Laeticia Amihere media day

Laeticia Amihere

Laeticia Amihere skipped the normal progression most young basketball players take when trying to dunk — from a tennis ball to a volleyball and then eventually to a full-size basketball.

The Ontario native had a basketball hoop in her driveway growing up, so she practiced with a basketball from the beginning, and at 15 became the first Canadian women to dunk in a game.

“I did it a couple of times in high school games, but I really didn’t think it was a big deal until the video [of me dunking] went viral. And then I was like, ‘Oh, maybe I should have done it more.’”

But Amihere, now a 6-3 freshman forward at South Carolina, has dreams beyond just being a dunking sensation and a star player along the Gamecock front line.

“My goal is to go to the 2020 Olympics,” she said. “That has always been my goal and I’m sticking with it. I’m excited to help Canadian basketball rise.”

That starts this coming season with the Gamecocks.

“She’s a person who makes the best of any situation, so we’re excited that she’s decided to join our program,” SC head coach Dawn Staley said in a release when Amihere joined the program.

That was back in January, when Amihere came to South Carolina weeks after tearing her left ACL in a high school game in Canada.

“I still had a whole semester of high school to go,” she said. “So I had to sign up for four online classes and work from morning to night every day to finish that homework and those credits in a week. Once I finished the credits I came straight here and got working.”

Though she has yet to practice full-contact with her teammates, Amihere works three times a day with Molly Binetti, South Carolina’s sports performance coach.

Amihere said her rehab has gone “really well” and she’s progressing.

“I’m working hard every day, getting in the gym,” she said. “I just want to be out there with my team. … I know I’ll be back for the season.”

She then gave an advanced scouting report on what Gamecock fans should expect to see from her when she does play.

“Rebounding. That’s what I’m known for,” said Amihere, who was about 6-1 in sixth grade and 6-2 for most of high school. “Getting up, getting the rebounds and [throwing outlet passes]. That’s really my game and I’m excited to bring that to the team.”

That answer led to a question — one also posed to fellow Gamecock highly-touted forward Aliyah Boston — about her potential to be the next A’ja Wilson.

“I think it’s pretty obvious that there’s only one A’ja Wilson,” Amihere said. “I mean, that’s a pretty high expectation. But I’m just trying to not only be the player she was on the court, but she’s a great role model also. I just want to be that, in just helping my team and showing out with the community and being overall a good person.”

Amihere said it was “obvious” to her when she came on a visit to South Carolina that it was the place for her. “The realness of the staff, they don’t sugarcoat anything,” she said. “That’s what I need. Real toughness to grow my game.”

She also mentioned the team’s potential to reach multiple final fours and her desire to prove why she and her fellow freshmen were ranked the country’s No. 1 recruiting class.

Along the way, she will proudly represent both her heritage and home country.

Amihere’s mom is from Ivory Coast and her dad is from Guinea, both in western Africa, and she attends African festivals and proudly wears a necklace that symbolizes her African roots.

She’s also proud of being from Canada, a place that has skyrocketed in basketball popularity in recent years with the success of Steve Nash, Andrew Wiggins, RJ Barrett, Kia Nurse and South Carolina men’s basketball player A.J. Lawson, among others.

Not to mention the 2019 NBA Champion Toronto Raptors, the team Amihere grew up rooting for and attending games of.

“I ride with the Raptors all the time. [The championship] was amazing,” she said. “I mean, just for Canadian basketball. A lot of people doubted us. Nobody even thought that we had a chance. But I’m glad we pulled through.”

Last season Amihere attended every South Carolina practice and traveled with the team occasionally. Along the way, she soaked up as much information as she could.

“We didn’t get where we wanted, but we were a really tough team,” she said. “We’re not the same team as last year, but we’re going to build on that.”

This time, unlike her dunking progression, one step at a time.