Staley looking for right fit at South Carolina going forward
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) Dawn Staley has a new challenge ahead after leading South Carolina to its first Final Four - finding the right fit in a roster full of players eager for more playing time.
Staley said Thursday that the Gamecocks are seeing their hard work in recruiting the past few years continue to pay off with the decisions of two top-flight Atlantic Coast Conference players to finish their careers at South Carolina.
Virginia's Sarah Imobvioh averaged double-digit rebounds last year to lead the ACC and while Georgia Tech guard Kaela Davis was third in the league at 19.2 points a game.
''We hit the ground running when it comes to recruiting and when you look at our 2016 class we don't have anybody,'' Staley said. ''To have Sarah and Kaela fall into our laps, it creates a little bit of a cushion.''
The 6-foot-2 Imobvioh, who grabbed 10.7 rebounds a game last season, is expected to bolster South Carolina's front line, which is losing starters Aleighsa Welch and Elem Ibiam from its Final Four team.
While Davis must sit out this season, she will be eligible in 2016-17 when the Gamecocks will be without two-time defending Southeastern Conference player of the year Tiffany Mitchell.
''The only reason our program is attractive to them is because they know we've progressed,'' said Staley, who will start her eighth season with the Gamecocks this winter. ''They both talked about us going to the Final Four as one of the reasons we were the school of their choice because we are playing at the highest level.''
Davis said that when announcing her departure after two productive seasons at Georgia Tech. She said on Instagram that her competitiveness has allowed her to play and win at the highest levels of basketball. ''I want to compete for a National Championship,'' she said.
Staley has steadily built a roster to accomplish that.
Her returning group includes SEC freshman of the year in A'ja Wilson, who was the country's No. 1 prospect a year ago. The 6-4 forward Alaina Coates picked up her game in the NCAA tournament, averaging 14 points in South Carolina's five postseason contests.
Throw in freshman guard Bianca Cuevas and first-year forward Jaterie White and that's four young players all who were McDonald's All-Americans in high school - and all who'll make up the bulk of South Carolina's formidable lineup the next few seasons.
Staley has had her missteps in identifying talented players who could endure her relentless style of coaching. She made a splash several seasons ago when the Gamecocks landed 6-5 Kelsey Bone, the country's No. 2 prospect who became the SEC newcomer of the year in 2010.
But she transferred to Texas A&M after her freshman year.
A season later, top-10 recruit Kayla Brewer lasted only a handful of games before choosing to transfer to Texas.
The work of Staley and her staff picked up considerably since then. The Gamecocks, led by Mitchell the past three seasons, have gone 88-16 with consecutive SEC titles the last two years.
Staley accomplished last year's Final Four run with Wilson and Coates, the second and third leading scorers, coming off the bench.
Imobvioh, a graduate transfer who will play next season, did not come to South Carolina to sit on the bench, Staley said. Her polished style underneath and her positive leadership make her a piece the Gamecocks needed to have to succeed next season, the coach said.
Davis, the daughter of longtime NBA standout Antonio Davis, must sit out next season because of NCAA transfer rules. She will spend next year practicing and get accustomed to Staley's way before becoming the most likely replacement for Mitchell's lost double-digit scoring punch.
''It gives us a great opportunity to maintain the success we've had with bringing in talented players like those two,'' Staley said.