Pine trees have replaced high-rises, and crickets have replaced bustle.
But the game remains the same.
“Yesterday was my first day practicing together with the team,” Bianca Cuevas says with a soft but unmistakable New York accent. “(Coach Dawn Staley) was teaching me certain things and telling me what to do.”
Cuevas, the latest addition to South Carolina’s basketball team, arrived from the Bronx last week and began classes Monday. She’s getting a crash course in her new life – new city, new state, new team, new coach and definitely new atmosphere.
“It’s different from New York, real different,” she said Thursday. “You got to drive everywhere. Usually in New York, you can walk to any store. And it’s quiet over here, too.
“But it’s too hot. Too hot.”
The third McDonald’s All-American of the recruiting class and the fourth on the roster, Cuevas long ago caught the eye of Dawn Staley. USC’s coach saw so much of herself in the jet-quick dynamo that was tearing through the New York prep leagues – gifted, anxious, ready to prove herself among the best competition.
Cuevas (pronounced kway-VOSS) had heard of Staley, but she hadn’t grown up watching Staley play or seen the highlight films. That didn’t matter to the coach, who began scouting the prospect early in her high-school days.
“I think I started knowing about her maybe in my 10th grade year,” Cuevas said. “Then I used to always think, ‘Who’s sending me all this mail?’ ”
“She has deep 3-point range and can get to the basket at will,” Staley said when Cuevas signed, also labeling her play as “sparky.”
Staley had to have her.
When Cuevas committed, it added to an already impressive recruiting haul. The point guard of the future has started her lessons, despite having to find new words to describe the Columbia summer.
“It’s a lot,” she said. “I have to learn and there’s going to be a lot thrown at me. I have to work hard.”
Rooming with SEC Player of the Year Tiffany Mitchell and India Farmer, Cuevas fell into the team’s chemistry right away. The terms “Final Four” and “national championship” have been popular among the team since the curtain closed in California last year. The Gamecocks know 2014-15 brings lofty but realistic expectations.
Cuevas, who chose USC over Ole Miss and Tennessee, knows what her tags bring to those expectations. She’s a McDonald’s All-American, and she’s a Staley point guard. Those carry hefty weights.
With starter Khadijah Sessions returning at the point, Cuevas didn’t bite on a prediction of her minutes per game, but she was confident she’ll play. Her first day of practice Wednesday was picking up two plays, both of which weren’t that hard to learn and were basically the same idea.
Although she knows it will get harder. Much harder.
“I just felt I could fit in perfectly with this team and have a chance to play,” Cuevas said. “It wasn’t really that bad yesterday, because I was just learning. Everybody’s excited for this season to start.”
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