Legacy. Tradition. A who’s who of American sport. As the Gatorade Player of the Year program celebrates its 30th anniversary year of honoring the nation’s best high school athletes, fans can count many a household name on the roster of former award-winners. Over the past three decades, prep sports’ most esteemed honor boasts Super Bowl, World Series, NBA, WNBA, MLS Cup, NCAA and Olympic champions among more than 13,000 State Players of the Year and 270 National POYs across 12 sports. Let’s not forget the scores of program alumni who have gone on to capture league-MVP, All-Star and All-American recognition. Today, we’re catching up with the No. 1 ranked South Carolina women’s basketball team.
The South Carolina women’s basketball team enjoyed its first week in program history as the No. 1 ranked team in the country by winning the Junkanoo Jam in the Bahamas.
A’ja Wilson, the 2013-14 Gatorade South Carolina Girls Basketball Player of the Year, won MVP honors at the tournament after notching a double-double (15 points, 10 rebounds) in a 67-63 win over No. 22 Syracuse in the championship game. Wilson is one of five former Gatorade winners on the roster for the Gamecocks (5-0), who are coached by a three-time Olympic gold medalist who also won Gatorade honors as a high school senior.
Wilson is second on the team in scoring, averaging 12.6 points per game to go along with 7.0 rebounds, 1.8 steals and 1.2 blocks. Leading the team is Tiffany Mitchell (2012, North Carolina), the 2013 Southeastern Conference Player of the Year, who is knocking down 54.2 percent of her 3-pointers this season (13-of-24) en route to averaging 16.2 points, 3.6 assists and 3.0 rebounds per game.
Mitchell played her high school ball at Providence Day School in Charlotte, as did Jatarie White, who won Gatorade honors for North Carolina in 2013 and 2014. White has come off the bench to average 5.4 points and 3.2 rebounds per game.
Alaina Coates (2013, South Carolina) is the reigning SEC Freshman of the Year, and she has picked up where she left off, averaging 9.4 points and a team-high 7.6 rebounds per game. Asia Dozier (2012, South Carolina) has provided a boost off the bench as a backup point guard, averaging 2.8 assists per game.
The best point guard for South Carolina may be its coach. Dawn Staley (1988, Pennsylvania) won Olympic gold in 1996, 2000 and 2004 and was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2013. The 1988 USA TODAY National High School Player of the Year, Staley led the University of Virginia to three Final Fours and was twice named the National Player of the Year in college before going onto a successful pro career in the ABL and WNBA.
Staley arrived in Columbia, S.C., in 2008 after spending eight years at Temple in her hometown of Philadelphia. She quickly transformed the Gamecocks from SEC fodder to one of the top teams in the country. Staley was named the 2014 National Coach of the Year by the Basketball Times after leading South Carolina to a No. 1 seed in the 2014 NCAA Tournament and its second Sweet 16 berth in three years. The Gamecocks entered this season ranked No. 2 in the preseason and climbed to the top spot when No. 1 UConn lost to Stanford.
Now it’s up to Mitchell, Wilson and the rest of the players to see how long South Carolina can stay there.