A pair of South Carolina women’s basketball players are preparing to represent the United States in international competition this summer, and they’re using individual workout time with their Gamecock coaches to prepare for that as well as their next season for the Garnet and Black.
“We’ve spent a lot of time going over what we’re going to do this year,” said rising redshirt sophomore Raven Johnson, who will play for the U.S. at the 2023 FIBA Women’s Americup in Leon, Mexico, July 1-9. “We’ve been getting a lot of reps. We’re getting that individual attention that we need. We’re definitely going to develop from it. I’m just doing my work day-by-day, and I’m trying to be consistent. Every day I want to get better.”
“Right now, it’s just Raven and me getting every rep,” said rising sophomore Chloe Kitts, who will play with the USA Women’s U19 National Team in the FIBA U19 Women’s World Cup in Madrid, Spain, July 15-23. “It’s great to get all that one-on-one especially because I wasn’t here last summer to do that. This is something I definitely needed. It’s been very hard, but it has been great. I’m really happy with it.”
Johnson was a big contributor for a Gamecock team that finished last season with a program-record 36 wins and reached the NCAA Final Four after sweeping the SEC regular-season and tournament championships. She earned SEC All-Freshman Team honors and ranked ninth in the SEC with 3.4 assists per game, upping her production to 4.1 assists per game over the eight games in the SEC and NCAA Tournaments. She hopes these workouts and her experience abroad will grow her game.
“I’m looking to improve my footwork and shooting,” Johnson said. “There’s a lot of off the court stuff I’m working on with (sports performance coach) Molly (Binetti), such as improving my core strength and leg strength because that helps with shooting. I’m working on being more vocal, too. We don’t have all those seniors that we had last year, so I need to be more of a leader. This experience is going to help me because I’m a point guard, and I have to be able to communicate. All those women on Team USA, they can play, but I still have to be a leader.”
“We’re there for one mission: to win the gold medal.”
Kitts joined the Gamecocks in December of last year after finishing high school early. She played in 18 games and averaged 1.6 points and 1.6 rebounds per game. She’s hoping the hard work and preparation for the experience with Team USA will carry over to her first full season with the Gamecocks as well.
“This is helping me a lot in terms of being more comfortable and confident,” Kitts said. “It also allows me to get more comfortable in playing with Raven. This definitely helps me in getting any nervousness out that I had in my first couple of months. I need to communicate more. I feel like I can help lead. I do feel like I’ve caught my breath. Being in the gym every day has helped.”
For both of the Gamecocks, the opportunity to wear the red, white, and blue is a dream come true, and it fuels future Olympic team aspirations.
“I’m excited to play for our country, and I’ve been there before, so I’m excited to be back,” said Kitts, who played on the 2022 FIBA U17 Women’s World Cup gold medal team. “I just need to keep working hard. I’d love to play in the Olympics someday.”
“It means a lot to be able to wear those three letters across my chest and represent the USA,” said Johnson. “It’s a big deal to me. This is a once in a lifetime experience, so I’m just looking forward to playing and having fun. I’ve talked to Coach (Dawn) Staley about her experience playing and coaching in the Olympics. She carried the torch! I definitely want to play in the Olympics one day.”
As the duo prepares for their respective journeys, there is little apprehension about playing on a world stage.
“I’ve played with a lot of these girls before,” Kitts said. “I’m looking forward to traveling over there. We all have good relationships, so I look forward to playing with them again.”
“I’m definitely not nervous,” Johnson said. “I’m more excited than nervous! I’ve heard that the international game is faster, and I’m sure they’re going to be physical and aggressive. We’re there for one mission: to win the gold medal.”