Familiarity introduced them, then reeled them in.
Two of South Carolina’s newest players, Kaela Davis and Allisha Gray, won’t suit up for the Gamecocks this year. But each is eager to do all they can to get USC back to where their former schools couldn’t — the Final Four — and then make it three straight.
USC, known to Gray as a frequent opponent and to Davis on the ironic advice of a one-time Gamecock, is their new home. They thought they could achieve their dreams at their former schools; with the Gamecocks, they know they can.
“Going into (Georgia) Tech, my focus was, ‘I can do something different here,’” Davis said. “They haven’t won a national championship, they haven’t done a lot of things. To come here, (the Gamecocks) haven’t won a national championship. I’ve been competitive my entire life and I didn’t feel I was in a situation where I could do that.”
Davis, the daughter of NBA veteran Antonio Davis, had a stunning two years at Tech, becoming the fastest in program history to reach 1,000 career points and earning two All-ACC selections. She would’ve been the ACC’s leading returning scorer (19.2 points per game), but something didn’t feel right.
The Yellow Jackets were a good team but not progressing at the rate Davis thought would get her where she wanted to be.
“I just had to ask myself, ‘Is there more you could be doing, is there a better situation?’” Davis said. “I would never want to limit myself if I didn’t have to.”
That, and some surprising words from a former Gamecock, pushed USC into the conversation.
“My godsister is Kelsey Bone,” Davis said. “I came up here a few times to watch her play.”
Bone was Dawn Staley’s first big-time recruit, the No. 2 overall prospect in the country who won SEC Newcomer of the Year. Thought to be the player to lead USC into the future, Bone shockingly transferred to Texas A&M after only one season.
The loss didn’t derail Staley’s program; it only delayed it a year. Still, it was a hot topic until the Gamecocks finally reached the NCAA Tournament.
Davis talked to Bone about USC and playing for Staley.
“She had nothing but good things to say. It was kind of the same situation as me as Tech — it wasn’t the right fit,” Davis said. “When I told her, she was elated about it. She was super, super excited.”
Gray knew of the Gamecocks from playing them three times in two seasons. The Tar Heels eliminated USC from the NCAA Tournament two years ago; last year, USC returned the favor.
Like Davis, Gray thought she was a Tar Heel to stay. After her season ended, it changed.
“Then the stuff happened,” she said. “It was just best for me to look out for my future and start off on a clean slate.”
Nobody needed clarification. UNC is embroiled in an ugly academic scandal which seems to be focusing particularly hard on women’s basketball. While no penalties will be announced for some time, Gray was worried that any looming sanctions could cost her opportunities.
The daughter of a high school principal, Gray grew up hearing “Books first, sports second.” The scandal hit home enough for her to look somewhere else to finish college; basketball won’t last forever.
“It’s always difficult sitting out because this is a great team,” Gray said. “I just want to play this year, now. I have fun playing pickup with them and imagine the games.”
Staley didn’t have anybody lined up for her 2016 recruiting class but began it with two of the top players in the country. They’ll be able to step into a team that will lose five seniors, including All-American Tiffany Mitchell, after this season.
There’s been some good-natured razzing, particularly to Gray. But each knows they’ve found a new home.
“If I can help this team in any way possible, in practice or helping them and myself get better, that’s what drives into hopefully winning a national championship this year,” Davis said. “I’m going to do that.”
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