Senior guard Te-Hina Paopao made the move from the West Coast to the East Coast this offseason, donning garnet and black on the court after three years of playing in green and yellow.
Paopao joined the South Carolina women’s basketball team this year after transferring from the University of Oregon. Paopao spent three years as a Duck and averaged 12.5 points and 3.6 assists in her time there.
Paopao played in 77 games for Oregon and started all but one. She scored a career-high 28 points and made seven 3-pointers against Stanford at the end of her third year.
And she has shown no sign of slowing down.
Since joining the Gamecocks in 2023, Paopao is averaging 13 points and is shooting .483 from the field across six games in garnet and black. Paopao also leads the team with 17 3-pointers. and is the team's second leading scorer, even after missing a game.
Paopao's teammates and coaches said that besides her shooting, she brings experience and leadership to a young team.
“Te-Hina Paopao is one of our biggest leaders,” junior guard Bree Hall said. “She’s very vocal and always leads by example.”
Paopao missed the fourth game of the season against South Dakota State due to injury, and the Gamecocks missed her presence from behind the arch. The team failed to score a single 3-pointer on 12 attempts during the game and was held to under 100 points for the first time of the season.
“It makes a big difference for someone like Pao, who is always calm, cool, collected,” head coach Dawn Staley said. “You know what her capabilities are. You know that you've got to guard her. She doesn’t take bad shots, so it’s great to have that on the floor and great to get our starting five back together just playing as a cohesive unit.”
South Carolina has started two guards in each game this season — Paopao and sophomore Raven Johnson.
Johson felt the loss of her partner when Paopao missed the South Dakota State game, she said.
“I miss her because she helps me with a lot of things,” Johnson said. “I rely on her a lot. We just complement each other. When I’m tired, she helps me. When she’s tired, I help her.”
Paopao used her experience and leadership to help Johnson grow going into her second year of collegiate basketball, Johnson said.
“I love playing with Pao,” Johnson said. “This summer, she was actually teaching me how to change speed, like how to go fast, how to go slow. And I can just find her. I know her sweet spots, and I’m like ‘Pao, come on. I've got you.’”
Paopao, Staley said, brings leadership, calmness and intellect to the court whenever she plays.
“She communicates well,” Staley said. “She really understands what needs to happen out there on the floor. And she’s got a great group of listeners, so that’s pretty cool to see developing.”
Paopao said she felt comfortable with her new teammates and coaches upon joining the team. She and her teammates accepted each other when she joined the team, she said.
She has started every game she’s appeared in and scored in the double-digits in each of her appearances. But Paopao said she wants to avoid complacency early in the season, despite her and the Gamecocks’ success so far.
“There’s still work to be done,” Paopao said. “It’s really early in the season, but rankings don’t matter, so we've just got to keep doing what we’re doing and keep pushing and keep taking one day at a time.”
Paopao and the No. 1 Gamecocks will look to continue their win streak at they face Morgan State on Wednesday at Colonial Life Arena. Tip-off at 7 p.m., and the game will be broadcasted on SEC Network+.