COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Dawn Staley has plenty of things she'll have to teach South Carolina's young team. Giving top effort on each possession won't be one of them, though.
The Gamecocks fifth-year coach says her players have gone hard since practice began last month and that's allowed Staley and her assistants to put in her system faster than in other seasons.
"We're probably further along than we've been even with the experienced team we had last year," Staley said Friday. "I don't know if we're great at all of (the plays), but we're pretty good."
But that doesn't mean everything has gone smoothly, Staley cautioned.
The Gamecocks lost last year's top two scorers in Markeshia Grant and La'Keisha Sutton who accounted for more than a third of the team's points in their breakthrough 25-10 season. Staley's got five newcomers on the team, four of them freshmen.
While the pace of practice has been strong, the execution hasn't been perfect. Staley thinks that can come in time.
"They're a good, coachable team. They listen. They want to learn. They want to get better," she said. "It's a fun team to coach."
Staley and the Gamecocks had a lot of fun last season, reaching milestones the program hadn't ever, in some cases, accomplished before.
The 25 victories were the most in 10 years. They reached the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2003 and made it to the round of 16 before losing to Florida.
One of the biggest landmark was a 64-60 win at Tennessee, the Gamecocks first-ever victory in Knoxville that ended a 40-game losing streak to the Lady Vols.
Staley likes what she's seen so far with the season-opener a week away. Still, that doesn't mean she's ready to predict runaway success for the Gamecocks.
"Every year, it takes on a life of its own," Staley said. "We've got a lot of young kids and we don't want to make them feel like we live and die by their performance. Our experienced players have to play."
It's taken a while for Staley to build that experience.