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April 25, 2012

WBB: Wrapping Up, Part II



Second of a two-part series looking at USC women's basketball

PART I: Click

BY THE NUMBERS

Breaking down South Carolina's team for the 2012-13 season.

STAFF

Dawn Staley
Entering her fifth year on the job, Staley has the program exactly where she wants it. In fact, she's disappointed that it took this long to get to the NCAA tournament, but she did get there. Now that she has, she plans to keep it there. In four years, Staley has amassed a 67-58 record (27-35 SEC), but most importantly, has improved every year. Her win total has increased from 10 to 14 to 18 to 25, with the SEC mark going from two to seven to eight to 10. She has one WNIT and one NCAA tournament berth, going 1-1 in the former and 2-1 in the latter, while going a combined 3-4 in the SEC tournament, including the program's first trip to the tournament semifinals (the program had previously won three SEC tournament games in 17 years). It will be hard to improve on 25 wins, but Staley can improve on the 10-win SEC mark. That plateau has only been reached twice (once this past year), and has never been improved upon.

Assistants
Associate head coach Lisa Boyer, assistant coach Nikki McCray, assistant coach Darius Taylor
The staff will remain intact for the coming season.

PLAYERS

Gone
Senior La'Keisha Sutton (5-8, 10.6 ppg, 2.8 rpg), senior Markeisha Grant (5-6, 11.1 ppg, 2.5 rpg), senior Courtney Newton (5-9, 0.7 ppg, 1.5 rpg), senior Charenee Stephens (6-0, 4.9 ppg, 4.9 rpg) and senior Ebony Wilson (5-8, 1.3 ppg, 1.1 rpg). Rising senior Imani Sellers (5-8, 1.2 ppg, 0.4 rpg), a walk-on, will not return in order to concentrate on her pre-med major. Rising sophomore Pamela Decheva (6-1, 0.3 ppg, 0.2 rpg) will not return in order to transfer to a school in search of more playing time and a better fit for her skill set (Winthrop is a heavy possibility).

Returning
(Players listed with rising class rank)

G Ieasia Walker (Sr., 5-8, 7.9 ppg, 4.3 rpg)
The Gamecocks' returning point guard, Walker had a good season despite battling a shooting slump (31.6 percent) throughout. With four guards coming in, Walker will be looked on as the leader of all of the guards, but also a player that will have the leg up in experience, although not necessarily the player that will start and finish the season at point guard. "Ieasia's got an advantage," Staley said. "She's been here three years under our system, she knows how this thing works. It will probably be pretty hard for anybody to de-throne her. They come in and I'll play Ieasia and let her make plays and make better decisions. She definitely has a big advantage over them." Walker took Staley's direction to heart between her freshman and sophomore years and came back much improved, and while the shooting didn't carry over, the ball-handling was good (113 assists, 90 turnovers). She'll have to be the one who sets the tone from Day 1 next year, letting the rest of the team know that the No. 1 guard spot is taken and the others flow from it.

F Ashley Bruner (Sr., 6-0, 7.2 ppg, 5.2 rpg)
Bruner began last year by leading the Gamecocks in scoring and rebounding, and turned herself into a very solid option in the post. Always a good defender, able to stretch her arms while low and disrupt inside passes, Bruner was tremendously better playing back-to-the-basket, or taking the ball at the top of the key and driving inside. What she needs to do to have her best season next year is to harness the intensity that she has shown in spurts and use it for the majority of a 40-minute game, not just in a couple of two-minute segments. As one of only three seniors, Staley will be looking for Bruner to handle the leadership role, and also to anchor a spot where the under-valued Stephens was so vital to the team's success.

G Sancheon White (Sr., 5-10, 3.5 ppg, 2.4 rpg)
White came in last year with the tag of a straight outside shooter, but she developed into a good rebounder and someone who could put the ball on the floor and score, if she so desired. Playing behind Sutton and Grant last year, it was tough for White to hit a solid spurt, but she occasionally did, particularly toward the end of the season. She'll have a chance to be a two or a three right off the bat this year, and if she can hit inside and out, she will be a valuable commodity. The team will have 3-point specialists, and while White made 7-of-30 last year, she was more comfortable getting just inside the line and rising up. She'll have to do plenty more of that.

G Shelbretta Ball (So., 5-8, DNP)
Ball was medically disqualified from playing last year but was able to attend practice and dress during games, although she couldn't compete in practice or games. She will continue in that role next season. Her contributions were so valued last year that the entire team added a special patch to their uniforms - a heart with Ball's No. 2 encased inside. "We're not into taking scholarships away," Staley said. "Especially for something that was unforeseen. I feel like Brett's a starter."

G Tina Roy (So., 5-11, 4.4 ppg, 1.4 rpg)
Roy was the 3-point shooter that the Gamecocks signed, but she spent most of her first year playing behind the established inside-out threats of Grant and Sutton. She'll be looked to early next season for minutes, because of her height; if she can add defense and be consistent from the arc, she'll keep playing. Roy shot 181 times last year, and 127 of those were from 3. She only made 32 (25.2 percent), but if given the ball in a chance where she could set her feet, she was nearly constant. Staley is hoping it was just the simple freshman learning curve - Roy averaged over 11 minutes per game. She can improve that for sure next year, but the points in them is what needs to also improve.

F Aleighsa Welch (So., 6-0, 7.6 ppg, 6.1 rpg)
Where the biggest hope lies. Welch had an all-SEC freshman campaign last year despite tweaking her knee late in the season, and that should only improve. Always a scoring threat, able to run a bit of two or three despite being pigeonholed as a post player, Welch was dynamite in the lane when fighting for put-backs and also blocked 22 shots (third on the team). She'll most likely be a starter next year and will be the "post presence" from the tip, and if she can replace Stephens' contribution, she'll be an all-conference player for her career. What Stephens could do, despite not being taller or bulkier than her opponents, was push opponents out of the way. She was that strong. Welch brought that up in her end-of-season meeting with Staley, saying that she can be that player; Staley was glad to hear it, since Bruner is more of a shooter and rebounder, not a plant-the-feet player who does the dirty work. "Aleighsa really doesn't mind mixing it up," Staley said. "The fact that we're losing Charenee, we're losing a defensive presence. She feels that she can bring that to the table. She learned a lot from watching Charenee and how she worked."

F Elem Ibiam (So., 6-3, 3.0 ppg, 3.0 rpg)
The tallest player on the current roster, Ibiam may have been thought to be the natural in the post as soon as she came in, but that's not what happened. Staley preferred the speed and run-the-floor patterns of her veterans, despite the lack of height - in the women's game, height often directly correlates with lack of speed. Ibiam improved, showing some great spin moves in the post, but they didn't come often enough. Averaging just under eight minutes per game, Ibiam was an important part of the team but was playing behind players three inches shorter than her. She'll improve, most definitely, but she may still be playing behind some folks this year - if chips fall into place.

Recruits

G Khadijah Sessions (Fr., 5-6)
Some have called her the best athlete in Grand Strand history, after scoring more than 3,000 points in her six-year career at Myrtle Beach High and drawing comparisons to the gold standard of in-state women's basketball players (Ivory Latta). Rated a four-star recruit and the No. 7 player at her position in the country, she's one of the heralded group of in-state stars that has come out (or is coming out) over this time period. Staley was wise to set her sights on the group, and it's paid off thus far. Sessions will play next year; how much and where is up to her. If Walker holds down the point guard spot, Sessions could run two at the same time and run one when Walker needs a breather.

G Tiffany Mitchell (Fr., 5-10)
There were some concerns about Mitchell after she tore her ACL during her prep career, but she has bounced back very strongly and signed with Staley, one of her childhood idols. The No. 15 player at her position but No. 46 recruit overall, Mitchell has gotten stronger and more mature despite playing a lot of private-school competition. Mitchell has shown out at many showcases and can bring height to the position - Staley is comfortable running a three-guard set and Mitchell can play the two or three.

G Asia Dozier (Fr., 5-11)
One of the two lauded and wanted recruits from Spring Valley High (Xylina McDaniel, who considered USC, signed with North Carolina), Dozier is rated the No. 33 guard in the class. She can be the classic tweener, quick enough with such a deadly scoring touch that she can play the two or handle the ball, and big enough to where she won't lose much if she switches to the three or four. "Where we give up an advantage, she creates an advantage, with her ability to shoot from the outside," Staley said. "Asia's smart. She's one that I feel like plays high-percentage basketball." McDaniel had height, but Dozier brings a better scoring touch. McDaniel often couldn't finish at the rim in a half-court; Dozier can play four positions.

G Tiffany Davis (Fr., 5-8)
Davis will report from Texas as a solid guard who is mostly suited to the point, but can play the two. The Gamecocks will have a plethora of guards, but that's what Staley likes. It's a lineup that she feels most comfortable in coaching, due to being able to implement how she played into her game plans. "You can't have too many point guards on the floor," Staley said.

The rest
The Gamecocks currently have four open scholarships, and Staley is looking to fill two. "We just had an official visit last weekend," Staley said. "Two bigs that we're hoping to add to the fold. Both JUCOs."

That would leave two open scholarships that Staley will most likely not fill. She's keeping her options open for future classes.

"We won't carry 15. That's for sure," Staley said. "We can't lock up 15 scholarships. We got future classes that we have to consider. Future classes in this state that we have our eye on."

SCHEDULE

Staley will schedule aggressively, but only had one name game finalized in mid-April. Stanford will play in Columbia this season, as the back end of a contract that saw USC play in California two years ago. As part of that, due to the Stanford game being a day before the annual college entries of the Myrtle Beach-based Beach Ball Classic, the Gamecocks will not resume their usual December matchup with North Carolina.

Staley is working to finalize the Gamecocks as entrants in a tournament that features some "heavy hitters," but the contract had not been signed as of last week.

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