South Carolina women’s basketball forward A’ja Wilson pointed out, while other teams appeared on Monday night’s NCAA selection show sequestered in a team room, she and her teammates sat among the fans.
Off the floor in the middle of a crowded section at the team’s watch party, they looked up at the video scoreboard along with everyone else in Colonial Life Arena to learn their NCAA road. These Gamecocks don’t stand above their fans, but interact with more than the average basketball team.
“I feel like that’s something that’s a part of us,” Wilson said. “And something that we take a lot of pride in is just being with our fans.
“They’re the ones buying tickets and everything. They make our world go round.”
They filled the stands Monday night, providing a surge of noise whenever the Gamecocks appeared on the selection show. When the players left their seats after the festivities, they waded through a sea of well-wishing fans
A few minutes before things got underway, some of the players were in the concourse taking photos and interacting with fans.
Jamelle Brownlee, a former band member and recent USC graduate, emerged from behind a curtain after having his photo taken with the players. He travels regularly for games and has followed the team for the past five years.
“It is amazing to see how much interaction the team and the coaches have with the fans,” Brownlee said. “It’s pretty cool. I talk with Dawn Staley all the time on Twitter, which is awesome.”
A few feet away, Luevenia Bluefort posed for pictures with trophies and nets from previous runs. She said she came out to get a photo with players and be a part of the scene.
“I do think that’s wonderful that they don’t put themselves on a pedestal,” Bluefort said. “They’re giving back to the fans that have supported them all these years.”
Those fans helped the team average an attendance of 14,925 in the building per home game this year, nearly 3,000 more than last year’s average that led the country.
The Gamecocks will get a couple more chances to play in front of those fans, though the regional will take them to South Dakota rather than a far-more-convenient trip to Lexington, Ky.
With only a few more chances to play on their home floor, senior Khadijah Sessions promised something special for those who come out.
“People take their time to come and watch us,” Sessions said. “Just to turn their TV on. They may be tired, they stay up. They sacrifice some of the things they want to do in life, so why not sacrifice some of our time for them?
“We love them.”