COLUMBIA — Dawn Staley can recruit — and re-recruit — with the best of them.
Five days after rising senior Mikiah Herbert Harrigan placed her name in the NCAA transfer portal, she pulled her name out. The jump-shooting, shot-blocking specialist will be back with the South Carolina women's basketball team next season after all.
“Kiki and I and our family had a really great discussion on how we move forward and how we got to the place where she wanted to transfer,” Staley said Wednesday. “Our program is healthy, contrary to what some people may believe. It’s in a place where we’re thriving. Everybody that continues to be a Gamecock, their dreams will come true."
It’s the second switcheroo Staley has pulled off in the last two years. Bianca Cuevas-Moore — who coincidentally refers to Herbert Harrigan as her sister — was gone after the 2017-18 season. West Virginia formally announced Cuevas-Moore’s transfer.
Yet a month later, Staley announced that she and Cuevas-Moore had a heart-to-heart. Cuevas-Moore returned for her final year last season and played well.
Herbert Harrigan never got to the point of committing somewhere else but she and Staley still met to discuss what could be better between the two. Herbert Harrigan, as temperamental as she is talented, decided that it would be foolish to go sit out somewhere next year under the transfer rule before playing her final season.
“Kiki wanted to revisit how I saw her in our program. When you don’t know, you tend to think the worst. That’s furthest from the truth,” Staley said. “She’s 21 years old. Sometimes 21-year-olds need to hear it in order for them to feel a certain comfort level. That’s on me. I should have done a better job at not allowing that space in which she could think negative thoughts.”
Herbert-Harrigan is expected to be a starter on a team that will also return starting point guard Ty Harris and welcomes the No. 1 recruiting class in the country. Staley also has five open scholarships, in part created by the transfer of reserves LaDazhia Williams, Bianca Jackson and Te’a Cooper, but she can keep playing the transfer portal to add to her roster.
Staley confirmed that she could look in the portal for guard help, preferably a graduate transfer that can immediately play next year. She has never been shy about taking transfers, accepting Nelly Perry from Clemson last season and seeing Allisha Gray and Kaela Davis become vital parts of the 2017 national championship team.
Herbert Harrigan's return clears up the only real mystery of the four players that entered the transfer portal. Jackson (who is headed to Florida State) and Williams were backups last season and wanted to play more. Many expected the mercurial Cooper to leave after this season anyway for a pro career, as she would be finishing her fourth year in college.
Instead, she will graduate from USC in May and transfer to her third school in five years. Asked why she made her decision during Monday’s Gamecock Gala, Cooper replied she didn’t wish to discuss it.
“For the past two weeks or so, there has been a lot of movement in our program. Movement I didn’t welcome, but that’s the way it is. I don’t know the reasons why,” Staley said. “I will tell you that I wish them well. I want them to find their happiness, find their bliss."
Staley learned last week that Herbert Harrigan was planning to leave her program. Over the weekend, Staley met with Herbert Harrigan and her family.
“Through this process, I learned that I have to sit down and give them a voice and let them talk and let them figure out what they want in life,” Staley said. “We put a plan together and worked towards that.”
Herbert Harrigan will be the Gamecocks’ leading returning rebounder and shot-blocker. She averaged 10.4 points per game and has a reputation of playing her best basketball during the postseason.
Lawson to test NBA waters
USC men's freshman A.J. Lawson, undecided two days ago, made up his mind. He will test the NBA Draft process without hiring an agent.
The recent draft rules allow college players to go through NBA workouts without sacrificing their eligibility. It's seen as players doing a disservice to themselves by not participating in it.
Lawson has until May 29 to formally decide but is expected to return to USC next season.