In their first collegiate seasons with South Carolina's women's basketball team, sophomore forward Sania Feagin and redshirt freshman guard Raven Johnson were given few opportunities to showcase their talents, combining for just 140 minutes over 32 games during their freshman campaigns.
This year, however, both Feagin and Johnson have taken great strides in their games and quickly become two of the team’s most valuable contributors off the bench.
Feagin showed flashes of potential in the Gamecocks' preseason exhibition game against Benedict, scoring 17 points and grabbing 12 rebounds over 20 minutes of playing time. She has carried that momentum into the regular season as well — sitting fourth on the team with 7.2 points per game and leading in field goal percentage at 66%.
Feagin said honing her skills on both sides of the ball and working hard in the gym have helped her grow over the last year.
“I feel like my offense and my defense improved more,” Feagin said following an 11-point, six-rebound performance against Texas A&M on Dec. 29. “I feel like I’m more dominant and attacking more. Defensive-wise, if you come in the paint, I’m there to block it.”
Feagan said she has also utilized head coach Dawn Staley as a valuable resource as she strives to improve at every practice and game.
“The conversations me and coach (Staley) have been having has been more of me just asking, ‘What can I do to help me better my game? What can I do on and off the court? At practice and behind closed doors, what can I do to better myself as a player and as a team player?’” Feagin said.
Feagin’s scoring touch has been the most prominent facet of her game as she has registered five double-digit scoring performances thus far, including a season-high 15 points in South Carolina’s season opener against East Tennessee State on Nov. 7. While she has experienced success on offense, Staley said improving Feagin's defense and consistency are the next steps in her development.
“Her offense is coming along nicely, but you can’t trade baskets. At some point, she's got to get stops ... That’s the only thing that's really holding her back,” Staley said. “She’s got to connect the days as well — she’s got to connect practices, she’s got to connect games — and then, once she’s got it, then it’s no further discussion.”
Feagin has seen her playing time more than double compared to last season. She averaged 4.3 minutes per game as a freshman, but that number has jumped to 10.2 minutes as a sophomore. Staley said the increase in playing time is a testament to the effort Feagin put in during summer workouts and the patience she exhibited while waiting for an opportunity.
“She’s right where she needs to be,” Staley said. “She didn’t get off the bench last year, like at all. For her to change her mentality all summer long and come in here and wait behind (senior forward Aliyah Boston) and (junior center Kamilla Cardoso), and sometimes (freshman forward Ashlyn Watkins), so when she plays, she’s earned it — it won’t be a gimme.”
In Johnson’s case, not only has she battled with experienced veterans for minutes, but she has also shown resilience in the face of adversity following an abrupt end to her debut season.
Johnson had made two appearances and played only eight minutes before she suffered a season-ending leg injury in a non-conference matchup against South Dakota State on Nov. 12, 2021.
She said recovering from the injury was difficult but added that the support of her teammates was helpful whenever she experienced setbacks.
“From the beginning of the process until now, I had days when I was in my room depressed. I had days where I was crying, but my teammates were there from day one,” Johnson said. “They checked on me, they made sure I was good, so having them really helped me through the process.”
In her first game since the injury, Johnson scored 9 points and collected four assists and four steals in South Carolina’s 101-31 victory over ETSU. She has since appeared in every game except one, averaging 15.4 minutes per game on the season, and has had three of her top four scoring outputs in her last three games — 7 points against Mississippi State on Jan. 8, 9 points against Kentucky on Jan. 12 and 6 points against Missouri on Jan. 15.
Following the Gamecocks’ 81-50 win against Missouri, Staley said performances like these are indicative of Johnson becoming more comfortable with playing on a consistent basis again.
“Obviously, when she does come in, she shoots herself out of a cannon, and everybody’s running with her. She has a great ability to see the floor and put people in positions to just shoot the ball or score the layup," Staley said. "You don’t have to waste a dribble, you don’t have to waste movements when she gives you the ball because she puts you in a great position.”
While Feagin and Johnson are two of South Carolina’s more prominent bench weapons, they are not the only ones leaving their mark on the team this season. Cardoso has been a dominant force in the paint, scoring 9.4 points and collecting 7.5 rebounds per game, and Watkins has electrified crowds with her dunking abilities.
Staley said having so many talented options at her disposal has provided the Gamecocks with a unique advantage over its opponents.
“I like the fact that we can play at different speeds,” Staley said. “I like the fact that we are extremely versatile — we can play different people at different times, and we get a totally different look.”