Women's Hoops Preview - Part II
"Demetress has set herself apart from probably the entire team," Staley said. "She sees her career coming to an end, and she has aspirations of playing professionally. Her stats from the last three years show that she is a player who has done some great things in this program, and I don't see it being any different this year."
A second-team All-SEC selection last season, Adams also earned a spot on the league's All-Defensive Team. The 6-foot-4 forward led the Gamecocks and ranked fourth in the SEC with 8.9 rebounds per game and was second on the team (19th in the league) at 10.9 points per game. Capable of putting the team on her back, she was the Gamecocks' leading scorer seven times and leading rebounder in 22 games. She reached double figures in points 21 times and recorded eight double-doubles. Among those double-doubles was her school-record 26-rebound performance against Arkansas.
Defensively, Adams blocked 55 shots last season, the third-highest season total in school history. Her 2.03 steals per game were 10th-best in the SEC as well.
"Demetress is very athletic and has a lot of speed," Staley said. "She is a versatile player, and we'll use her in a lot of different ways on both sides of the ball. She's developing her ability to score with her back to the basket as well as facing up or driving from the high post area. We're going to capitalize on her versatility because there aren't many post players that are as mobile as she is."
Senior C.J. Pace was showing signs of making waves for the Gamecocks last season before missing the second semester for academic reasons. Her 5-foot-11 build puts her somewhere between a perimeter and post player, so she is capable of giving the opposition difficulty matching up. In her first season at South Carolina, Pace played in 16 games with highs of nine rebounds against Alabama A&M and 15 points in just 15 minutes against UNC Asheville.
"C.J. has a pretty good basketball IQ," Staley said. "She can give a post player fits if we play her at the four spot. At this stage, she has a shot at playing on the perimeter as well."
The only other returning post player is sophomore Jewel May, who saw action in 28 games last season. At 6-foot-1, the lithe forward posted 3.5 points and 2.3 rebounds per game last season but showed that she was capable of more. Against Florida, May snagged a season-best six boards, and she twice reached double-figure points, scoring 14 against Savannah State and 10 against Kentucky. Staley likes May's natural athleticism on defense and sees her player's willingness to work on her offensive game.
"On players at any position, Jewel has the athleticism, the quickness to keep people in front of her and make them take difficult shots," Staley said. "She is the player I believe can be our defensive stopper. She is still refining her offensive game to get it where we want it to be, but she is still going to be able to score for us. It will just be in a less traditional way with offensive rebounds and put-backs."
A pair of freshmen will have to join the fray in the lane right out of the gate. Sada Wheeler is the only center listed on the roster and is the lone player of the group that is at home playing with her back to the basket. A 1,000-point scorer at East Hall High in Gainesville, Ga., Wheeler guided her team to the Class AAA State Championship as a junior and earned AAA Area Player of the Year honors from the Gainesville Times in the process.
"Sada is very skillful for her size," Staley said. "She has a pretty high basketball IQ and great hands. Her challenge will be strength and experience as a freshman in the paint, but she has a chance to immediately help our basketball team."
Charenee Stephens rounds out the group after an all-state caliber career at Georgia's Southwest DeKalb High. The 6-foot-1 forward was tabbed the 33rd-best player in the class of 2008 by Hoopgurlz.com and the fifth-best forward in the country by Scout.com. She is a raw talent, but one Staley sees developing into an impact player for the Gamecocks.
"Charenee is another freshman making the transition, but she has a very good basketball IQ," Staley said. "She's somewhat undersized for her position, but what she lacks in height she more than makes up for in strength and intellect."
"The schedule is one that is a challenge but one we can use to measure ourselves," Staley said. "Most people might shy away from a schedule like this. But, for me, I want our players to see that there's another level of basketball being played outside of us. We either compete or get our heads banged in. It's that simple, and I think we'll do the former rather than the latter."
Following a trip to Penn State to open the season, South Carolina opens its 15-game home slate against archrival Clemson. After suffering their third-straight lop-sided defeat at the hands of the Gamecocks, the Tigers will be eyeing a team in transition.
Whatever bonds the Gamecocks did not achieve in the preseason will have ample opportunity to form when the team travels to the Cancun Thanksgiving Classic. South Carolina will face a foe familiar to Staley as the Gamecocks take on Fordham of the Atlantic 10 Conference in the tournament opener. They will play either UNC Wilmington or Ohio University on the second day of the event.
After a trip to Wake Forest, South Carolina opens a six-game homestand with High Point and USC-Upsate before the first of the Final Four teams arrives in the form of Stanford on Dec. 19. Staley will battle her former USA Basketball coach, Tara VanDerveer, who returns four starters from last year's national runner-up team.
The Gamecocks take on nearby Charlotte on Dec. 21 before welcoming Connecticut to Colonial Life Arena on Dec. 28. The series of home games ends with the calendar year as South Carolina hosts Jacksonville on Dec. 30.
The New Year begins right where the Gamecocks' 2007-08 season ended with a Jan. 4 game at NC State, which is the team's final non-conference game of the season.
The SEC slate contains the usual suspects with the Gamecocks playing home-and-home contests against Florida, Kentucky and Mississippi. Other visitors to Colonial Life Arena include Auburn, Vanderbilt, national semifinalist LSU and Alabama.
South Carolina will head to North Little Rock, Ark., for the SEC Tournament. The event at ALLTEL Arena tips off on March 5 and runs through March 8.
Fans and opposing teams alike can rest assured that the Gamecocks will battle passionately every minute on the court. They can expect a team that is disciplined and well-heeled in the fundamentals, particularly on defense. And they will be able to see progress from game to game. With credentials and results like Staley's, anything less would be unacceptable first and foremost to the coach.