COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - Coach Dawn Staley has built South Carolina to compete for national championships. And some of the very best players in the Atlantic Coast Conference have signed on for the run.
This offseason, the Gamecocks have added the ACC’s top rebounder from last year in Sarah Imovbioh of Virginia and two of its top-10 scorers in Kaela Davis of Georgia Tech and Allisha Gray of North Carolina.
Imovbioh, who averaged 10.8 rebounds last season, came to South Carolina to win it all.
“I want it so bad. That’s one of the biggest goals, of coming down here, to make it to the finals,” Imovbioh said this week. “Just to make it to the NCAA Tournament, just the experience, I want to be part of something special and coach Staley has something special going on here.”
Davis and Gray thought the same thing. Both had heard from Staley during the high-school recruiting process before they chose their first schools. When Davis, second in the ACC at 19.2 points a game a season ago, grew frustrated at Georgia Tech falling short in NCAA tournament play, she remembered Staley’s desire to succeed and how the Gamecocks had fulfilled that with two straight Southeastern Conference championships.
“I’ve always competed at the highest level, always competed to win,” Davis said. “That’s what I wanted and I believe I can get here.”
Davis and Gray said it will be difficult to sit on the bench and only contribute in practice this next season. The two were integral parts of their last teams.
Davis, the daughter of longtime NBA player Antonio Davis, led Georgia Tech in scoring her two seasons there. She was a two-time all-ACC first-team selection, but the Yellow Jackets went 19-15 and missed the NCAA tournament for the second time in three years.
Gray was the last of the ACC trio to join South Carolina. She led North Carolina with 15.2 points a game, good for eighth in ACC scoring. Gray added more than eight rebounds a game.
Gray said North Carolina’s NCAA investigation and possible penalties had her looking at her future. She said she talked with her father, who was her principal at Washington County High in Georgia, about where she could best achieve success on and off the court.
“He thought the best thing for me was to leave and I’m going to follow my dad,” Gray said.
Gray found a new home almost immediately after visiting.
“I didn’t want to leave” after the visit, she said, laughing.
Davis and Gray will both be counted on in 2016-17 to pick up the scoring slack after two-time SEC player of the year Tiffany Mitchell finishes her career.
“I don’t know that anybody can do that,” Gray said. “We will do everything we can to help the team win.”
Imovbioh gets that chance this season. Staley said Imovbioh’s ability is just a fraction of what she’ll add through her an experience and leadership.
“She’s established. She’s played three years in the ACC and done extremely well,” Staley said in June. “I have to attribute that to the success of our program” on getting Imovbioh, Davis and Gray.
Davis said her mother told her to contact Gray when they learned she was leaving the Tar Heels. “Before I could even go text her, it was out that she’s coming” to South Carolina, Davis said. “That’s the coolest thing because she’s a great player.”
Both Davis and Gray will have two seasons remaining with the Gamecocks.
The three one-time foes can’t help laughing about their past bumps and scuffles during ACC games. They are glad to combine to help the Gamecocks.
“It’s great joining them,” Gray said. “We’re going to win some games together. It’s going to be fun.”
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