By Robert Kittle
COLUMBIA, S.C. (WBTW)
For the first time in school history, the University of South Carolina’s men’s and women’s basketball teams are both heading to the Sweet 16 and fans sent them off with a raucous pep rally Tuesday evening.
Women’s SEC Player of the Year A’ja Wilson told the crowd, “Thank you so much for being at all the games. Y’all have helped us out a lot and we just really, really give it all to you guys. We wouldn’t be the team that we are today without you guys. Just thank you so much for the support.” In 2016, USC’s women led the nation in attendance, averaging 14,364 fans a game.
Men’s SEC Player of the Year Sindarius Thornwell also spoke, giving the fans the credit. “Y’all really make a difference,” he said, but was interrupted by a fan yelling, “We love you, Sindarius!” “Love you too, man!” he replied, as the crowd cheered and laughed.
For fans, it was a chance to show their support once again, celebrate the team’s success, and send them off to the next round knowing their fans are behind them. Mildred Scott says, “I want to support the women’s, girls’ basketball team and the boys because they make a difference for the state of South Carolina.”
And even though the men are still underdogs, they were also not expected to be Duke to make it to the Sweet 16, so fan Caroline Chandler, a USC senior from Greenville, says, “I think they’re going to go all the way! Go Cocks!”
Both coaches also spoke. Women’s Head Coach Dawn Staley said, “What is this? A pep rally, right? A pep rally. Y’all know the other ‘p’ that we want to have in the next few weeks? A parade! You keep doing what you’re doing! We’ll keep doing what we’re doing! Thank you so much!”
Men’s Head Coach Frank Martin said, “It’s an unbelievable dynamic that we have on this campus, amongst workers, amongst students, athlete to athlete, student to student. It’s incredible. As coaches, we end up in different campuses around America as we’re trying to figure out where we want to call home. I can tell you this is as a special place as I’ve ever been at in my life.”
Then he turned to Coach Staley and said, “Hey Dawn. Why don’t we do this again next week as we get ready to go to the following weekend? Thank you.”
The men play Friday night against Baylor at Madison Square Garden in New York. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:29.
The women play Saturday afternoon at 4 against Quinnipiac at the Stockton Arena in Stockton, California.
After the pep rally, the players from both teams stayed and signed autographs and posed for pictures with fans of all ages.