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June 17, 2014

WBB 2014-15: Most talented USC team ever?

Let the debate begin - it's quite possible that the 2014-15 women's basketball team is the most talented squad in any sport in school history.

Please breathe that in deeply for a moment, because it's almost an inarguable point.

Note I didn't say best, because that definition is measured by conference and national championships, and there are only three teams at USC that can boast both of those - women's track and field, equestrian and baseball.

For men's basketball, the most talented teams are the 1970 and 1997 men's basketball teams. It's fair to say the 1970 men's team can lay claim to being the most talented in school history, featuring John Roche, Tom Owens, Tom Riker, Bobby Cremins, Rick Aydlett, Bob Carver, John Ribok, Gene Spencer, Corky Carnevale, Tommy Terry, Billy Grimes and Dennis Powell. You could argue the 1971 team had more talent, adding Casey Manning and Kevin Joyce and winning the ACC title, but the 1970 team was a force of nature, going 23-6 and a perfect 14-0 in the ACC before losing in the ACC Tournament Championship game to N.C. State in double overtime after Roche was injured.

With a healthy Roche, the Gamecocks had clubbed the Wolfpack by 13 just three weeks earlier, but that's why it's also possible for that team to be vulnerable in the "most-talented" category - it relied so heavily on Roche that when he was banged up, things weren't the same.

With baseball, there's no contesting the 2010 and 2011 teams as the best of the bunch, with the 2011 squad making a strong case for a wire-to-wire No. 1 ranking. And yet still, the roster was not loaded with future Major Leaguers, just a collection of superb college baseball players with that intangible - chemistry - that is almost more important than talent in collegiate athletics when describing champions.

For football, of the three 11-win seasons, I'd take 2011 as the most talented, with an unbelievable 19 of 22 starters who have or will play a down in the NFL.

With a defense that featured 10 NFL players in Melvin Ingram, Travian Robertson, Jadeveon Clowney, Devin Taylor, Stephon Gilmore, DeVonte Holloman, Antonio Allen, Kelcy Quarles and D.J. Swearinger, it's easy to call that the best defense in school history.

On the offensive side, you also have nine future pros in Marcus Lattimore (though he was injured), Connor Shaw, Ace Sanders, Justice Cunningham, A.J. Cann (soon-to-be), Ronald Patrick, Rokevious Watkins, Bruce Ellington and, oh yeah, Alshon Jeffery. While it wasn't the best offense in school history thanks to the debacle that was Stephen Garcia's senior year and the mind-boggling meltdown at home to a wretched, one-dimensional Auburn team that will forever stain that team's resume and prevented it from far, far bigger things, the 2011 team will remain as the most talented in school history for a long, long time.

Now, to the subject of the 2014-15 women's basketball team. First, remember that the 2013-14 team just won the SEC and is loaded with talent, obviously, featuring the SEC Player of the Year in sophomore Tiffany Mitchell (who was North Carolina's Miss Basketball in high school, the No. 46 player overall and had a rating of 94). It also starred Freshman of the Year Alaina Coates, who tied a record for most SEC Freshman of the Week honors with five and coming out of high school was the nation's No. 28 player with a 95 overall rating and a McDonald's All-American.

The team featured three other players who were ESPN Top-100 recruits, including Aleighsa Welch (92 rating, No. 88, S.C. Miss Basketball), Khadijah Sessions (94 rating, No. 40) and Asia Dozier (92, No. 89). Additionally, Tina Roy was the 2011 Louisiana Miss Basketball, Elem Ibiam was rated the No. 57 recruit in the country by Blue Star Basketball, among the top 15 post players by ESPN and a state champion.

So, the team that won the SEC is loaded with everyone of significance coming back and starring five ESPN Top-100 players (Mitchell, Coates, Sessions, Welch and Dozier) with a high rating of 95 (Coates). What, then, did Dawn Staley add to that with the 2014 recruiting class? Only another four ESPN Top 100 players, including three McDonald's All-Americans and the nation's top player in A'ja Wilson. All four have higher rankings (97 and up) than anyone on USC's 2013-14 roster. The fifth player, Doniayah Cliney, has a rating of 89, is a four-star prospect and ranked the nation's No. 13 guard by prospectsnation.com and is a state champion.

Here's the 2014 recruiting class, which may also go down as the best recruiting class in school history in any sport:

A'ja Wilson 6-5 F (No.1 overall, 98 rating, McDonald's All-American)
Jatarie White 6-4 C (No. 7 overall, 98 rating, McDonald's All-American)
Kaydra Duckett 5-10 G (No. 32 overall, 97 rating)
Bianca Cuevas 5-6, PG (No. 35 overall, 97 rating, McDonald's All-American)
Doniyah Cliney, 6-0 G (89 rating)

It's as if Staley added a completely new team of more talented girls on top of a team that had already won an SEC Championship. The level of talent on this coming year's team - four McDonald's All-Americans, the SEC Player of the Year, the No. 1 recruit in the country and nine ESPN top-100 players.

Folks, that's insane. I put forward that there has never been a roster so full of talent in any sport in school history from top to bottom as the 2014-15 women's basketball team, which has why those who know immediately ranked USC No. 2 in the preseason, which is a reasonable placement.

If you're not excited about this coming team, this program and this coach, you're not paying attention, because no team at USC next year in any sport will be as good at what they do as Staley's Gamecocks.

Whether they'll be the best remains to be seen - chemistry and luck often have as much or more say-so in determining champions as pure talent. But what is beyond arguing is that this is the greateat collection of talent in women's basketball history.

I'd argue it's also the best in any other category, but that's up for debate. What do you think?

South Carolina NEWS


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