COLUMBIA — She was first. Let’s not forget that.
Dawn Staley’s latest recruiting class is ranked No. 1 in the country and has already drawn comparisons to some of the best classes of all time. Although none of the five players have scored a basket in college yet, South Carolina’s outlook the next four years is rosier than a toddler’s cheeks.
Forward Aliyah Boston and guard Zia Cooke were rated the top players at their positions and checked in at No. 3 and No. 4, respectively, in ESPNW’s overall prospect rankings. Forward Laeticia Amihere and guard Brea Beal were rated 10th and 11th.
Don’t overlook the fifth newcomer. It would be easy to do because of the star power of the other four, and because she will start her USC career as a walk-on.
But she wouldn’t be here if Staley and her staff didn’t want her. And they definitely wanted Olivia Thompson.
“She has that motherly personality, she wants to reach out to her teammates, the little things that all point guards do,” assistant coach Jolette Law said. “She’s going to bring a lot to us and we’re fortunate to have her. We saw her and I knew she could definitely help us.”
Thompson, Lexington High’s career-leading scorer who was lethal from the 3-point line in high school, turned down full scholarship offers from small colleges and will pay her own way at USC. Staley has already said that Thompson could find herself on scholarship someday — the Gamecocks currently have four open — and Thompson checks in paying no attention to the “walk-on” tag that seemingly always precedes her name.
“The title ‘walk-on’ doesn’t mean anything to me,” Thompson said. “The people who doubt and are going to hate, you just got to prove yourself and work hard.”
Thompson was the first member of the recruiting class, mulling over several other offers until she was told Staley called.
“It was a no-brainer,” she said. “That’s my dream school, and nothing would change that.”
She watched from nearby Lexington as Staley arrived and built the Gamecocks into a national power. Thompson also saw that the wave of talent that spawned that surge was mostly from South Carolina.
No, she doesn’t have the rankings of the other four. But Thompson will play. The Gamecocks have a roster of 12 for next season, but one is Destiny Littleton, a transfer from Texas who is applying to the NCAA for immediate eligibility.
If that waiver is denied, USC is down to 11, and Staley has never been shy about using every player on her bench.
“Olivia is a phenomenal shooter. She’s a point guard that can set people up, and you got to play her,” Law said. “What I love about her is she’s, ‘Hey coach, I just want to get better. I want to do all the little things to help this team continue to win championships.’”
She’s a 3-point artist. She’s a foreseeing point guard, able to view the passes and cuts she’ll make before they happen. Like the others, she’s already on campus, but being so close, she got a crash course in the intense workouts before the others did.
“I’m warming up to it really good. The players and coaches are amazing and they’re helping me a lot with transitioning from high school to college to games and workouts and all that,” Thompson said. “Way harder than I’m used to, but as I keep doing them, they’re starting to get easier.”
She’s a vital part of the program going forward, and will always be much more than a walk-on.