July 26, 2021
Inside the Fab Four Plus One newcomer class at South Carolina
"You can't ever have too much talent"
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One scored in double figures every year of her high school career. One led her high school team to its third straight state championship and was the only player to start in all three finals. Two are former Gatorade Players of the Year — one twice — and one is a top transfer who was the 2021 ACC Freshman of the Year and co-Defender of the Year.
Together they form the new “Fab Five” — really “Fab Four Plus One” — the No. 1 recruiting class, plus one, for the University of South Carolina Gamecocks.
It’s a fully loaded 2021-22 Gamecocks roster that in addition to it’s top recruits and transfer, returns all 11 players from the 2021 NCAA Final Four team. With all that talent on one team, one would wonder how it will play out, but Saniya Rivers isn’t worried.
“We do have a lot of talent, we just have to learn how to gel and put it together,” said the 6’ guard, the two-time North Carolina Gatorade Player of the Year (2019, 2020). Rivers is ranked No. 3 overall in the Class of 2021 and the No. 2 guard in the group.
We didn’t lose any players last year so, as freshman, and with Kamilla (Cordoso, a transfer), we have to come in and play hard. You can’t have too much talent,” Rivers said. There will be competition for playing time, she admitted, “but at the same time, we’re all going for that end goal. Everyone has the same goals and that makes it a lot easier . You know we will get the wins because everyone is going for it.”
Rivers was joined by teammates and fellow recruits Bree Hall and Raven Johnson on a media zoom Friday afternoon. Not on the Gamecocks’ newcomers call due to scheduling conflicts were Sania Feagin (USA Basketball) and transfer Kamilla Cardoso (University orientation).
Hall, the first signee of Staley’s 2021 class, said the group was “super excited” when they found out they were the No. 1 recruiting class and are now ready to play. She talked about her favorite basketball player being LeBron James, but how she also looks up to former Gamecock Mikiah “Kiki”Herbert Harrigan, now with the WNBA’s Seattle Storm.
“As I was getting recruited I thought of how I love how she plays and love her role on the team,” Hall said. “I was thinking ‘I could really do that. I love her fight, I love her attitude. She is the next person I look up to.”
“Breezy”, as she said she is known on on the court, has full confidence in the loaded Gamecocks roster and believes she and the new recruit can have as immediate an impact as last year’s freshman class.
“It can be done. I think we know we can come in and have the same impact as them,” said Hall, who scored in double figures every year of her high school career. “We don’t talk about it a lot but we all know that we can.”
“My expectation is to go out there and help them compete, do what the coach is asking me to do and do it well.”
Johnson said the players are told they have a really good team and are very competitive “but we don’t let those things go to our head. We just have to play together.”
Johnson, who led her high school team to three straight championships, said Staley is an inspiration to her and she cannot wait for her to return from Tokyo. She also revealed that the head coach has been sending them encouraging notes from the Olympics.
“She is an inspiration. I look up to her off and on the court, anything she does,” Johnson said. “She does send us notes, tell us what to do (in practice) or she tells us if we have a problem you can text her and she text back quick, that’s what I love about her.”
Johnson said her teammates and the assistant coaches have made South Carolina feel like home this summer and she specifically called out team veteran Destanni Henderson “who has helped me a lot with being a point guard.”
Get to know the Fab Four Plus One
Hall, a Dayton, Ohio native, will have four years of eligibility beginning with the 2021-22 academic year.
“Bree is an incredible young lady, a disciplined young lady from a disciplined family,” Staley said. “We were first attracted to her versatility, her length, her ability to score, rebound, shoot and defend. All of those things checked off high on our list. We can’t wait until she comes to campus so we can put our hands on her and really start to understand how to further expand her game because she is a player who loves to ask questions and really wants to dig into everything; and we love that about her.”
A 5’11 guard is ranked No. 14 overall in the Class of 2021 after a junior season that saw her pour in 21.4 points per game on 55.5 percent field goal shooting, including 38.8 percent from 3-point range. She was recently among the 50 players named to the watch list for 2021 Jersey Mike’s Naismith Trophy for High School Girls Player of the Year.
Hall took her team to the Ohio Division I district final in 2020 and earned Division I All-Ohio Second-Team honors from the Ohio Prep Sportswriters Association. Hall has scored in double figures every year of her high school career and lifted her rebounding average to 7.4 per game as a junior. Her Wayne High School squads had a combined 55-18 record in her three seasons on the team. Hall participated in USA Basketball Women’s U16 National Team Trials in both 2017 and 2019.
Johnson, an Atlanta, Ga., native will also have four years of eligibility beginning with the 2021-22 academic year.
“Raven is the ultimate point guard,” Staley said. “She’s a two-way player in her presence on both sides of the floor as the lead guard, understanding where everybody needs to be and unafraid and unapologetic about telling people where they need to be. We couldn’t ask for a better point guard, and she’s really just scratching the surface. Her work ethic will definitely set her apart from everybody else. When I watched her play, she made her mark on defense. She takes no prisoners and is unafraid to take on a challenge.”
A 5’8 guard, Johnson is ranked No. 2 overall in the Class of 2021 and the top point guard in the group. Like Hall, she was recently listed among the 50 players named to the watch list for 2021 Jersey Mike’s Naismith Trophy for High School Girls Player of the Year.
Named Georgia 7A Player of the Year by the Atlanta Journal Constitution the last two seasons, she was the organization’s All-Classifications Player of the Year in 2020 as well. After leading her Westlake High School team to its third straight state championship as the only player to start in all three finals, she was named 2020 Georgia Miss Basketball by the Atlanta Tip-Off Club. Her 15.0 points, 3.9 assists and 4.3 steals per game all led her team last season.
In Johnson’s first three seasons, Westlake has a 90-4 record and is undefeated against opponents from the state of Georgia. The 2019-20 team was the most dominant of the three championship campaigns, winning its five playoff games by an average of 32 points. Johnson was one of 18 finalists for USA Basketball’s 2019 Women’s U16 National Team.
Rivers, a Wilmington, N.C., native, will also have four years of eligibility beginning with the 2021-22 academic year.
“From the first time I saw Saniya play, I was hooked,” Staley said. “I’ve seen her play so many positions, so her versatility is the thing that jumps off the page. She has a jump shot; she can get to the basket; she can shoot Stephen Curry 3s; she has tremendous court vision and is very unselfish, almost to a fault. It doesn’t stop there. Her ability to defend, to compete – she wants to win her battle on both sides of the ball, and we love that about her.”
A 6’ guard, Rivers is ranked No. 3 overall in the Class of 2021 and the No. 2 guard in the group. Last week she was among the 50 players named to the watch list for 2021 Jersey Mike’s Naismith Trophy for High School Girls Player of the Year.
The two-time North Carolina Gatorade Player of the Year (2019, 2020), Rivers also earned 2019 North Carolina Player of the Year honors from USA Today and the Associated Press. As a junior (2019-20), she led Eugene Ashley High to a 25-5 record and the quarterfinals of the NCHSAA playoffs after sweeping the Mideastern Conference regular-season and tournament titles. Her 25 points, 11.7 rebounds, 6.3 steals and 4.2 assists per game earned her StarNews All-Area Girls Basketball Player of the Year honors for the third-straight season and a spot on the North Carolina Basketball Coaches Association (NCBCA) All-State First Team. As a sophomore at Laney High, Rivers was the 2019 NCBCA Player of the Year after earning a spot on the All-State Second Team as a freshman.
Cardoso, the 2021 ACC Freshman of the Year and co-Defender of the Year has signed a financial aid agreement to attend the University and play for the Gamecocks. Cardoso, who played for Syracuse in 2019-20, will be eligible to play in the 2021-22 season and have as many as four seasons of eligibility remaining.
“Kamilla is a perfect complement to our program,” Staley said. “Coming from a traditionally rich grassroots program, her mobility, rebounding prowess and scoring ability at her size is a rarity. When she’s on the court the FAMS will quickly see why she was named the ACC Freshman of the Year and Co-Defender of the Year.”
In her debut season at Syracuse, Cardoso posted 13.6 points, 8.0 rebounds and 2.7 blocks per game to earn a spot on the All-ACC First Team in addition to her other awards. With five double-doubles, Cardoso posted 20 double-digit scoring games, including three 20-point outings. Her efforts helped the Orange to the second round of the NCAA Tournament and a fourth-place finish in the ACC. Cardoso was 16th in the ACC in scoring, ninth in rebounding and led the league in blocked shots. Shooting 57.6 percent from the field, she ranked second in the league in that category.
Prior to Syracuse, Cardoso played four seasons at Hamilton Heights Christian Academy in Chattanooga, Tenn., after moving to the United States from Montes Claros, Brazil, when she was 15 years old. At Hamilton Heights, she averaged 24.1 points, 15.8 rebounds and 9.2 blocks as a senior to earn 2020 McDonald’s All-America status. She was ranked the No. 1 center and No. 5 overall player in the Class of 2020.
Feagin (pronounced FEE-gin) is an Ellenwood, Ga., native who will have four years of eligibility beginning with the 2021-22 academic year.
“Sania was a priority for us because she is an incredible basketball player, no doubt about it,” Staley said. “She has a pretty darn good skill set for her height, and we’ll be able to use her versatility. Sania can put the ball on the floor or play with her back to the basket. She can rebound and push the ball down the floor; and she’s a shot blocker. She is definitely one that is the complete package, and we can’t wait for her to get here and light that fire under her to have it every time she steps on the floor.”
A 6’3 forward, Feagin is ranked No. 4 overall in the Class of 2021 and the top forward in the group. Earlier this week she was among the 50 players named to the watch list for 2021 Jersey Mike’s Naismith Trophy for High School Girls Player of the Year.
After leading her Forest Park High School team to the 2020 6A state championship, Feagin was named the 2020 Georgia Gatorade Player of the Year and 6A First-Team All-State by the Atlanta Journal Constitution. She averaged a double-double as a senior with 17.2 points and 10.4 rebounds to go with her 3.6 blocks per game.
Feagin enters her senior season at Forest Park High School having already scored over 1,200 points in her career. She was an honorable mention all-state selection as a freshman (2018) and picked up second-team recognition for her sophomore season. She was one of 18 finalists for USA Basketball’s 2019 Women’s U16 National Team.