March 9, 2024 

What Te-Hina Paopao’s return means for South Carolina

Kamilla Cardoso: 'Everything she does on the court, I feel like she helps us'

GREENVILLE, S.C. — After South Carolina’s game against Tennessee on March 3, senior point guard Te-Hina Paopao told her teammate Raven Johnson that she’d be departing Columbia at the end of the season and declaring for the WNBA Draft. 

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“I was so sad. I was like, ‘Wow, Pao. Are you serious?’” Johnson told The Next.

“Then the video came out, and I was so excited.”

Just a day later, Paopao announced in a video that she would return to South Carolina for her fifth season of college basketball in 2024-25. It will be her second season with the Gamecocks after she spent her first three years at Oregon. The announcement video, narrated by her father Paul, is an epic montage of Paopao’s best moments over the last six months.

“T wants more,” her father said.

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Why Paopao is staying

South Carolina has brought Paopao love, and with that love, she’s grown as a leader and a player.

“It’s just a genuine love for this team, this coaching staff, this program, just everyone. I just love playing with them,” Paopao said on Friday. “I’ve been here for months and I’m already feeling developed as the player that I want to be. I know if I can stay another year, I can be very developed into the player I want to be.”

Paopao’s father recently told The State that his daughter’s growth in the last six months has been astronomical, especially compared to the regression he felt she had at Oregon. Paopao said that as a Gamecock, she’s learned to read situations better and has better judgment and instincts when taking shots. She also added that she’s improved her passing, although she thinks there’s still room to grow.

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What it means for South Carolina

Paopao’s return is huge for South Carolina. This season, she leads the nation in 3-point percentage at 48.6%. She averages 11.3 points per game and is the Gamecocks’ offensive glue.

“She’s a sniper. Give her the ball; she’s gonna make this shot,” teammate Kamilla Cardoso told The Next on Friday.

Head coach Dawn Staley, who’s known the news for about a month, can also take a deep breath, knowing she’s retaining a key cultural asset. Paopao has been a leader since she arrived on campus and has been a big reason the team hasn’t missed a beat despite losing seven seniors after last season.

“I’m so excited for her,” Cardoso said. “Her leadership, everything she does on the court, I feel like she helps us. When we’re nervous, she calms us down. She talks to us and is like, ‘You’re OK. Take your time.’”

Beyond Paopao’s own development, she’s also helped her teammates improve. When Paopao signed, there were questions about how she and Johnson would compete for the starting point guard position. But instead of dueling for the job, Paopao elevated Johnson’s game. And even during preseason, junior guard Bree Hall said that Paopao had been instrumental in helping her grow as a leader in just a few short months.

Keeping Paopao means South Carolina will have another consistent face in an era of constant change. She is a vital part of this team’s fabric and will be critical in March and beyond. 

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Written by Gabriella Lewis

Gabriella is The Next's Atlanta Dream and SEC beat reporter. She is a Bay Area native currently studying at Emory University.

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