ALBANY, N.Y. — Think of South Carolina women's basketball and A’ja Wilson comes to mind. She has been the face of the Gamecocks the past four years.
Wilson's gone now, most likely headed to Las Vegas as the No. 1 pick in the WNBA Draft. But the program rolls on and will need a new representative out front, someone to answer when the team needs a boost, someone that can lead.
Ty Harris, the time is now.
“I wouldn’t say it’s my team,” Harris dismissed, “but I’m going to have to do a lot more next year and be the leader that A’ja taught me how to be.”
Nothing against rising senior Doniyah Cliney and perhaps Alexis Jennings, who is considering turning pro, but Harris is the natural choice to play that role. Not just as a two-year starter returning at point guard, which has its own area of Dawn Staley’s focus, but as the spine and beating heart of this team.
It’s Harris who has to face the media and speak for the team, Harris who has to get her arms around the overwhelmed freshmen and say she was once there, too. It’s Harris who has to be first in line for everything, to be the La’Keisha Sutton, Tiffany Mitchell, Aleighsa Welch and Wilson that came before her.
“We need somebody that’s going to do it every day. Do I think Ty is capable? Yes. But she’s got to put it in action because she’s no longer young anymore,” Staley said. “The voice that we lost, the production that we lost … being the leader doesn’t mean you have to be productive, statistics-wise, but you got to be a coach in the dorms, got to be a coach in the weight room, got to be a coach out there on the court. She’s got to continue to work well in those areas and if she does, it very well could be her team.”
Nobody’s looking for Harris to take up space in the paint and be a 6-foot-5 dynamo. Nobody’s looking for her to be a one-woman gang at point guard, scoring 25 and ignoring her teammates.
She just needs to do what she already does as point guard, since all of the Gamecocks’ systems flow from her. Wilson was nothing if she couldn’t get the ball in her hands, and that responsibility fell to Harris most of the time.
Next year’s Gamecocks will be looking toward Harris during games, so there’s no reason why they shouldn’t look toward her when they’re not on the court.
“Talking to them constantly, motivating them during the offseason,” Harris described as her chores before next season. “It’s complicated, but (Wilson) does a good job of hiding it and not showing how she feels. Whenever she’s with us, she always has a smile on her face. If she minds it, she doesn’t make it known.”
Of course the team will look different without Wilson, but Staley will go back to the style she coached when she first arrived, playing to USC’s strengths.
The Gamecocks were 29-5 a year before Wilson arrived and they had always tried to run offense through the forwards, although it was more a style of getting the ball in the paint first and then having it come back out. Jennings, Mikiah Herbert Harrigan and Lele Grissett can fill the roles that Ashley Bruner and Charenee Stephens did in those early years, while Harris, Te’a Cooper, Bianca Jackson and Cliney handle the backcourt.
USC will be tremendously talented at the guard spots and Harris will be the first woman up to make them that way. That role opened the moment Monday’s game ended.
It’s up to her to accept it.