Staley sets highest of goals as USC begins summer workouts

dcloninger@thestate.comJune 2, 2014 

Coach Dawn Staley

TRACY GLANTZ — tglantz@thestate.com

  • USC’S FUTURE STARS

    Three from coach Dawn Staley’s recruiting class started classes Monday. The other two will enroll in July.

    A’JA WILSON

    6-4, Forward, Heathwood Hall

    McDonald’s All-American ... Named to USA Basketball Women's U18 National Team this summer ... The nation’s consensus top-ranked prospect ... She averaged 35 points, 15 rebounds and five blocks per game during her senior season and led Heathwood Hall to a state title.

    JATARIE WHITE

    6-4, Forward, Charlotte

    McDonald’s All-American ... Ranked No. 7 overall and No. 1 post player in Class of 2014 by ESPN ... Earned 5-stars from ESPN ... All-America by Sporting News ... Gatorade N.C. Player of the Year ... Won three straight state championships ... Averaged 19 points, 11 rebounds.

    KAYDRA DUCKETT

    5-10, Guard, Dreher

    Ranked No. 32 overall and No. 6 guard in Class of 2014 by ESPN ... Earned five-star status from ESPN ... Named all-state the past two seasons ... Named MVP at 2012 state tournament (sophomore) after guiding team to 3A state title ... Averaged 17.5 points, 2.3 assists and 3.4 steals as a junior.

The season is five months away.

The journey begins now.

“Our goal this summer is for us to not get distracted with the task at hand, which is to win a national championship,” coach Dawn Staley said. “We want to win a national championship. Nothing else matters, it really doesn’t.”

Staley readily volunteered her goal for the 2014-15 season. There was no hesitation. Simply, her seventh team at South Carolina will have the talent to compete for the biggest prize. She knows it, her players know it and the nation knows it.

So why not say it? As summer work began on Monday, she made sure to tell every player that they want – no, that they expect – to win the national title.

“We know what we have to do,” said SEC Player of the Year Tiffany Mitchell, who departed on Monday for Moscow and the 3x3 world championships. “Starting next year, I’m probably going to have to take more of a leadership role. This will help me become more vocal.”

All players except Tina Roy and Olivia Gaines have returned for the first summer session, and they will be back in July. Three of Staley’s five recruits – A’ja Wilson, Kaydra Duckett and Jatarie White – reported for Summer I while Bianca Cuevas and Doniyah Cliney will be here for Summer II.

The summer will be one of training. The Gamecocks’ coaches can work with players for two hours per week, and the players can work with the strength coach for six hours per week. All time will be spent keeping the Final Four in mind.

“What we have planned, we have a couple of individual sessions, and a couple of team sessions,” Staley said. “We’re looking forward to working with our entire team. Working with the freshmen will be a good thing, because they don’t have any idea of the level that we play with, day-in or day-out.”

Staley and her staff will have a plan in place for when Staley departs Columbia for two stints with USA basketball, one where she will coach Wilson on the under-18 national team and one where she will assist Geno Auriemma with the top U.S. national team. Staley will be gone for much of the late summer, but with the foundation set, her assistants and returning players will be able to keep the drive going.

All of the Gamecocks spoke of what they expected this year as they sat in a locker room at Stanford following their NCAA tournament loss to North Carolina. Rising senior Aleighsa Welch quickly stopped her tears as she spoke of how much damage USC could do in 2014-15.

Welch and Mitchell will be the leaders of a team overflowing with talent. The Gamecocks return every significant piece of a 29-win SEC champion. Then Staley added the country’s No. 2 recruiting class, topped by Wilson, the nation’s top-ranked prospect.

The Gamecocks have made one Final Four appearance in their history, in 1980 in the old AIAW. Staley doesn’t care about that. Before last season, they’d never won the SEC.

“We have a lot of questions about everything – how far this team can go, how we can manage the playing time,” Staley said. “But we’re going to talk about the Final Four, about a national championship. We have to. We want to win it.”

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