The South Carolina women's basketball team opened practice for the 2021-2022 season on Wednesday. Dawn Staley is entering her 14th season as the head coach of the Gamecocks and will return the entire roster from last season's Final Four trip to San Antonio.
The team features the 2020-21 Athletic National Player of the Year, Aliyah Boston. Boston is entering her junior season after averaging 13.7 points and 11.5 rebounds per game.
Staley gave an update on injuries entering camp saying, “Everybody’s healthy besides LeLe.”
The graduate guard LeLe Grisset suffered the injury in the fourth quarter of the SEC championship game in March. Staley said "she's in some drills, so I think she's probably closer than not," to returning to play.
On top of its entire roster from last year, South Carolina also brings in the top-ranked recruiting class for the 2021 class according to ESPN.com.
The class features the top-ranked point guard, five-star Raven Johnson. Johnson's commitment propelled the Gamecocks to the top of the class rankings and the Gamecocks ultimately brought in three of the top five recruits in the class.
“I'll start with Raven. Raven, point guard, we’re asking her to do a lot of things and she’s embracing them," Staley said. “She plays on both sides of the basketball. She can really pass the ball, she’s aggressive defensively, I mean, we’re working on her pace and her ability to continue to pick the ball up, work it full court."
With so many talented players, the Gamecocks could be the deepest team in all of college basketball.
"It surely is a luxury," Staley said.
The competition for time on the floor is stiff, Staley said. "It’s healthy though, so we’re going to have to play a lot more players."
Staley's first top-ranked recruiting class came in 2019 and is now juniors. “The 2019 No. 1 recruiting class, they've always been a really mature group," Staley said.
The older players are great mentors to the younger players, according to Staley.
“It’s a tale of two classes, in that, you’ve got this younger group that they know everybody on campus and then you’ve got the old fogeys who, y'know, they stay in their room watching film and watching Netflix," Staley said.
Staley was complimentary of sophomore transfer center Kamilla Cardoso. Cardoso played last season at Syracuse where she scored 326 points and 193 rebounds in her freshman campaign. Cardoso stands 6 feet, 7 inches tall and provides a huge height advantage for the team going forward.
“I’m super happy Kamilla's here for a lot of reasons," Staley said. “She’s a force on both sides of the ball, she's also is allowing our players ... to feel what it is to play against someone that's that big, that long, no one else in the country has that luxury.”
South Carolina starts the 2021-22 season with an exhibition at Colonial Life Arena against Benedict College on Nov. 1 at 7 p.m. Following the home exhibition, the team travels to Raleigh, North Carolina to open the regular season on Nov. 9 against NC State at 7 p.m.