The Daily Gamecock

Experienced Welch ready for next challenge

It’s been a whirlwind of a year for former South Carolina forward Aleighsa Welch.

There was no time for rest when she and her teammates were enjoying the most successful season in program history, and even after South Carolina’s loss to Notre Dame in the Final Four, Welch stayed on her grind, earning an invite to the WNBA draft camp before being selected by the Chicago Sky with the 22nd overall pick in the second round of the league’s draft last Thursday.

Now Welch has a bit of downtime. Mind you, she’s still been training daily before she departs for training camp, which begins on May 17, but Welch has been able to reflect both on her time as a Gamecock and her future as a WNBA player.

For the Goose Creek, South Carolina native, things couldn’t have worked out any better.

“There’s no way, shape or form that I would ever want to trade this experience,” Welch said.

During her collegiate career, Welch established herself as one of the greats in South Carolina women’s basketball history while playing a key role in the revitalization of the Gamecock program under head coach Dawn Staley.

When she arrived as a freshman in 2011, South Carolina had not made the NCAA tournament since 2003. Fast forward to four years later, and now Welch is preparing to leave one of the top programs in the country.

In the meantime, she transformed herself from an already talented high school player (South Carolina's Miss Basketball 2011) into an even better college player (two-time AP All-America honorable mention selection).

Leaving a legacy

Although she recorded more offensive rebounds than anyone else in South Carolina women’s basketball while also shooting 57.7 percent during her four years as a Gamecock, Welch’s statistics don’t necessarily blow anyone away.

However, ask her teammates, and they’ll tell you how important of a player Welch, aka “Muffin,” is.

As Welch addressed the media in the Carolina Coliseum on Monday, her former teammate Tiffany Mitchell snuck up from behind and gave her a hug, saying “Don’t leave.”

Needless to say, Welch’s value goes beyond the numbers.

She served as South Carolina’s leader on and off the court, showing younger players how to behave through her actions, while also speaking up when she needed to get a point across.

Welch’s work ethic often spoke for itself. There were numerous occasions, most notably in South Carolina’s win over Tennessee at Colonial Life Arena in February, when Welch willed the Gamecocks to a victory thanks to her tenacity on the court, grabbing rebound after rebound.

“I’ve always said I just want to be remembered as somebody who just worked hard,” Welch said.

That she will. The effort she put forth isn’t lost on Staley.

“I’ve had nightmares about her not suiting up for us next year,” Staley said in February.

Not only will Welch be remembered for the intangibles that made her such an effective player, she’ll also be thought of as Staley’s first big-time South Carolina-born recruit. Welch will also be remembered as Staley’s first WNBA draft pick since the coach arrived in Columbia in 2008.

“I’m just thankful,” Welch said. “I’m thankful for her calling me the day after my state championship game my junior year and offering me a scholarship."

Prepared for what’s next

When Welch’s name was announced inside the Mohegan Sun Arena last Thursday she said, “My heart probably literally fell into my stomach.”

While it was a foregone conclusion that she would be drafted, the actual moment in which her childhood dream became a reality was a special one for Welch.

Now she’s ready to work. While hearing her name called at the WNBA Draft, an event she grew up watching as a child, was a "Pinch me, I’m dreaming" moment for Welch, she feels like she belongs at the next level. A lot of that has to do with the guidance she received from her coaches at South Carolina.

“They put me in the best possible position to be successful, so I couldn’t be happier for that,” Welch said. “That’s one thing I signed on for. I wanted to be prepared for my life after South Carolina and they got me to that point.”

Having the opportunity to learn from Staley and assistant coach Nikki McCray-Penson, both of whom have plenty of knowledge on life in the WNBA, is Welch’s ace up her sleeve.

“I think that’s one thing I have to my advantage,” Welch said. “The fact that I have two coaches that were pivotal parts in the WNBA and the WNBA’s success. So I look at it as nothing but a positive.”

While there are a few things about the transition to the WNBA that may scare Welch a bit, she said she’s looking forward to the new experience.

Of course, she’s a professional now, and getting paid to do what you love is always a great feeling.

“It’s something I love to do,” Welch said. “I’m the type of person, I just love to play basketball. So, how can I complain when I get paid to play basketball?”


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