COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Dawn Staley stood in the middle of South Carolina's women's basketball practice facility, whistle around her neck and big smile on her face.
Staley's exactly where she wants to be this summer, free to make the improved Gamecocks even better.
"Everybody's been great, telling us how successful we've been," Staley said. "Hopefully, we can follow up and have more summers like this one."
Staley's previous offseasons at South Carolina were spent fixing team problems and plotting how to get a sluggish program moving forward. The work paid off last winter as the Gamecocks returned to the NCAA tournament for the first time in nine years and reached the round of 16 before falling to Stanford.
South Carolina finished 25-10 last season, its most victories since 2002. That included a 64-60 victory at Tennessee, the Gamecocks first-ever win at Knoxville that broke a 40-game losing streak to the Lady Vols.
Next Staley wants to lead the Gamecocks where she went three times as a star at Virginia — the Final Four. To accomplish that, Staley knows she must recruit and retain difference makers.
"You have to do it with talent," she said. "You look at our game against Stanford, I think we got out-talented. We didn't get outworked. I didn't think they did anything different than what we've seen except have the will to win."
Staley's had recruiting splashes before at South Carolina, but just couldn't make the lineups stick. She brought in one of the country's top players in 6-foot-5 Kelsey Bone in 2010, who was named the Southeastern Conference's newcomer of the year.
Bone, though, decided one year was enough with the Gamecocks and transferred to Texas A&M.
Staley lured another highly sought-after player a season later in Kayla Brewer and again it didn't last, Brewer leaving the team less than a season into her stay. Brewer eventually enrolled at Texas.
This time, Staley thinks her class of newcomers has a solid foundation to stand upon. The team loses four seniors, including top scorers Markeshia Grant and La'Keisha Sutton, who made it through the transition to Staley's style.
The coach, who'll start her fifth year at South Carolina this fall, doesn't think it will be as difficult to keep things at their improved level.
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