She can’t quite find the right word to share her feelings as the first practice of the 2012-13 season approaches, but USC women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley’s excitement is omnipresent in her voice.
“I don’t really get nervous,” she said. “I get excited. It’s long overdue. We want to get back in the mix. I’m anxious to get started with this group.”
When your team is coming off the first Sweet 16 appearance of your coaching career, one does tend to get fired up for the encore.
Often, a concern heading into the year after is whether or not such success will go to the players’ heads. Considering there aren’t many of those heads returning, that will not be a problem with this crew.
One regular starter returns — Ieasia Walker — along with two other super-subs and part-timer starters, Ashley Bruner and Aleighsa Welch. Sancheon White, Elem Ibiam and Tina Roy also return, hoping to land expanded roles this season, though Roy is rehabbing an injury.
“They’re our leaders. They’ve been through it,” Staley said. “They know how our program runs and are doing a good job of leading the youngsters.”
That’s good to know, since there are virtually as many newcomers as returnees.
Asia Dozier and Khadijah Sessions headline this year’s incoming class. Dozier is the reigning South Carolina Gatorade player of the year while Sessions is a Parade All-American and younger sister of NBA player Ramon Sessions.
Tiffany Mitchell is the North Carolina Gatorade player of the year while Tiffany Davis was ranked among the Top 30 by ESPN Hoopgurlz.
Junior college All-American Wilka Montout, a 6-foot-3 center, will challenge for immediate playing time as well.
“It’s the most talent that we’ve had here at South Carolina since I’ve been here,” Staley said. “It’s close to being the best talent I’ve had in my coaching career. They work hard, too.”
It all looks swell on paper and from what she can glean from individual workouts. But Staley said there’s no substitute for an honest-to-goodness rugged month of practice.
“It will be fun to sit back and watch, but I know there are plenty of headaches coming our way,” Staley said, laughing. “It will be a challenge because they don’t know what’s ahead of them. Our job is trying to get them there as quick as possible.”
USC went 25-10 last season, falling to Stanford in the Sweet 16. Stanford highlights the Gamecocks’ early season schedule with a visit on Dec. 19. Staley is 67-58 at USC and 239-138 overall. Her 27 regular-season victories in SEC play represents the best four-year stretch in program history.
USC will play host to Anderson in an exhibition on Nov. 4.
The regular season will begin at home against Elon on Nov. 9.