Kaydra Duckett stood at the podium in Dreher High’s auditorium during her signing day ceremony, thanking the family and coaches who had gotten her to that point. Then, she thanked South Carolina coach Dawn Staley for recruiting her.
“I won’t let you down,” she pledged.
She has yet to play a minute for the Gamecocks, but she’s well on her way toward that declaration.
Duckett wasn’t the highest-ranked recruit of four who signed national letters of intent with USC during the past two weeks, but she was the linchpin of the class and is bringing a lot more than the skills of the country’s No. 32 national recruit to the Gamecocks. She has established herself as a leader of the group. She was the one who constantly recruited the other targets in the class until they signed with USC.
Coaches have to abide by recruiting restrictions. Friends do not.
And Duckett made sure that she became friends with the Gamecocks’ other targets as soon as she verbally pledged to USC in the spring.
“The biggest thing I wanted to make sure is that I advocated a family orientation,” Duckett said. “Family, family, family was the biggest thing. I think that’s what drew in the class.”
Staley signed Duckett, New York guard Bianca Cuevas (No. 44 nationally), New Jersey standout Doniyah Cliney (No. 105) and Charlotte post Jatarie White (No. 7) during the early signing period, and has room to add two more recruits. The class is one of the nation’s best, and it could get better. The recruits will be added to a team that is 7-0 and will lose one senior.
Visions of a future stocked with championship banners and rings are frequent.
That’s what Duckett stressed to each of the targets. The future is bright, and it can get brighter if you come to Columbia.
“Once I found out the other girls that were being recruited, I found them on social media and started a friendship with them,” Duckett said. “Once we were all friends, I started pushing, ‘Hey, we have an opportunity to be something great. Why not come and be a part of something that could possibly be a Final Four, national championship team?’ ”
Duckett was elected student body president at Dreher this year. She has led the Blue Devils to a 118-13 record over four years, with two region titles and one state championship.
Her leadership skills have served her well during the recruiting process. Knowing that White was also drawing the attention of the national heavyweights, she immediately approached White during the pair’s official visit to USC and stressed her point.
“We weren’t tight at all, when the paper came out about all of us going on an official visit,” Duckett said. “That’s where it began. From then on, it was about a week later, and I just kind of used that time and carried it on from there.
“Soon as I saw her, shook her hand, it was good ever since. I made sure I texted her every day, asked her how she was doing. Once she came on board, I was more than happy, and that pushed everything up for coach Staley and the recruiting class.”
“I first met her on my official,” White said at her signing ceremony. “Then she was texting me, calling me, now she’s like my best friend. She was always saying, ‘Think of what we could do together, how much we can win together.’ ”
Now for the rest of the class. The Gamecocks can add two more recruits, and the biggest one of all is still uncommitted. Top national recruit A’ja Wilson, who plays at Heathwood Hall, is being heavily recruited by USC and other national powers.
Wilson attended Duckett’s signing ceremony and sat in the first row. Duckett also thanked her for being there and for her support.
White and Wilson are close friends and have often talked about playing together at the next level. Duckett and Wilson are the same.
“A’ja, we’ve been talking about playing together since we were knee-high to a duck,” Duckett said. “I don’t know where her heart is, but I’m always letting her know that no matter where she goes, she’ll always have a friend in me, a sister in me. I’m hoping the family atmosphere brings her to play at USC with us.”
The message will be stressed and re-stressed. Duckett considers it her duty to help as much as possible to get Wilson to the Gamecocks.
“Me and A’ja being best friends, we just want to get a continuity that we don’t have to learn when we get there,” Duckett said. “We already have one, and all we’re doing is going into a good place in our lives. I would call it just me being their sister — ‘You’re coming in this with me, we’re going to leave together and we’re going to graduate 2018 together.’ ”
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