A’ja Wilson and Tiffany Mitchell ran through Dawn Staley’s South Carolina women’s basketball practice like normal, beating defenders and winning their team’s five-on-five scrimmage.
But this was not 2015.
This was Tuesday, when the Garnet and Black legends joined the current Gamecock squad’s first official practice of the 2019-2020 season.
“It’s always great to have them back in the fold, and hopefully some of our players are picking up some of the skill,” Staley said. “ … They talk. They understand how to play with anybody.
“… It’s always good to have some pros come back to give [our current players] a glimpse of what our players aspire to become.”
While the groundwork was laid toward achieving those aspirations (a national championship, the WNBA for some) during summer workouts, the Gamecocks, as a team, began its on-court quest for SEC and NCAA dominance on Tuesday.
The young team, with senior leaders Ty Harris and Mikiah Herbert-Harrigan and a lauded freshman class, begins its regular season on Nov. 5.
“The anticipation of the first day was there, the execution wasn’t,” Staley said. “But it’s good. I think we’ve got a type of team that needs probably to understand both sides of the basketball.
“I think they realize we have good individual players, but how we get that individual mentality to mesh as a team, we’re a long way from that. We’re going to need a lot more practice to understand our worth and our value to each other.
“It’ll come, because there are glimpses of it.”
Harris, stretch forward Herbert-Harrigan and junior wing LeLe Grissett will form the team’s nucleus while redshirt-sophomore Destiny Littleton, sophomores Victaria Saxton and Destanni Henderson and freshmen Aliyah Boston, Brea Beal, Zia Cooke and Laeticia Amihere will add to the mix.
“There’s a lot of dynamics to our team right now,” Staley said. “You have some older players like Ty and Kiki, they want to be pros and they want to have good senior years so they can raise their stocks and be top draft picks.
“You have someone like Lele Grissett, she wants to break into playing full time and a lot of minutes. You have some of our sophomores who had a glimpse of playing a whole lot of minutes. They want to continue that. And then you’ve got a freshman class that just wants to play right now. They want to showcase their talent.
“So how we get those dynamics to work together, that’s pretty tough. But day by day.”
Harris said it was a “great” feeling to get on the court for the team’s first practice but alluded to the fact it wasn’t too special because the team has already held numerous unofficial workouts.
“I think we’re getting better,” Harris said. “And we’re going to try to get better every day. … I don’t want us to assume that because we have a team full of talent that it’s automatic wins. We know that we can’t go into the season thinking that way.”
Harris and Staley spoke about the team’s lauded freshman class.
“They’re willing to learn and they have open ears,” Harris said. “They like to get coached, so it’s definitely good. … They’re good kids and good athletes and players coming out of high school, so they know what’s expected. We have standards, so they live up to it.”
“They haven’t won a game here yet, so we’ve got to keep that part of it in perspective,” the coach said before several minutes later adding, “They’re going to play. They’re going to play. There’s some returners, but not enough to sustain. They have to play and contribute right away, and I think they will be up for that challenge.”
One of those freshmen, wing Brea Beal, called Tuesday’s practice an “eye-opener.”
“I’m not used to those three-hour practices, coming from high school,” Beal said. “[In high school], it’s more like an hour and a half. It was tiring, but it was exciting.”
But the versatile wing expects she and her class to learn quickly.
“We want to learn. We want to be yelled at,” she said. “It won’t take long.”