Olivia Thompson is living her childhood dream playing for Dawn Staley and South Carolina. The all-time leading scorer in the history of Lexington High School — a school just 20 miles from the Gamecocks’ Colonial Life Arena — turned down other opportunities so she could play for the Garnet and Black.
“I feel like I would have regretted not coming to my home school. All the other schools I had offers from, that was great, and I was really blessed to be in that position, but being able to represent my home state is something I have always wanted to do,” Thompson said. “And I have grown up a Gamecock fan, so just being able to be here is a dream come true.
“I definitely proved a lot of people wrong by coming here. I’m just going to work as hard as I can.”
Thompson said when meeting with reporters this past week that she has been attending South Carolina football and basketball games since she was in elementary school. Anything she could do to be involved with South Carolina athletics, she did.
At South Carolina she will be familiar with her surroundings and her new head coach, Dawn Staley.
“You see her in games, she’s very intense and nothing really changes for practices, but when you get her one-on-one, she’s very encouraging and she’ll always be a great teacher and mentor,” Thompson said. “She’s an amazing coach.
“She’s been great. She’s been very encouraging. She always tells me to keep my confidence [up] because practices are hard and sometimes you’ll just second guess yourself, but she’s always there to lift you up and make you feel good.”
At nearby Lexington, the 5-8 guard averaged 21.4 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.2 assists as a junior and led the state with 105 three pointers in the 2017-18 season. As a senior she averaged just under 20 points, 2.8 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 2.6 steals per game.
She shot 38 percent from behind the 3-point arc, hitting 85 3s on her way to 557 points.
Despite coming to South Carolina with four of the top incoming freshman in the country, Thompson doesn’t feel pressure.
“I don’t think we really pay attention to the pressure. We just focus on how exciting it is that we’re in this position. We’re like, ‘What if we went to four Final Fours? What if we won the national championship four years [in a row]?’ We have those discussions a lot, but we have to work for it too.
“We’re very focused and very goal driven on this team, and I think that’s really important to our success.”
Thompson hopes to follow in the shoes of A’ja Wilson, a Columbia product who stayed at home to play for South Carolina and left a lasting impact.
“A’ja laid a great foundation for every local player in the state. She’s probably one of the best examples of a leader and just an amazing person to look up to,” Thompson said. “I strive to be like her one day. I know we have totally different personalities, but I want to do whatever I can do to just fill those shoes the best way I can.
“A lot of people look up to her, especially a lot of local people. I just want to follow in her footsteps.”
Despite Thompson not being on scholarship, she will do whatever it takes to help her hometown team win.
“I want to bring my shooting ability,” she said. “I want to be someone who encourages my teammates. Someone who is always lifting people up. I want to do whatever it takes to be the best team we can be. And I want to play my part to do so.”
Even though November is still four months away and the schedule has yet to be released, Thompson has already been thinking about what it will be like to don a South Carolina jersey for the first time.
“I’ve been thinking about that since I committed. I have honestly been thinking about that since I was little,” she said. “One day being able to play for Dawn Staley and the Gamecocks.”