Dawn Staley stood on the sidelines inside Carolina Coliseum watching her players run through scrimmages and drills.
However, these weren’t South Carolina players. These were members of Team USA putting in the work during their first day of training camp.
“It wasn’t a bad day,” said USA Women’s Basketball head coach Dawn Staley. “I thought they came out and played like pros. I think they get a little overzealous in trying to make an impact out there. We’ve got to get our spacing right from an offensive standpoint. I like the effort defensively. They’re a very competitive group and I think we’re off to a great start of our training camp.”
The competition was intense among the 22 players, but that’s exactly what each of them expected as they begin preparing for the 2018 FIBA World Cup.
“It’s always like a reunion at first,” said Elena Delle Donne. “Then, we’re always so pumped to get out there. It’s a little crazy but, finally when we can take a deep breath and get into the rhythm and get used to playing with each other, it always gets prettier. I expect tomorrow and the next day to be even better.”
“You get the best players out there and they’re all very competitive,” said Sue Bird. “We all want to win, whether it’s a shooting drill, a scrimmage, it doesn’t matter. We all want to win and that’s probably why we’ve had the success we’ve had in terms of the gold medals and the winning and this is where it starts.”
Bird was joined by a cast of women’s basketball greats including Delle Donne, Diana Taurasi, Tina Charles, Morgan Tuck, and others. For Staley, having a cast of experienced veterans on the floor has been extremely beneficial.
“It’s one end of the spectrum to the other,” Staley said when asked to compare coaching the pros to the Gamecocks. “These are pros. These are veterans. These are players who get paid to do what they do so they don’t take time off. They get in the gym. They work. They work their craft. They understand what needs to get done and they don’t take plays off. I think their world is basketball and you can tell by their play out here. With our team, you can tell they get distracted by other stuff. Obviously, school is a big part of it, but they also want to enjoy college and they’re not all in like the pros out here.”
While 16 of the players already have spots on the 2018-20 USA Basketball Women’s National Team, six players are hoping to earn a spot in the national team pool. Among them are former Gamecocks Tiffany Mitchell and Allisha Gray, who felt right at home practicing where they once did not so long ago.
“I love it,” said Mitchell. “Everything is so familiar to me. I know the trainers. I know where everything is at so it’s a second home for me. So, I feel really comfortable here.”
“It’s good,” Gray said. “I’m back. I’m finishing school. It’s great to be here and experience this. I’m just honored to be out here.”
The team will practice on Saturday and Sunday at Carolina Coliseum. They’ll look to qualify for the Olympics in the 2018 FIBA Women’s World Cup. That tournament will be held in Tenerife, Spain, and will being on Sept. 22.
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