The Daily Gamecock

Women's basketball guard MiLaysia Fulwiley shows potential with trick plays, diverse skillset

<p>Freshman guard MiLaysia Fulwiley dribbles down the court during the Gamecocks' 85-56 victory over the Ole Miss Rebels on Feb. 4, 2024, at Colonial Life Arena. Fulwiley is a native of Columbia, South Carolina, and she has played in all 25 games this season for the Gamecocks.</p>
Freshman guard MiLaysia Fulwiley dribbles down the court during the Gamecocks' 85-56 victory over the Ole Miss Rebels on Feb. 4, 2024, at Colonial Life Arena. Fulwiley is a native of Columbia, South Carolina, and she has played in all 25 games this season for the Gamecocks.

The South Carolina women's basketball team has produced numerous homegrown talents in recent years, one of the most notable being former Gamecock forward A'ja Wilson. Wilson won a national championship as a junior at USC and was named National Player of the Year as a senior.  She also won an additional two championships and WNBA Most Valuable Player awards with the Las Vegas Aces.

When Wilson was a freshman, she spent much of the season coming off the bench, starting just once in 31 total appearances. She was productive in limited playing time, averaging 13.1 points per game and showing potential that has since translated to professional success. 

In her first season at South Carolina, freshman guard MiLaysia Fulwiley has shown flashes of potential to follow in Wilson's footsteps and become South Carolina's next homegrown talent through highlight-reel plays and a multi-faceted skillset.

Fulwiley is a Columbia native and attended W.J. Keenan High School, where she began playing varsity basketball as a seventh grader. She led her team to four state titles during her six-year high school career and averaged 25.6 points, 9.1 rebounds, 6.2 assists and 5.7 steals per game as a senior.

She picked up many state and national accolades across her six years of high school basketball, including being named a WBCA All-American, a three-time South Carolina Basketball Coaches Association Player of the Year at the 3A level (2020, 2021, 2022) and the SCBCA Player of the Year for the 2A level (2023). Fulwiley was also named a McDonald's All-American and was the No. 13 incoming freshman in the country for the 2023 class, according to ESPN's HoopGurlz Recruiting Rankings.

The talent she demonstrated as a high schooler was ultimately what made schools such as South Carolina interested in her. Head coach Dawn Staley said her skillset was different than that of other players in the women's game.

“I think she's a generational talent. I do, I do, 'cause generational to me is being able to do things that no other people can do. She does things that I haven’t seen a women’s basketball player do,” Staley said. “The moves that she makes, the shiftiness, her ability to shoot the long ball, get to the basket at will. But also I've seen her, I mean she's very, very coachable. She wants to be great.”

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That talent was on full display in Fulwiley's first collegiate game when the team played then-No. 10 Notre Dame on Nov. 6 in Paris. Fulwiley registered 17 points, six assists and six steals on 8-14 shooting. One of her individual plays, a behind-the-back reverse layup, gained traction on social media from basketball legends such as Magic Johnson.

"When I did it, I seen the other defender coming up to try to block it, so I had to do a little fake to (senior center Kamilla Cardoso), and I laid it up," Fulwiley said. "That come with a lot of practice. I do that move a lot in practice so in the game time, it felt normal."

Fulwiley made multiple plays just two games later that electrified the crowd at Colonial Life Arena in a dominant 109-40 win over Clemson on Nov. 16th. Along with scoring 18 points and grabbing nine rebounds, she made a fake behind-the-back pass that led to a layup and another behind-the-back assist, as well as four 3-pointers.

Fulwiley said Staley's trust gave her the confidence to showcase her skills in those plays.

"I felt very comfortable, actually, because Dawn, she tells me all the time in practice, like, 'Just be you. Just do what you do, and it'll work out for you,'" Fulwiley said. "I think when I get in the game, I just remember all the things that she told me in practice and just go hard."

The beginning of Fulwiley's college career has been headlined by impressive athletic feats, and with Staley's coaching, she has developed into a valuable contributor on both sides of the basketball.

Fulwiley is averaging 11.5 points, 2.8 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game. She scored a career-high 21 points against Texas A&M on Jan. 21 and has scored double-digit points in the majority of the games she's played in. 

She ranks second for the Gamecocks in steals this season with a total of 40 so far, only behind sophomore guard Raven Johnson, who has a team-high of 51.

Coach Staley said it is encouraging for the freshman guard to see her own improvements throughout the season.

“I see she’s tapping into all of her greatness 'cause it’s just not making beautiful plays and creative plays, it is the whole gamut on both sides of the basketball,” Staley said. “The more and more experience she's getting out there, getting deflections and steals, the more and more she's more amped up to play on the defensive side of the basketball, and I got to play her.”

Sophomore forward Ashlyn Watkins has known Fulwiley since they were children, and said she is impressed with how Fulwiley continues to show off skills that her teammates and opponents do not expect.

"Sometimes (Fulwiley) surprise me because her bag is so deep. It, I'm pretty sure it surprises everybody," Watkins said. "Sometimes she does it in practice, but sometimes she brings out different things for the game."

Fulwiley and the Gamecocks will return to action at Colonial Life Arena on Thursday, Feb. 22 against Alabama. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m., and the game will be broadcast on the SEC Network.