Meet Daybreak Staley, South Carolina’s ‘Fab 4’ freshmen class

When Bree Corridor’s dad and mom dropped her off at school, they didn’t cry. Neither did she. Everybody knew she was in good fingers, and South Carolina had felt like house lengthy earlier than she stepped on campus.

“There was simply a lot confidence in the place I used to be, there was nothing to cry about,” Corridor says.

Corridor was strolling right into a scenario that might make any basketball participant jealous. First, there’s the historical past of the Gamecocks ladies’s basketball program: a nationwide title in 2017 and three Ultimate Fours previously seven years. Then there’s the current: a staff with proficient, skilled gamers like Aliyah Boston, Zia Cooke and Destanni Henderson, poised for a run on the nationwide championship. And the longer term: not less than seven extra years of head coach Daybreak Staley, whose worth is priced at $22.4 million, however even that is perhaps an undersell.

And if all of that isn’t sufficient to place a younger hooper’s thoughts comfy, Corridor and South Carolina’s three different freshmen can flip to a gaggle chat affectionately named “The Fab 4.”

(AP Picture/Sean Rayford)

Staley ultimately gave the moniker to South Carolina’s freshmen class, made up of Corridor, Raven Johnson, Saniya Rivers and Sania Feagin. The nickname is an ideal description for the top-ranked recruiting class in ladies’s basketball this season, however once they began speaking through textual content, the Fab 4 wasn’t even the Fab 4 but. They had been 4 highschool seniors attempting to weigh their choices and choose the right staff and faculty.

Staley inspired the gamers to speak even earlier than they signed with the Gamecocks. The recruiting course of will be an intimidating one. And except a recruit has dad and mom or siblings who went by way of the identical factor, it may be isolating.

So Staley had a message for the recruits she hoped would someday develop into Gamecocks: Speak to one another, and assist one another discover the best match, even when it’s not South Carolina.

“All of us checked out our affords collectively and began doing professionals and cons lists,” Rivers says.

Finally, one college got here out on prime, and it was the identical for all 4 of them.

“Subsequent factor , all of us dedicated at about the identical time,” Rivers says.

After they did, the nickname took place, and Rivers, Feagin, Corridor and Johnson renamed their group chat to replicate their newfound South Carolina identification.

Collectively they’re Staley’s Fab 4, however individually, they’re 4 people whose twists and turns led them down the identical path.

RAVEN JOHNSON

There are two key items to Raven Johnson’s character. The nation’s No. 2-rated freshman (and No. 1 level guard) describes herself as a girly-girl who can also be fiercely aggressive. The primary piece made her suppose she would hate basketball, and the second made her fall in love with the sport.

“I used to be like, basketball is a boy’s sport. It’s too tough,” she says with amusing. “However my grandpa advised me, ‘You’re simply not gonna do no cheerleading.’ ”

Raven’s grandfather took her and her twin brother, Richard, to the fitness center, the place they performed one-on-one. In that second, Johnson’s aggressive streak took over. She realized that she needed to win, however not at simply something: She needed to win at basketball.

“I used to be like, ‘Yeah, basketball is the game for me,’ ” she says.

This yr, nevertheless, Johnson shall be enjoying cheerleader for her staff after sustaining a season-ending knee damage towards South Dakota on Friday.

However Gamecock followers may need to regulate the sidelines to see what sort of road garments Johnson is sporting. As a result of earlier than she was one of many Fab 4, Johnson had one other nickname, and it’s one she nonetheless makes use of: Hollywood.

Throughout considered one of her first AAU practices as a tween, Johnson walked into the fitness center recent off of a purchasing spree at Justice.

“I used to be carrying glittery footwear — I believe they had been Chuck Taylors — glittery pants and an identical jacket to go together with it. I simply thought I used to be cute,” says the Atlanta native. “They took one take a look at me and mentioned, ‘Yeah, your nickname is gonna be Hollywood.’ ”

She’s not carrying Justice anymore, however Johnson nonetheless embodies her nickname, a lot in order that she even has it in her Twitter deal with. Hollywood likes something beauty-related, she says. These days she’s upgraded from Justice to Trend Nova and takes satisfaction in mixing up her look.

“I can go from carrying a costume to sweats and a cute little crop prime,” she says. “I can put on just about something so long as my hair is completed and my face seems to be cute.”

SANIYA RIVERS

One of many first Christmas items Saniya Rivers remembers getting was a Fisher Worth basketball hoop. The game, she says, is in her blood. Her older sister, Nanna Rivers, performed at North Carolina State, her dad performed for a couple of years at Elon and her mother was a standout at UNC-Wilmington.

Rivers grew up in Wilmington, the city the place Michael Jordan famously didn’t make his varsity staff. So Rivers has been connected to basketball for the reason that starting, and it to her.

The No. 4 freshmen within the nation obtained her first scholarship supply — from South Carolina — when she was in eighth grade.

Rivers was enjoying AAU for a staff that coaches didn’t actually have their eyes on, however she was tearing it up. On the final day of the match, Rivers was enjoying within the championship recreation and acknowledged Staley sitting within the entrance row.

“We ended up shedding, however I bought a telephone name later that evening with the supply, in order that was massive,” Rivers says.

For Rivers, South Carolina is the 1st step in a plan she’s had since in regards to the time she obtained that first supply. She has a love-hate relationship along with her hometown. She’s obtained nice help from folks, however she’s additionally handled others attempting to carry her down.

“All I’ve ever needed rising up was to make it out and go to school and make it to the professional leagues,” Rivers says. “I need to give again to my metropolis once I make it.”

SANIA FEAGIN

For Sania Feagin, the selection to go to South Carolina wasn’t one thing she wanted to consider; it was one thing she simply knew was proper.

“I put my belief to the Lord, and he guided me to the place he felt was greatest for me,” she says.

Feagin grew up with religion and household because the cornerstones of her life. And thru the 2, basketball got here naturally. When she was a younger child, her dad and mom — who each competed collegiately — would play in varied rec leagues, and once they completed, Feagin would run onto the court docket to get as many pictures up as she might earlier than they packed up and went house.

“I used to be ball-happy,” she says of her first days enjoying. “I might get it and simply take off. I needed to attain.”

And basketball didn’t go away once they left the fitness center. A few of Feagin’s favourite reminiscences are of enjoying in her driveway along with her total household — dad and mom, siblings and even cousins. They’d play knockout, warfare, or adults-versus-kids matchups. And even with a household stuffed with collegiate athletes, they knew when to show the competitors off.

“These video games had been at all times simply enjoyable,” Feagin says. “It was by no means doing nothing an excessive amount of. We simply had fun.”

When she’s along with her household, Feagin retains issues comparatively low-key. Outdoors of basketball, considered one of her most popular hobbies is babysitting her 1-year-old nephew.

“Once I was taking good care of him earlier than I got here to high school, he was so small, and he would cry on a regular basis,” she says. “He couldn’t even crawl. Now, he barely even cries. He’s working round. He’s a handful.”

BREE HALL

When she was six, Corridor remembers enjoying sports activities with the children in her neighborhood. It didn’t matter what the sport was as a result of she cherished all of them. However when she picked up a basketball, dad and mom and native coaches seen. Corridor was simply having enjoyable, however to these adults, she had a future within the recreation.

In order she grew, her dad, Bryan, began taking her to the fitness center to run drills. Not like her fellow freshmen, who grew up with basketball gamers for folks, Bryan was only a serving to hand and cheerleader for his daughter, the No. 14-ranked freshman this season.

“He was completely not a basketball participant,” Bree says with amusing. “He was that man on the Y or the close by fitness center that you’d name, like, your native LeBron, however he by no means even performed in highschool.”

South Carolina first piqued the Ohio native’s curiosity when she was a sophomore in highschool. Her AAU teammate, Zia Cooke, had dedicated to the Gamecocks, so Corridor visited the varsity.

“I watched them play towards UConn, they usually ended up successful,” Corridor says. “And [Henderson’s] household was there, they usually sat me down and gave me some good recommendation in regards to the recruiting course of and about how this was in all probability the place for me.”

THE FUTURE OF SOUTH CAROLINA

As soon as the Fab 4 formally dedicated to South Carolina, the enjoyable began.

They texted about severe issues, just like the COVID-19 pandemic that had marked all of their highschool careers, however largely the chat remained light-hearted.

“Earlier than we had that group chat, we didn’t actually know one another,” Corridor says. “However earlier than we bought to campus, we had been all so excited, speaking about what colours we had been going to have in our rooms and the place we might get our nails and hair accomplished.”

Corridor, Feagin and Rivers stay collectively, whereas Johnson lives with sophomore Kamilla Cardoso, her former AAU teammate who, as a switch from Syracuse, can also be new to the staff.

Final yr, the 4 freshmen watched as South Carolina made its strategy to the Ultimate 4 and misplaced a nail-biter to Stanford. All of them agreed that watching the Gamecocks was surreal and located themselves switching forwards and backwards between cheering on their future teammates and attempting to investigate the place they could slot in on the court docket.

After they bought to campus, becoming in with their teammates socially was a breeze. The Gamecocks prefer to take heed to music collectively, have film nights and infrequently break into ultra-competitive rounds of UNO.

“It’s not simply on the court docket,” Rivers says. “Playing cards get thrown. It will get ridiculous.”

However transitioning from highschool and even AAU ball to school basketball proves to be much more tough than becoming in with a brand new group of mates.

However you don’t go to South Carolina anticipating to simply slide into enjoying time.

“I’m going to be trustworthy, highschool and faculty are two several types of ball video games,” says Johnson, who gained 4 straight state championships at Westlake Excessive College. “You’ve gotten one or two gamers on the staff who’re actually, actually good, however in faculty the tempo is completely different. You bought extra gamers, the entire staff is sweet.”

Many abilities gamers might pull off in highschool instantly don’t work in faculty. Rivers, for instance, mentioned she’s within the course of of fixing her shot as a result of she seen it getting blocked an excessive amount of throughout preseason practices.

Till Johnson went down with a knee damage, she, Rivers, Feagin and Corridor — 4 five-star recruits who had their choose of packages — had been all preventing for a sliver of recreation motion.

As a result of even earlier than signing the most effective class within the nation, South Carolina was already stacked. The Gamecocks not solely returned their beginning 5, but additionally their sixth and seventh gamers off the bench. They usually added the 6-7 Cardoso, one of the sought-after transfers within the offseason.

So yeah, it is a complete completely different ball recreation, however it’s one the freshman class is prepared for. All of them know what coming to a program like South Carolina means. It’s not about on the spot faculty stardom, however the alternative to play for a legendary coach and to compete with a few of the nation’s greatest gamers.

“I get pleasure from it as a result of nothing goes to come back straightforward,” Feagin says. “I do know I’m going to must work laborious. Like for me, going towards Aliyah [Boston] in apply day-after-day goes to push me. As a result of she is larger, stronger and extra skilled than me. So that’s going to make me a greater me.”

Earlier than lengthy, Feagin will play the function of Boston for a brand new recruit. So will Rivers, Johnson and Corridor. For now, they’re a gaggle of proficient freshmen. However quickly, South Carolina basketball will belong to the Fab 4.