The Daily Gamecock

Gamecocks women's basketball head coach Dawn Staley discusses No. 1 ranked 2021 recruiting class

<p>Head coach Dawn Staley talks to players during a timeout at the first round of the NCAA playoffs in the Halton Arena on Friday.&nbsp;</p>
Head coach Dawn Staley talks to players during a timeout at the first round of the NCAA playoffs in the Halton Arena on Friday. 

South Carolina women’s basketball head coach Dawn Staley addressed the media on Thursday, less than a week before the start of the 2020-2021 NCAA women’s basketball season. Staley talked about her most recent No. 1 ranked recruiting class along with the challenges and benefits of recruiting during the coronavirus pandemic.

South Carolina’s 2021 class includes four ESPNW 100 players, tying for the most in the country with North Carolina, Syracuse and Washington.

“Our conversations with the four that committed to us have always been — since they committed — they’re signed, sealed and delivered,” Staley said. “It was just a formality for us to wait until November to do it.”

The class is headlined by No. 2 recruit Raven Johnson, a point guard from Georgia; No. 3 recruit Saniya Rivers, a guard from North Carolina; No. 4 recruit Sania Feagin, a forward from Georgia; and No. 14 recruit Aubryanna Hall, a guard from Ohio. All four players are five-star recruits, according to ESPN’s HoopGurlz recruiting rankings.

“Probably the four of them are the most fearless young people, and we’ve had some fearless ones, especially in 2019 as a class, they’re just unafraid,” Staley said.

Despite having only one recruit in the 2020 class, No. 43 ranked Eniya Russell, the Gamecocks have returned to the top of the recruiting rankings, reminiscent of the 2019 No. 1 ranked class, which boasted four players ranked in the top 11. Staley compared recruiting her previous No. 1 class to how she was able to get in contact with this year’s recruiting class.

“I would say more effective this way because I knew the players were home. Take for instance Raven Johnson, I had not talked to Raven consistently prior to probably April. I would text her and she wouldn’t respond. And then April hit, and she was responding and she was actually initiating conversation," Staley said.

South Carolina’s recruits stand at 5-foot-8, 6-foot, 6-foot-3 and 5-foot-11 in order of recruit rank.

“Did we specifically go after length? No. But, I mean, these are players that they’ve been on our campus, they’ve been to our camps, they’ve come to some games, so we knew that there was some interest there," Staley said. 

Staley said she likens this recruiting class to South Carolina women's basketball's 2017 class.

“I always, you know, look back on our 2017 class and say, ‘We won a national championship with big guards,’ like we were big,” Staley said. “So, we certainly want that look again because it worked to our benefit.”

Staley also said she thinks the passion of the South Carolina fan base, the culture of her program and the documentary that aired on the SEC Network in May 2020 titled "For the Culture," which followed her and the 2019-20 women’s basketball squad, has pushed the Gamecock women’s basketball team to the forefront of the recruiting game in recent cycles.

“What really has taken us to the next level is when you come into Colonial Life Arena. I think the UConn game was a big game for us, huge game for us,” Staley said.

According to Staley, a possible silver lining to the global pandemic is the team's improved communication skills.

“We’re a communicating staff in general, but we’ve had to implement some more communication so everybody can feel really good about where we are, and hopefully by the time that this is over, we’ll be much stronger,” Staley said.