Dawn Staley had a busy spring, and the summer’s going to be busier.
She doesn’t mind. Being busy means her program is exactly where she wants it to be.
“I think we’re being repaid the fruits of our labor,” she said.
Staley touched on several topics on Thursday, first from her Little Gamecocks Camp and then from her current office in a converted suite at Colonial Life Arena. Her old office atop the practice facility adjacent to the Coliseum is being renovated and should be ready in time for the season
In the meantime, she talked about her program being where she always thought it could be and how she plans to sustain it.
The first step? Adding proven, top-league experience to a club that was returning most of the pieces of a Final Four team.
“To have Sarah (Imovbioh) and have Kaela (Davis) fall into our laps, this creates a little bit of cushion for us to know we’re OK in the next couple of years,” Staley said. “The only reason why our program is attractive to them is because they know we’ve progressed.
“They both talked about us going to the Final Four as one of the main reasons why we were a school of their choice, because we’re playing at the very highest level.”
Imovbioh, graduated from Virginia and eligible next season, is on campus. She will move to power forward while Alaina Coates is the incumbent at center and supplies rebounding, leadership – and a consistent outside shot, Staley said.
Kaela Davis, who would have been the ACC’s leading returning scorer had she come back to Georgia Tech, will sit this year but can practice.
“I told our coaching staff she’ll be the best practice player in the history of my coaching career,” Staley said. “She’ll elevate the play on both sides of the ball.”
The roster had no defections outside of assistant coach Darius Taylor, who resigned in order to be with his soon-to-be wife, new Georgia coach Joni Crenshaw. Fred Chmiel, while he can’t replicate Taylor in terms of practicing against USC’s bigs every day, brings a different dynamic.
“That’s a big void to fill,” Staley said, “but I think with Fred coming in, I think Fred will be equally effective with how he teaches the game and give them little nuances on how to play at the next level.”
The women’s game is changing to four 10-minute quarters next season instead of two 20-minute halves, and installed new regulations for advancing the ball. Staley said she liked the changes, although it would have been fine by her to leave the game unchanged.
“Let’s face it – basketball was created here, and I wouldn’t mind having other people change to the way we were doing things,” she said. “But the newness of it, I like. It’s figuring out ways in which to substitute a little bit different. The biggest adjustment for us is more opportunities for sideline out-of-bounds. It creates opportunity for you to set up game-winning, half-court sideline out-of-bounds opportunities, and I look forward to it.”
Staley will get a head start – international ball has used the sideline advancement for years. She leaves June 30 (with rising sophomore A’ja Wilson) for the U19 world championships, where she’ll get to use the plays other coaches won’t until the season. Practice and play will take up nearly all of July.
Staley teased her schedule with an announcement. The Gamecocks will open the season at home against a “Sweet 16” team.
She couldn’t say which team due to contracts not being in hand, but she later clarified that it’s a Sweet 16 team from this past year. Removing Duke, Connecticut and Tennessee (already known opponents), that leaves Texas, Louisville, Dayton, Notre Dame, Stanford, Iowa, Baylor, Maryland, Gonzaga, Florida State, Arizona State or North Carolina as possibilities.
The game against “Team X” will be the first of a home-and-home series, Staley said. USC also will play its rivalry game at Clemson (in Jervey Gym this year) and play in a tournament in Hawaii over Thanksgiving.
Last year’s tournament, hosted by the University of Hawaii, featured North Carolina, Stanford and Prairie View A&M besides the home team.
As for the SEC schedule, Staley doesn’t have dates but knows the three teams USC will play home-and-homes with this year. Besides permanent opponent Kentucky, the Gamecocks will play Ole Miss and Texas A&M twice each.
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