College Sports

How A’ja Wilson impacted South Carolina’s newcomers, No. 1 recruiting class

South Carolina women’s basketball has reloaded with the No. 1 recruiting class coming into the 2019-2020 season.

This year’s team features six newcomers: five freshmen and one transfer. Several factors played a role in influencing the student-athletes to choose South Carolina.

Head coach Dawn Staley is an American basketball Hall of Fame player and coach, having won three Olympic gold medals. Since coming to South Carolina in 2008, she has coached the Gamecocks to two Final Fours and a national title in 2017.

The fan support is also tremendous at South Carolina, as the Gamecocks have led the nation in average home game attendance for the past five seasons.

But one other factor stands out: Former Gamecock greats like A’ja Wilson have left a lasting impact on the program.

Wilson and other former players still visit Columbia often. The incoming players recognize that and see firsthand how much South Carolina means to them.

“We had some camps, and former players came back,” freshman guard Zia Cooke said. “Some schools that you go to, you never see the former players because they don’t want to come back. It shows that coach Staley was definitely taking care of them ... and how they want to help us.”

Some of the newcomers even spoke to Wilson directly.

“She is a good advocate for women’s basketball and speaking up for rights. ... I definitely love that about her,” freshman wing Brea Beal said of Wilson. “I met her a couple of times, and she gave me some words of advice. She told me that freshman year is going to be a tough year and little things about how to get through it.”

Freshman forward Aliyah Boston recognized how South Carolina helped Wilson develop and considered how it could do the same for her.

“Just to see where she came from freshman year to now in the WNBA and all the accolades she got, it just helped me to realize that if I put in the work, I could be as good as A’ja Wilson or even better,” Boston said. “When I watch WNBA games, I’ll see what she does and how I can improve my game.”

In this July 28, 2018, file photo, Team Delle Donne’s A’ja Wilson, left, shoots the ball against the Team Candace Parker’s Chiney Ogwumike, right, during the first half of the WNBA All-Star basketball game in Minneapolis. Stacy Bengs AP

“It’s about time,” Littleton said. “That’s one thing I noticed about the Gamecock family, is that they respect women’s basketball. Just seeing A’ja on that stage, it’s about time to get that respect nationally.”

Freshman forward Laeticia Amihere noticed Wilson’s presence off the court just as much as her performance on the court.

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

Freshman guard and Lexington native Olivia Thompson is similar to Wilson in having attended high school right down the road from Colonial Life Arena.

“It’s really cool that I get to represent my home state and my town,” Thompson said. “Now I’m just focused on doing what I can do for South Carolina. It’s a great opportunity. ... I’ve been here my whole life, and I’ve been a Gamecock fan. It’s been an opportunity that I couldn’t turn down.”

The six newcomers are looking forward to the start of the regular season in November. But for now, they will spend the rest of the offseason practicing, taking classes and building their team chemistry on and off the court.


No. 15: Laeticia Amihere — freshman, forward, 6-foot-3

No. 12: Brea Beal — freshman, guard, 6-feet

No. 4: Aliyah Boston — freshman, forward, 6-foot-4

No. 1: Zia Cooke — freshman, guard, 5-foot-9

No. 11: Destiny Littleton — junior, guard, 5-foot-9

No. 0: Olivia Thompson — freshman, guard, 5-foot-8