Recruiting haul could propel Staley's program to new heights

dcloninger@thestate.comOctober 31, 2013 Updated 8 hours ago

The South Carolina women’s basketball program is on the verge of signing a star-studded class, one that would easily be the best that coach Dawn Staley has signed.

During the early signing period for basketball that begins on Nov. 13 and lasts until Nov. 20, the Gamecocks are hoping to get signatures from five prep standouts, three of whom are already verbally committed, for the 2014-15 season.

And those five could lead toward obtaining a sixth commitment from the biggest prize on the recruiting trail – No. 1 national recruit, and Columbia native, A’ja Wilson.

Wilson won’t sign until the spring, after she’s finished her senior season at Heathwood Hall and completed her five official visits. She has already visited Connecticut and North Carolina. USC is in the mix to be one of the final three officials, according to her father.

The Gamecocks are in good position with five of the country’s top recruits:

-- Forward Jatarie White, 6-foot-4, Providence Day School, Charlotte. White is a five-star recruit rated No. 1 at her position, and seventh nationally overall, by ESPN. She took an official visit to UNC last weekend (Wilson was there as well) and is visiting USC this weekend. She also has visited Ohio State, Texas and Tennessee.

-- Guard Shakayla Thomas, 5-11, Sylacauga HS, Sylacauga, Ala. Thomas is a five-star recruit rated third at her position and No. 12 nationally. She will visit USC this weekend along with White. Her other top schools are Florida State, Mississippi State and Alabama.

-- Guard Kaydra Duckett, 5-10, Dreher HS, Columbia. Duckett is a five-star recruit rated sixth at her position and No. 32 nationally. She committed to USC in the spring and will sign in November.

-- Guard Bianca Cuevas, 5-6, Nazareth Regional, Brooklyn, N.Y. Cuevas is a five-star recruit rated eighth at her position and No. 44 nationally. She committed to Staley and USC six days ago and will sign in November.

-- Guard Doniyah Cliney, 6-0, Malcolm X. Shabazz HS, Newark, N.J. Cliney is a four-star recruit rated No. 13 at her position and No. 105 nationally by prospectsnation.com. She committed to Staley on Tuesday and will sign in November.

White and Thomas also will sign in November. If USC gets Duckett, Cuevas, Cliney and one of the others, that’s already a stellar class. USC could get all five and also get Wilson in the spring.

It’s not unreasonable to think that those six, added to a team that would also have forward Aleighsa Welch, guards Khadijah Sessions and Tiffany Mitchell and several others who have helped USC win 50 games over two seasons, would be bidding for a Final Four berth very soon.

The coaches of White and Thomas each spoke about their star players and what they will bring to the next level.

“She’s 6-4, left-handed, really athletic. She has the skills to play all five positions on the court,” said Josh Springer, White’s coach. “She handles the ball well, she’s an under-rated passer, very unselfish. She’s able to finish with her right or left hand in the paint. On the defensive end, we gave up the fewest points per game in our history last year. In a 12-game stretch, we gave up 21 points a game.”

Providence Day has won four straight state championships and eight in nine years. White averaged 19 points, 11 rebounds, three blocks and two steals last year.

“This is her team, her last go-round,” Springer said. “She’s excited for the challenge this year. I give each one of those five schools a 20 percent chance of signing her. There are a lot of things she likes about every one of them.”

Thomas is a pure scorer, having scored more than 3,000 points (and 2,000 rebounds) in her prep career. She ranks in the lower half of the Top 10 of career scorers in Alabama.

“She’s an explosive player,” said Thomas’s coach, Derrick Crawford. “She creates and has an outstanding mid-range game. Compared to a male athlete, I’d compare her mid-range game with Kobe (Bryant), her physicality to LeBron (James). She’s very athletic and can dunk the basketball.”

Decisions could come soon, with signatures to follow. USC will have the phone and fax lines cleared.

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