Expectations sky high for No. 1 South Carolina
Dawn Staley already knows she is facing outsized expectations with what South Carolina’s women’s basketball program has accomplished.
They come from players, fans and even the university president.
Interim school President Harris Pastides, speaking earlier this month after Staley received a new $22.4 million contract, said: “We’re also setting a high bar of expectations for her.”
And Staley is good with that.
South Carolina is No. 1 in the preseason Top 25 and will bring the country’s top-ranked recruiting class onto the court for the second time in the past three seasons. The Gamecocks are favorites to win their sixth Southeastern Conference league title in the past nine seasons and have won six of the past seven SEC Tournaments.
One reason Staley is embracing the challenge is she likes the early chemistry between veterans and newcomers on a team that reached the Final Four a year ago.
“Every single time they are faced with competition, they pretty much rise to the challenge,” Staley said. “They’re not perfect. But it’s not coming from any other place than a want. It’s super cool to be in this environment.”
South Carolina starts with a corps that includes All-American Aliyah Boston, Zia Cooke and Brea Beal, the centerpiece of its No. 1 recruiting class in 2019. The newest group features guards Raven Johnson and Saniya Rivers and forward Sania Feagin, who were ranked Nos. 2-3-4 among college prospects, according to ESPN.
“We get along very well,” Rivers said. “We’re basically a younger version” of South Carolina’s 2019 No. 1 class.
The bonding has gone well, with the older group bringing their championship experience — they lost to eventual NCAA Tournament champion Stanford 67-66 in the national semifinals — to the practice court with the goal of going all the way.
“We’re going to have play a lot more players because they’ll be prepped well enough to play at this level,” Staley said.
And expected to succeed.
Some other things to watch in the upcoming SEC women’s basketball season:
THE PRESEASON OUTLOOK
While the Gamecocks were picked to win the league, they’ll have a host of talented chasers looking to knock them off. No. 15 Tennessee was voted second by the panel of SEC and national writers and No. 24 Texas A&M, last year’s regular-season SEC champions, third. No. 13 Kentucky and preseason SEC player of the year Rhyne Howard were fourth, followed by Georgia, Arkansas, LSU, Mississippi, Mississippi State and Alabama. Missouri was picked 11th, then Florida, Auburn and Vanderbilt.