COLUMBIA - She grew up 10 minutes from Colonial Life Arena. Her family spent weekends cheering for South Carolina's football and basketball teams. A special treat was a quick trip to campus with her father, where she could watch games from the stands.
Naturally, Kaydra Duckett became a Gamecocks fan. It didn't take much convincing.
"When you live in Columbia, you have nothing else to look forward to but the Carolina girls basketball game," Duckett said.
It was only fitting Duckett chose to join her favorite team.
When some players are just getting into the thick of their recruiting process, her mind was made. The 5-10 guard from Dreher High would play at South Carolina. Duckett committed to the Gamecocks as a high school junior, the first in what became a historical class for the program.
Four of the five members of South Carolina's incoming freshman class are five-star prospects. Duckett is one of two newcomers from Columbia, along with national No. 1 recruit A'ja Wilson. Duckett is a two-time all-state selection and led Dreher to a state championship as a sophomore, earning tournament MVP honors while averaging 17.5 points per game.
Wilson gets all the national attention, but USC coach Dawn Staley never diminished Duckett's importance to the incoming freshman class.
"We watched Kayrda grow up over the past five years," Staley said when Duckett signed in the fall. "She's someone that we had our eye on for a very long time. We're so happy that she's joined our family. She's a big, athletic guard who is strong. She's probably strength-wise more college ready than anyone by her ability to create her own shot. She's got deep three range, and she's got a competitive spirit like no other."
Duckett set her fandom aside during her recruiting process, or at least tried to. She approached each school with an open mind. She appreciated different things about the universities she visited.
Ultimately, she couldn't see her path leaving home.
"I did enjoy the other schools, and I did like them," Duckett said. "But this was just all I knew. I went with what I was most comfortable with, because this is all I knew."
For many people, college is a time to start a new life. Duckett didn't have to. She sees her parents often. She kept the same friends.
Duckett said the introduction to college basketball has been a challenge. The game is faster, more physical. Her competition is more talented than the players she hung with in high school.
It's the same learning curve every freshman must master. For Duckett, the proximity to home - and the familiarity that comes with it - should offer an assist.
"It has helped because if I have to go off campus and just see my mom and dad, just talk to them about some things, I don't have to call them and say, 'Hey, can you fly two or three hours and come get me?'" Duckett said. "I can just easily ride back home and say, 'Hey, this is what's going on.' They keep me encouraged, and they call and text me every day and tell me to keep a positive attitude, make sure that you just be a sponge to whatever you're learning."
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