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June 27, 2014

White is 'other' big-time signee for USC



When Jatarie White, a highly-touted prospect herself, learned the nation's top recruit had signed with South Carolina, a single powerful word flashed through her mind: domination.

The addition of A'ja White to the 2014-15 signing class during the late signing period in mid-April simply raised already sky-high expectations for the USC women's basketball team next season, one that begins in November.

The 6-foot-4 White, rated the No. 7 high school player in the country, is an integral piece of USC's second-ranked signing class and would have been the highest rated player in Dawn Staley's seventh signing class had Wilson committed elsewhere, although her name is not as familiar in local circles as Wilson and Dreher High guard Kaydra Duckett.

"I was so excited. I was screaming and yelling," White told Gamecock Central recently when asked of her reaction when Wilson committed to USC. "I was at an all-star game in California and we were jumping up and down. We talked about how much of a difference we would make."

White averaged 19 points, 11 rebounds, three blocks and two steals per game as a junior at Providence Day High School in Charlotte, and followed up with another stellar campaign as a senior. She was twice named North Carolina's Gatorade Player of the Year.

Providence Day won four consecutive Class 3A state championships beginning with White's freshman year there.

Pursued by multiple heavyweight programs, including defending national champion Connecticut, Tennessee and Texas, White spurned those traditional powerhouses by deciding to stay within the Carolinas and playing for Staley, who has led USC to three straight seasons of 25 or more victories.

Moreover, Columbia is closer to Charlotte geographically than any ACC school, White pointed out.

"Coach Staley had the biggest impact on my decision," said White, who enrolled at USC in time for the first session of summer school in June. "She kept talking with me about how she wanted to change the program and how she wanted me and needed me to be here. I thought this would be a great place to be."

Staley's folksy approach towards recruiting helped lure White to USC.

"She helped me out with recruiting, not only when she recruited me, but she led me through my recruiting process," White said. "No other coach did that."

White, though, acknowledged when she was growing up the thought of attending in-state North Carolina crossed her mind. But when she first dove into the recruiting process a couple of years ago, Staley and USC towered above the rest of the schools.

"I looked at a lot of different places and South Carolina was the place where I saw myself fitting in the best and improving myself as a player, person and student," White said.

White dominated high school foes with her size and array of skills, but many of her individual SEC opponents possess equally impressive height and ability, so she knows she must upgrade her game in order to thrive in the best women's basketball conference in the country.

"The biggest transition is getting up and down the court and there are more aspects to the game than just getting down the court and hoping my guards can pass the ball into me so I can turn around and shoot," White said. "It will definitely be a huge jump."

White has already sensed the urgency to get better during summer workouts.

"The first practice, I had to do a box-out drill and I just never really had to do that in high school because I was taller than everybody else," White smiled. "Just understanding how Coach Staley wants me to play, that will be the toughest thing.

"I'm definitely going to have to work harder to get layups. I know I'm not going to be able to just lay it up any kind of way I want or it will get blocked."

Together with 6-foot-4 rising senior Elem Ibiam (SEC's second leading shot blocker with 83) and 6-foot-4 rising sophomore Alaina Coates (SEC Freshman of the Year in 2013-14), the addition of White and the 6-foot-5 Wilson gives USC potentially the tallest and most athletic frontcourt in the SEC, if not the nation in 2014-15 when the Gamecocks strive for their second consecutive SEC regular season championship and second 30-win campaign in school history.

"Playing against Elem and Alaina and A'ja will get me ready to play against other girls in the SEC or whoever else we play," White said. "Practicing against it every day means I will know how to do it better."

Nonetheless, Staley lauded White's outside shooting skills when she signed with USC last November.

"I like shooting outside, but I also like the inside game," White said. "I've always been a post player, so that's probably my go-to (move). I've never had the freedom to go out and shoot around the arc, but when I do, I think I do a really good job with it. I'm ready to expand that part of my game and work on it even more here. Coach Staley and I have talked about that."

Any lingering doubts within her family and circle of friends about White's college destination were erased when USC outlasted Tennessee for the SEC regular season title and earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

"I knew South Carolina was where I wanted to be and all of my family was like, 'I'm so glad she went there,'" White said. "They all realized this was the perfect place for me."



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