When it comes to who will start for South Carolina women’s basketball’s exhibition game Friday night, Dawn Staley is staying tight-lipped, at least publicly.
For at least a little bit longer, she’s keeping the “innocence and purity of the preseason” going.
What she means by that is related to what she loves about the team she has heading into the 2019-20 season. The culture is in a good place, with an uber-talented freshman class and strong senior leaders, but their competitive natures haven’t resulted in any resentment about playing time or starts.
“I keep saying ‘connected,’ because they are connected. And I know you lose a little bit of the innocence and purity of the preseason, where you don’t have a starting lineup and you don’t have a substitution pattern, but when I put five people on the floor and the seven players have to sit or stand on the sideline, they are cheering for each other, they are happy for each other,” Staley said. “And I know, competitively speaking they want to play and they want to be out there, but they’re genuinely happy for each other.”
In addition to the positive attitudes, Staley praised her team’s effort and willingness to be coached, themes she’s hit on throughout the offseason.
“Every day we get better. We don’t take a step back, and that’s real encouraging. They are extremely competitive, they work well together,” Staley said. “Doesn’t mean it’s perfect basketball. But It’s an attempt to play perfect basketball, to find the right shot on the floor, the best shot on the floor, to stay connected defensively.”
That being said, when the Gamecocks tip off at 7 p.m. against North Georgia, Staley will have to make choices about who starts, who comes first off the bench and what combinations work best together. She said she has an idea of how she’ll go about that but added that the team’s substitution patterns still need to be worked out. And with the arrival of games, the Gamecocks will finally get the one thing they could never get in the offseason: game experience.
“We’re a work in progress. But I’m super excited to see how they play and how they come together and gel when there are thousands of people watching them,” Staley said. “So that is another hurdle that we’ll probably have to get over because we’re young. Our freshmen, they’re gonna be excited to play in front of so many people, so I hope people show up so we can get a good feel for what a game feels like.”
With transfer Destiny Littleton losing her appeal for an NCAA waiver, eight of the 11 available South Carolina players are underclassmen, with five having never played a collegiate game.
One of those freshmen, forward Laeticia Amihere, enrolled early last January after suffering the second major knee injury of her high school career. She’s back on the floor now, sporting a brace, and she’ll be available in limited minutes in the scrimmage, Staley said.
IF YOU GO
Who: South Carolina vs. North Georgia (exhibition)
When: 7 p.m. Friday
Where: Colonial Life Arena
Live Stats: gamecocks.statbroadcast.com