It was a historic night for the Gamecock women’s basketball team as it set a program record with five players selected in Monday's WNBA Draft, becoming just the fourth team in history to achieve this feat.
The Indiana Fever took senior forward Aliyah Boston with the first pick in the draft. Boston became the second Gamecock to go No. 1 overall after A’ja Wilson was picked by the Las Vegas Aces in the 2018 draft.
“I'm thankful, first, to God just for putting me in this position but also thankful to everybody in Indiana,” Boston said. “They saw something in me, and I'm just ready to get there and get to work.”
Senior forward Laeticia Amihere was picked eighth overall by the Atlanta Dream, senior guard Zia Cooke was picked 10th overall by the Los Angeles Sparks and senior guard Brea Beal was selected 24th overall by the Minnesota Lynx.
“This group of girls have been through life together,” Amihere said. “These four years haven't been only about basketball, but it's about growing as women together. Being able to be with them on one of our biggest nights has just been an amazing experience.”
Senior forward Victaria Saxton was not in attendance at the draft but was picked immediately after Beal. She will follow Boston to Indiana after the Fever selected her with the 25th pick in the draft.
Boston and Saxton will reunite in Indiana with former Gamecock teammate, guard Destanni Henderson. Henderson was the 20th pick in the 2022 draft and averaged 5.3 points while playing in every game.
“She was like, 'We're reunited and we're teammates again,' and I was like, 'And it feels so good.' You know the song,” Boston said. “It was really great playing with her in South Carolina. To already have that type of connection, I think it really is just going to help us.”
Boston will join an Indiana team that has struggled to win in recent years. The team has not made the playoffs since 2016 and has lost more than half of its games in eight of the past 10 seasons.
“I think everybody on the Fever now, they're going to compete, and we're going to work hard,” Boston said. “I'm just really excited to get that started with everyone.”
Amihere said she wants to contribute to change on the Dream team that has steadily improved the last few seasons but has yet to compete for the playoffs.
“I've been in a background where winning has been my culture,” Amihere said. “They're on the rise right now, and that's what I'm trying to do. I'm trying to bring a winning culture into the program.”
The Dream is led by last season's No. 1 draft pick and former Kentucky Wildcat guard Rhyne Howard. Amihere said she is excited to team up with Howard after competing against her in the SEC and high school.
For Cooke, her selection in the draft on Monday fulfilled her childhood dream.
“This is something that I've prepared myself for since I was six years old,” Cooke said. “I would tell my younger self, I would actually congratulate her. I would tell her how proud I am of her for listening to her parents, number one, for not being a follower, being a leader and being very hardworking. I never quit on myself.”
Beal said she feels her ability to learn and adjust her game will translate well to the next level.
“I think that's the biggest compliment when it comes to me, being able to take in things and listen and just being able to adapt, do things that coaches need from me, teammates need from me,” Beal said.
However, being drafted does not guarantee you a spot on the team next season in the WNBA and training camps are highly competitive.
Training camp for the 2023 season starts on April 30, with the preseason beginning on May 5 and the deadline to cut rosters to 12 players is May 18 at 5 p.m.
The five Gamecocks were drafted on four different teams. Should they all make their teams’ final rosters, former friends will become foes on the court for the first time in a long time.
“It's going to be a lot of trash-talking,” Amihere said. “We are so competitive even in practice, so I can only imagine playing against them. But it's going to be such a surreal moment to be able to play against your teammates on the highest level.”