Dawn Staley had plenty of talent to manage throughout the 2021-22 South Carolina Women’s National Basketball Championship season.
Gamecocks is on track to return many key pieces and recharge with more talent behind next year’s hopes of becoming the fourth NCAA basketball program for women to win back-to-back titles.
Here’s an early look at how Gamecocks’ list is shaping up for the 2022-23 campaign.
1. Four of USC’s five national championship starters return
Part of this season’s recipe for national championship success for South Carolina was that it returned the entire list from the 2020-21 Final Four team. This time, Gamecocks returns all but one starter.
Aliyah Boston enters his senior year as the nation’s best player, unanimously selected as the national player of the year after a record season with 27 straight double-doubles. The 6-foot-5 forward led the Gamecocks at both ends of the floor – as USC’s best scorer (16.8 points per game) and rebounder (12.5 boards per game) – and is set to continue to be a matchup nightmare for opposing teams.
Brea Beal has fully entered her role as Gamecocks’ defensive specialist, bringing 100 career starts into her final campaign in Columbia. The 6-foot-1 guard scored less frequently as a junior than she did as a sophomore – averaging 5.1 last season compared to 7.1 the year before – but her veteran presence is set to lead one of the country’s most productive defenses next year.
Zia Cook’s junior campaign was more inconsistent than any of her first two seasons with USC, averaging a career-high 10.7 points per game. fight at 34.2% shooting. The 5-foot-9 guard has room to grow, yet made his impact known with big games against North Carolina and Louisville in this year’s NCAA tournament.
Veteran starter Victaria Saxton’s decision to return for a fifth year confirmed the return of Gamecocks’ formidable front line. The 6-foot-2 forward showed her impact throughout the season as the team’s second-best rebounder and shot blocker, but she was undeniably important for South Carolina’s Sweet 16 win over North Carolina (6 points, 14 rebounds) and Elite Eight victory over Creighton ( 11 points, 11 rebounds).
2. Management of USC departures
A notable piece missing from last year’s starting five is point guard Destanni Henderson, who left South Carolina on a high note behind his career’s best 26 points in the national championship victory over UConn. She is expected to go in the first round of the WNBA draft after two seasons as South Carolina’s starting point guard, leading the Gamecocks to the back-to-back Final Fours and title victory.
Veteran reserve LeLe Grissett exhausted her entitlement after taking a final year to play with USC after missing the 2021 NCAA Tournament due to an injury. Grissett gave sparks both on and off the floor and it will be hard to copy.
Gamecocks will also deal with two transfer portal departures from reserves Elysa Wesolek and Eniya Russell. Both Wesolek and Russell saw limited minutes in the 2021-22 season. Wesolek, a senior, has one year of eligibility left, while Russell has two.
Destiny Littleton has been on a college basketball list for five years, and has been out for the 2019-20 season after switching to USC from Texas. Gamecocks’ 3-point specialist from the bench could in theory return for another season, though she received her bachelor’s degree in 2021 and was recognized in this year’s senior day ceremonies.
3. Plans by point guard
With Henderson heading for the pros, South Carolina is the most conspicuous area of need in the point guard position.
It’s likely that the Gamecocks’ original plan was to develop Raven Johnson, the No. 1 point guard from the class in 2021, to fully take over with Henderson’s impending departure. Those plans were changed after Johnson suffered a knee injury that ended the season in the second game of his freshman season.
Johnson has been around South Carolina throughout her national championship campaign and has tweeted her dedication to the Gamecocks’ program, though her exact recovery schedule will not be certain until the 2022-23 season tips.
When Henderson was injured in three games last December, Staley chose to play 6-foot-4 junior forward Laeticia Amihere in his position. Amihere did well in Henderson’s place, but Staley wasted some time reloading the position through the transfer portal after the end of the season 2021-22.
Gamecocks secured a commitment from former Georgia Tech point guard Kierra Fletcher, a senior who was red-shirted this year due to an injury. Fletcher was the Yellow Jackets’ leading goal scorer in the 2020-21 season, adding a veteran presence to the position to mate with a young and talented Johnson.
4. Scouting the upcoming beginners
Gamecocks is set to add two top-20 freshmen, both five-star from the state of South Carolina, to the list next season.
Columbia native Ashlyn Watkins, a 6-foot-3 forward, is ranked No. 12 by espnW and is the fourth-best post player in the 2022 class. Watkins was named South Carolina’s 2022 Gatorade Player of the Year and leaves Cardinal Newman as the program’s all-rounder. hour scoring leader (1,740) and rebounder (1,341). She also blocked 366 shots as a high-schooler and led her high school to the final four state championship titles.
The Turbeville product Talaysia Cooper is a 6-foot point guard from East Clarendon High School, ranked No. 18 overall and No. 4 in its position by espnW. She became the sixth girl basketball player in SC High School League history to darken 3,000 career points in January and, along with Watkins, was selected as McDonald’s All-American.
5. Sophomores, Cardoso ready to break out
The No. 1 recruiting class from 2021 got to know Gamecock’s entire season.
With a national championship season of a first year under the belt, it would not be surprising to see Saniya Rivers, Bree Hall and Sania Feagin assume more experienced looks in 2022-23. A healthy Johnson is also expected to see several minutes once she has recovered from the knee injury that put her on the sidelines from the second game onwards in the last season.
Center Kamilla Cardoso switched from Syracuse for her second year and grew to a solid opportunity off the bench. Staley became more pleased with Cardoso as she began to take more of her own shots, but Cardoso was a consistent rebounder (third on the team with 5.1 per game) and blocking (third with 46 on the season) all year.
Cardoso scored double-digit six times, including 11 points in a stunning round-two game against Miami, which showed the type of performance the Gamecocks hope to see from her as an upper-class man.
Rivers flashed with potential throughout his freshman campaign and often received extended minutes on the floor, including a 20-minute game in a Final Four victory over Louisville. The 6-foot-1 guard needs to be improved to a 1 in 31 clip from 3-point range in the low season, but her sheer athletics provide a solid base to build on.
Hall emerged as a go-to opportunity behind Beal, making jumps in her first season, playing in 36 of 37 games – the most of any USC freshman. The 6-foot guard finished last season with 14 marks behind the arc, right in fifth place on a team not particularly known for its 3-point shot.
Feagin received the fewest minutes of the healthy freshmen due to a crowded front yard in South Carolina, even though she was an effective goal scorer when she was on the floor (21 of 34 from the field). The 6-foot-3 striker reached a total of 10 points with seven rebounds in 14 minutes in the Gamecocks’ NCAA opening game against Howard and will look to play a bigger role as USC prepares for departures of senior pillars Saxton and Boston after 2022-23 season.
Expected list for 2022-2023 South Carolina women’s basketball
Listed with class, position, height and hometown
- Fifth Senior – Victaria Saxton (F, 6-2) Rome, Ga.
- Fifth Senior – Kierra Fletcher (G, 5-9) Warren, Mich.
- Senior – Laeticia Amihere (K, 6-4) Mississauga, Ontario, Canada
- Senior – Brea Beal (G, 6-1) Rock Island, Ill.
- Senior – Aliyah Boston (F, 6-5) St. Thomas, USVI
- Senior – Zia Cooke (G, 5-9) Toledo, Ohio
- Senior – Olivia Thompson (G, 5-8) Lexington, SC
- Junior – Kamilla Cardoso (C, 6-7) Montes Claros, Brazil
- Sophomore – Sania Feagin (K, 6-3) Ellenwood, Ga.
- Sophomore – Bree Hall (G, 6-0) Dayton, Ohio
- Sophomore – Raven Johnson (G, 5-8) Atlanta, Ga.
- Sophomore – Saniya Rivers (G, 6-1) Wilmington, NC
- Freshman – Talaysia Cooper (G, 6-0) Turbeville, SC
- Freshman – Ashlyn Watkins (F, 6-3) Columbia, SC