June 3, 2023 

In Atlanta, South Carolina Gamecock roots run deep

'You're going to get some sellouts'

ATLANTA — When Laeticia Amihere was introduced at the Atlanta Dream’s home opener on Sunday against the Indiana Fever, she got one of the largest rounds of applause, even though the rookie out of South Carolina hadn’t played a minute for the Dream yet.

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“When Laeticia’s name was called, she put the ‘Go Cocks’ [hand sign] up and there was a roar,” Dream rookie Haley Jones said. “And [fellow Gamecock] Aliyah [Boston] gets her first basket [for the Fever], and I’m like, ‘Are we in Indiana right now? Or are we back in Columbia?'”

In the Dream’s first three-game homestand, they sold out two games. Coincidentally or not, those games featured two of the most recent South Carolina greats: the rookie Boston and reigning WNBA MVP A’ja Wilson, who plays for the Las Vegas Aces.

“It felt really good them cheering for me even though they were in Atlanta’s building, and it just felt nice because Columbia is just right down the road,” Boston said postgame.

Columbia, S.C., is just three and a half hours from Atlanta, so it’s a doable trip for fans, particularly on Friday, when the A’ja Wilson Foundation hosted a bus trip. Multiple busloads of Wilson and Gamecocks fans came to Gateway Arena, adding a sea of Aces jerseys on top of the South Carolina merch.

“We talk about bridging the gap from college to pros, and I feel like that is a huge key in what I do and how I am in this league,” Wilson told reporters postgame. “I love home. South Carolina is my home through and through, and when they show out and show up, it really means a lot … I always get excited when we come to Atlanta.”

One of these fans was South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley, who sat courtside to watch Wilson and her other former players. “Attendance gonna go up. We got two Gamecocks on the Dream and A’ja on the other side. That means you’re going to get some sellouts,” Staley told The Next.

In classic Wilson fashion, she joked about her college coach’s attendance.

“The South Carolina rookies bring Coach Staley out [of] the woodwork. She never been to this many games since I’ve been in the damn league,” Wilson said. “Now all of a sudden she’s popping up. So we know who her favorites are.”

But beyond former Gamecocks coming to Atlanta with other teams, the Dream picked up two of their own this offseason in Amihere and veteran guard Allisha Gray.

“This is my first WNBA game,” Sherry, a fan who came to Atlanta on the bus tour, told The Next. “We’ve got several players from South Carolina, so we’re excited for all of them … We’re rooting for A’ja and all of them.”

Most of the Gamecock fans The Next spoke with were attending their first-ever Dream game, commuting from every corner of South Carolina or close by in Atlanta.

These Dream games are a chance not only for Gamecocks fans to see their favorites of the past, but also for former teammates to reunite. On Sunday, Boston and fellow Fever rookie Victaria Saxton embraced Amihere, and on Friday, Gray and Wilson continued their friendly rivalry.

“My record against Allisha, those dubs are just getting in that win column, and I love it because it boils her blood,” Wilson said. “It’s super exciting just to play against your best friend.”

Eight Gamecocks play in the WNBA, a statistic players and fans chalk up to the coaching in Columbia. And although it may create more of a mixed crowd on Atlanta’s home turf, the energy is welcomed and only adds to Atlanta’s rising attendance.

“We’re happy to have them if they want to come down here,” Dream head coach Tanisha Wright said before the Fever game. “We love the South Carolina kids we have.”

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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