T. Wayne Poole said that his phone has been "blowing up over the last few days" because the Upstate area Gamecocks were thrilled that they were coming to "my house."
That's how excited that Gamecock fans in the Upstate were that Dawn Staley and the South Carolina women's basketball team were visiting, and that was readily apparent as hundreds of fans filled the Southside High School gymnasium in Greenville, South Carolina the evening of Thursday, Oct. 13.
"This has been amazing," Poole, the Vice President of the Greenville Gamecock Club, said. "I haven't seen anything like this in the Greenville area. Everybody has been so excited."
Staley and the Gamecocks were just as excited to be there with the fans as they were to have them there, particularly since Greenville will play host to the 2017 SEC Women's Basketball Tournament at the Bon Secours Wellness Arena March 1-5, 2017.
"We like to touch our fans all around the surrounding areas of where we play," Staley said. "Greenville is a place in which I haven't been here a whole lot and wanted to come. Obviously, the SEC Women's Basketball Tournament is here. What a great way into coming down and sharing this moment, this visit in Greenville with our players and getting them acclimated to the surrounding area. We went over to the arena today and saw where we would defend our SEC Women's Basketball Tournament championship. We've got a new team. They need to experience some of the things and get them in front of the crowd and get them an understanding that there is a responsibility to our fans because they have been very supportive to our program and they're part of the fabric of our program."
Obviously the Gamecocks return a wealth of talent this season, but at the same time they also have a bevy of newcomers to incorporate into their system, and bringing them out in front of fans is critical.
"I think it's important because the state of our program is a lot different from where they've come from, whether that is high school, whether that's Georgia Tech, whether that's UNC, whether that's Kentucky with Alexis Jennings, so they have to get a taste of what we're about, what our responsibilities are," Staley said. "And they're a little bit different. Some of them are better, some of them are worse. It's ours, so they've got to understand that and these program retreats are important for us to gain some more team chemistry to get to know each other outside of basketball to make basketball a more special place when we're on the court."
One of the hundreds in attendance on the evening was the President of VisitGreenvilleSC in Chris Stone, who was incredibly pleased with the turnout and everyone in attendance getting an early reminder that the SEC Women's Basketball Tournament will be played in that area.
"We're really excited about the SEC Championship in the spring, so that's just around the corner and it's great for them to come to town to remind people here that they're going to be playing here in a few short months," Stone said.
In addition to the unique opportunity for fans in the area to catch South Carolina women's basketball in action on the evening, the Gamecocks also held special team-building activities in Greenville.
"It was great just to be around the people of Greenville and talk to them and take pictures," Staley said of the unique day.
Of course, Staley expected nothing less from the fans who provide her program inarguably with the best fan base in all of women's college basketball.
"It's awesome," Staley said. "To have people in the stands waiting for us to get here (is special). And it's women's basketball. The state of South Carolina and the support that they've given women's basketball is like no other. Other arenas they can't fill up their arenas like we can fill up our arena up. No matter where we go, we always feel the love of everybody, whether they are sports fans or not. They really enjoy being around our team."
**Story and photo by Brian Hand**