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Women's Basketball  . 

Meet the Newbies of South Carolina Women's Basketball

by Brad Muller

Some of the names may be different, but the expectations are still the same for South Carolina women’s basketball. Seven Gamecocks graduated in 2023, with most of that group leading the program to three straight NCAA Final Fours, the 2022 National Championship, and No. 1 final ranking during the COVID-shortened 2019-2020 season. The five newcomers for head coach Dawn Staley this year consist of three recent high school All-Americans and a pair of transfers who are looking to keep up the winning tradition while also making a name for themselves.

“[The 2019 signing class was] really, really good, and I have faith in us that we’re going to keep up with the expectations,” said MiLaysia Fulwiley, a freshman guard from Columbia. “They all came in that the same time and stayed all together. They went through the COVID year and all of that. We just need to take whatever God gives us and go through everything. Everyone called them ‘the freshies,’ so we have to come up with a name. That really motivates us to want to stick around each other.”

“I came in to lead this young team,” said Te-Hina Paopao, a senior guard who transferred from Oregon where she was a three-time All-PAC 12 selection. “We want to win a national championship, but first we have to have cohesiveness and team chemistry together. That’s what we’re working on this summer, and it’s going really well. They have a ‘be great’ mentality and just want to get better.”

“I know what comes with being at South Carolina and the expectations,” said senior forward Sakima Walker, who was the National Junior College Player of the Year at Northwest Florida State last year after playing her first two seasons at Rutgers. “I know I have big shoes to fill. Everybody communicates well with each other here. It’s a really nice environment.”

“Why would I go somewhere else when I’m right here with the best school, the best coaches, the best players, and everything that can help me get to the next level?”
MiLaysia Fulwiley  . 

Whether they’re a freshman or veteran, each of the newcomers is acclimating to her new environment, discovering the strengths she brings to the team and where she can get better.

“My strengths are definitely rebounding and getting my teammates the ball,” said Sahnya Jah, a freshman from Monteverde, Florida. “I can definitely get better with ball-handling. Everyone is pushing me and encouraging me. I know I won’t give up because of the support they give me.”

“I like to play fast,” said Tessa Johnson, a freshman guard from Albertville, Minnesota, who knows all about overcoming challenges after breaking her left femur as a sophomore in high school. “When I was on point in high school, I liked to push the ball. I also like to play smart; knowing plays before it happens and being able to read the defense right away. I can slow the game down if needed, but if I’m playing off the ball, I just go. I can get better with physical toughness, and mentally to be honest. I can get better making reads and defensively I can get a lot better.”

“My pace. My go-factor,” said Fulwiley of her strengths. “My determination to score the ball, to pass the ball, and to get the ball in the basket any way possible. If I can just be patient and learn how to take critiques and learn how to take a whole lot of criticism, I feel like I’ll be good.”

“I’d say I’m very versatile,” said Walker. “I can shoot, step out and hit the mid-range or three, rebound, post up – a little bit of everything. JUCO was a good experience for me. At first, I looked at it like I was going backwards, but it really helped me get back to where I wanted to be. It allowed me to be in a leadership role. I think I can carry that over.”

“I’m a pass-first guard,” said Paopao, who should also give the Gamecocks a big lift with her perimeter shooting after hitting 81 three pointers at a 42-percent clip last year. “I feel like I do have the green light (to shoot). I definitely have to earn that right in practice and in the gym. I can create for others. I can create for myself. I’m just learning all of our players’ tendencies.”

As they continue their summer workouts, the newest Gamecocks have a lot to look forward to in their first year wearing the garnet and black.

“Why would I go somewhere else when I’m right here with the best school, the best coaches, the best players, and everything that can help me get to the next level, which is the main goal,” Fulwiley said. “I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else but here.”

“I just want to be a great teammate,” said Jah. “It feels like home here. It’s been amazing.”

“I’m looking forward to the competition, seeing my game develop, and seeing my team develop,” Johnson said. “I was watching their (2022) Final Four games (in Minneapolis), and I told my aunt, ‘I love their style of play.’ I love how Coach Staley coaches. They were fast. They knew what they were doing.”

“I’m looking forward to being able to play with so much talent,” Paopao said. “And just being able to have South Carolina across my chest.”


(Pictured below L-R: MiLaysia Fulwiley, Sahnya Jah, Tessa Johnson, Te-Hina Paopao, Sakima Walker)