Staley excited to begin 2nd season at USC

Dawn Staley and the South Carolina women's basketball team held a press luncheon on Tuesday afternoon to discuss the upcoming season, which kicks off on November 16th with a trip to Charlotte to face the 49ers. Staley, coming off a tough first season, is ready to get this season underway.

"We're really excited," Staley said. "When you end the way we did, you just want to get back in the gym and work on some things. I thought our team played hard. I learned that you have to have players. No matter how hard your team plays or how much work you put into it, you need talent to get you over the hump. We've added some depth and talent to our basketball team that hopefully will produce some excitement and some wins.

"This is a team - I'm not going to say the most talented team - but I think it can score more points than any team I've ever coached. We have the potential to score a lot of points."

One of those players that will be expected to play a big role is La'Keisha Sutton, who is the only returning player to average double-digit scoring last year. According to Staley, the soft-spoken guard will lead the team on the court. "She's real quiet. She's going to lead by example. She's going to defend. She's going to lead by example."

Sutton agrees: "I'm really shy so I will probably look to someone else to lead. On the court, I'm going to try and be vocal and lead. Last year I didn't know what was coming. This year I'm going to be ready for it. There's a lot of things I did last year that I think I can do better this year. To be the best you have to beat the best, so hopefully we can do that this year. My goal is to give it 100%. I want every loose ball. I just want to be a good player for Coach Staley to coach, and for people to come watch."

The player gaining the most recognition is incoming freshman Kelsey Bone, the #2 rated recruit in the country. "Her adjustment is very freshman-like," says Staley. "She has good days, she has bad days and she has ugly days. That's to be expected throughout her entire first year. Just because she brings in a lot of accolades as a high school player, this isn't high school anymore. She's going to be one of the marquee players that (opponents) devise game plans to stop, and if she's not ready for that then we might take a big hit. We have to prepare to play without her at some point because she is a freshman. But we're going to try and keep her out there."

If you think Bone is feeling the pressure of having to lead a program, think again. "There are a lot of people on the outside looking in as if everything is on my shoulders," says Bone, "but it's not really. I have a lot of help on the floor and that's a big relief because I am only a freshman. I haven't encountered anything like the SEC before. Just learning from the coaches who have been in the SEC, and Coach Staley playing in the Final Four at Virginia has helped a lot; knowing that there are those expectations, but I still have room for trial and error."

One thing that is well known around the women's basketball world is that if you're a player in Texas and the Texas schools want you, you don't leave the state. Bone was the exception to that rule by choosing South Carolina over perennial powers Texas and Baylor. "I had a really good talk with Eric Hyman on my visit, and he's worked in Texas and he understood what I would have to embark upon to come here. You don't really leave Texas if they want you to stay, so I was really intrigued in the vision he has for athletics here at USC. I've been talking to Coach Staley for years, and just understanding that she has that kind of backing, and knowing her mentality and the direction she wants to go, it just felt like a good fit for me."

The one question in the back of everyone's mind is, how close is the South Carolina program to competing for an SEC Championship? According Staley, "Our returning players look great. They've gotten better. They're leading. They're setting an example for the level our young players have to play at. Our talent just has to grow up. Once they grow up, I think we'll be in a position to keep competing for an SEC Championship."

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