class.”

South Carolina women’s basketball newcomers

Laeticia Amihere — freshman, forward, 6-foot-3, No. 15

Brea Beal — freshman, guard, 6-feet, No. 12

Aliyah Boston — freshman, forward, 6-foot-4, No. 4

Zia Cooke — freshman, guard, 5-foot-9, No. 1

Destiny Littleton — junior, guard, 5-foot-9, No. 11

Olivia Thompson — freshman, guard, 5-foot-8, No. 0

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