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South Carolina championship celebrated with parade, rally


COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley and her national champion Gamecocks celebrated with a jam-packed downtown parade and rally at the statehouse a week after completing their undefeated season.

Staley and her players rode some seven blocks to the cheers of a crowd that Columbia Mayor Daniel Rickenmann called the largest ever in the downtown area of the capital city. And then Staley teased a repeat celebration 12 months from now.

“I hope we can end our [next] season at the same time, in the same place on this beautiful day,” Staley said. “Thank you so much for loving up on us. We truly appreciate it.”

It would be difficult to bet against the Gamecocks, who were an inexperienced, untested group that lost seven seniors from the team that lost to Iowa Hawkeyes and Caitlin Clark in the 2023 Final Four.

Staley recalled to the crowd that, when asked about her young players and the new roles they would have to fill, she said to “expect the unexpected.”

The Gamecocks exceeded almost everyone’s expectations, finishing 38-0 to become the 10th undefeated national champion after beating the Hawkeyes 87-75 on April 7. It was Staley’s third NCAA crown in the past seven tournaments.

University president Michael Amiridis said he loves talking up Staley and her program until the listeners tell him to stop.

“Some people call it a ‘Dawn-asty,’ some call it a ‘dynasty.’ I don’t know the right word,” he said. “But I know we’re building an empire.”

Staley singled out the lone player, as of now, not coming back in 6-foot-7 Final Four most outstanding player Kamilla Cardoso, who passed on a WNBA draft orientation session in New York City to take part in the parade.

“You all have made it a special time for here to take on to the next level,” Staley said.

Cardoso, a key reserve on the 2022 national championship team, and Staley will both be at the Brooklyn Academy of Music on Monday, when Cardoso is expected to be among the top five selections.

Even without Cardoso, South Carolina should be a formidable team next season. Barring any surprise jumps into the transfer portal — NC State star Saniya Rivers left the Gamecocks a few days after celebrating in the 2022 title parade — players such as sophomores Ashlyn Watkins and Chloe Kitts and freshmen MiLaysia Fulwiley and Tessa Johnson should easily slide into larger roles.

The Gamecocks add the game’s No. 2 college prospect in Joyce Edwards of Camden, South Carolina.

Staley is not afraid to bring in necessary players via the portal. One of the top 3-point shooters nationally this season in Te-Hina Paopao transferred in from Oregon last offseason.

Paopao, who will be back next year, used point guard Raven Johnson‘s words to set the bar high for 2025.

“It’s time for the repeat tour,” she said to wild cheers.


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