Dawn Staley has built a pipeline to the WNBA at South Carolina, and that has been on full display during the 2023 WNBA season.

From rookies Aliyah Boston and Zia Cooke to MVP candidate A’ja Wilson, nine former Gamecocks currently grace WNBA rosters, The Athletic reported. That is the third-highest total in the league behind Notre Dame (10) and UConn (16).

“To see all of us achieving our goals and being able to play against each other, it’s special,” Cooke told The Athletic. The 22-year-old guard played in 39 games for the Los Angeles Sparks in her first professional season.

Players say that Staley’s coaching style helps to prepare them for the WNBA from the moment they step on campus as freshmen. She instills “pro habits,” including mental toughness and work ethic, to help her players flourish at the next level.

The formula has worked. On top of having nine players on rosters, three of the last seven Rookie of the Year winners will have come from South Carolina – Allisha Gray, Wilson and, soon, Boston. A shoo-in for the 2023 award, Boston averaged 14.5 points and 8.4 rebounds per game for the Indiana Fever.

“That South Carolina program really grooms these guys to compete,” Sparks coach Curt Miller said.

And former Gamecocks returning to campus and helping out the program helps too.

“When they come back, I try to get them to practice with us,” Staley said. “I try to get them to impart knowledge on how to play at the next level, the type of habits they’ve created to have staying power and to have dominating power once they’re in the league.”

Wilson sees the wisdom Staley has imparted on her as a “huge key” to her success with the reigning champion Las Vegas Aces. That includes twice being named WNBA MVP – with a potential third accolade coming. And she’s been happy seeing her fellow South Carolina alums find success in the WNBA as well.

“To see it all unfold and to see us all here being successful across the league, it’s truly something special,” Wilson said. “I’m always proud to say, I’m a product of Dawn Staley, and that’s the stamp. That’s a big stamp for me and I love it, and you can see it carries out throughout my college teammates. And it’s just a type of vibe that we give, the culture that we built there. It’s no surprise that we’re being very successful in this league.”

Dearica Hamby is an inspiration to “all working mothers,” Los Angeles Sparks coach Curt Miller said Sunday after his team’s season finale.

Hamby welcomed her son Legend in March, two months after her trade to the Sparks. Following the move, she claimed her former team, the Las Vegas Aces, had “discriminated against” her due to her pregnancy.

For the Sparks, Hamby played all 40 games of the 2023 WNBA season, averaging 8.9 points and 5.9 rebounds in 24.8 minutes per game.

“The W has incredible individual stories each season, but I would love to shout-out @dearicamarie!” he wrote on social media. “Dearica played in ALL 40-regular season games shortly after giving birth to her second child. She is a true inspiration to our entire league and all working mothers.”

Hamby responded, writing: “Thank you for believing in me to come back so soon.”

The 29-year-old forward also thanked her two children, daughter Amaya and son Legend. She posted two videos of them supporting her at home and watching her play.

After winning the 2022 WNBA title with the Aces, she announced her pregnancy during the championship parade. But after her offseason trade, she wrote a statement outlining the Aces’ treatment of her after she revealed her pregnancy, calling it “unprofessional and unethical.”

“I was told that I was ‘a question mark’ and that it was said that I said I would ‘get pregnant again’ and there was a concern for my level of commitment to the team,” she wrote.

After an investigation into Hamby’s claims, the WNBA suspended Aces head coach Becky Hammon without pay for the first two games of the 2023 season. The league also stripped the team of its 2025 first-round draft pick.

In announcing the Aces’ punishments, the WNBA confirmed that Hammon made comments to Hamby about her pregnancy in violation of the league’s Respect in the Workplace policies, but Hammon has denied Hamby’s specific claims.

Destanni Henderson belongs in the WNBA.

The 5-foot-7 point guard silenced anyone who doubts that statement on Friday night, helping the L.A. Sparks overcome a 17-point deficit to defeat the Dallas Wings, 76-74. Henderson, a South Carolina alum, scored 18 points in the win, just one point shy of her career-best.

“Destanni Henderson allowed us an extra attacker on the floor tonight, she defended with her speed, she really made a lot of things happen,” said Sparks head coach Curt Miller.

Henderson, the No. 20 overall pick in the 2022 WNBA Draft, played 36 games with the Indiana Fever last year, but was waived in May. The Sparks, who have dealt with a spate of injuries and illness this season, picked up Henderson via an emergency hardship contract on June 16.

“Even if it’s a hardship,” Henderson told the Los Angeles Times. “It’s just one step to get me closer to my goal.”

“Henny has proven that (she belongs in this league),” said Jordin Canada, who scored the Sparks’ final four points in Friday’s win.

“Tonight just showed that she’s very capable of being in this league and we’re very grateful to have her here.”

As for Henny herself?

“I felt great. Once I started to get in the flow of things, just attacking and finding my teammates open… I just stayed focused the whole game.”

The Wings and Sparks meet again on Sunday (3 p.m. ET, ABC).

The 2023 WNBA season is underway. And while the superteams are living up to their billing through the early going, anything is possible in the coming months.

Will A’ja Wilson repeat as WNBA MVP? Will the Las Vegas Aces repeat as champions? Or will we see new faces reach the top?

Just Women’s Sports’ WNBA experts Rachel Galligan, Lyndsey D’Arcangelo and Eden Laase came together to make their predictions for every major award.

Most Valuable Player

Galligan: Breanna Stewart, New York Liberty

One of the greatest players in the world is in a new city and has a new team name stretched across her jersey. I have a feeling Breanna Stewart has just begun to scratch the surface of her prime in New York. Stewart set the WNBA world on notice early this season with a franchise single-game record 45 points against the Indiana Fever two games into the season. Stewart looked energized and driven after narrowly missing out on the MVP award in 2022. Coming up just short of a big award tends to have an impact, and I fully expect Stewart to have a monstrous year on the court. There is no doubt that the Liberty have enough pieces and talent to be in contention all season long, although it may take a while for all of them to fully mesh.

D’Arcangelo: Brittney Griner, Phoenix Mercury

Stewart has come out of the gate on fire and currently holds the highest PER rating (38.5). She’s averaging 25.8 points and 10.3 rebounds per game and shows no signs of slowing down. New team, new city, new season. And it’s all adding up to a motivated Stewie, which spells trouble for the rest of the league. That being said, my dark horse to win the MVP is Brittney Griner. She may not be back to form physically yet, but she’s already averaging 21.3 points, 8.0 rebounds and 3.7 blocks per game while shooting a league-leading 74.2% from the field. If she’s back in court shape by the middle of the season, that’s a checkmark in her favor.

Laase: A’ja Wilson, Las Vegas Aces

If the undefeated Aces continue their dominance, A’ja Wilson could repeat as MVP. Despite playing fewer minutes this season thanks to the addition of Candace Parker and a bolstered bench unit, Wilson’s stats are identical to her line from last season. She’s averaging 19.0 points, 9.3 rebounds, 1.8 blocks, 1.8 assists and 1.5 steals per game. Breanna Stewart has better numbers right now, but if the Aces end the season as the WNBA’s top team and Wilson continues to lead them to victory, then she could once again claim the top individual honor. As it stands, I see the two battling it out for the award, just as they did last year.

Rookie of the Year

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(Adam Hagy/NBAE via Getty Images)

Galligan: Aliyah Boston, Indiana Fever

I have been very impressed with Boston’s ability to seamlessly make the transition from college to the WNBA in such a short amount of time. The 6-5 rookie is second on the Fever in scoring with 15.8 points per game to go along with 6.0 rebounds, and she is shooting an efficient 66.7% from the floor. While those numbers look nearly identical to the type of numbers she put up at South Carolina, the only glaring area of concern has been her ability to adjust to fouls called — which is completely expected. Boston looks comfortable, confident and has the ability to throw her Fever team on her back down the stretch in games. Boston will get the minutes and experience necessary this season to showcase her impact in the WNBA, and I fully anticipate her to take home the Rookie of the Year award when it’s all said and done.

D’Arcangelo: Aliyah Boston, Indiana Fever

It’s no secret that Boston was the most pro-ready player in the 2023 WNBA draft. And she’s backed up the hype so far this season, averaging 15.8 points and 6.0 rebounds through four games. Out of all of the rookies, Boston has had the most minutes and the biggest impact on her team. While her former South Carolina teammate Zia Cooke, No. 2 overall pick Diamond Miller and international product Sika Koné are worth keeping an eye on, I think Boston might run away with this one.

Laase: Aliyah Boston, Indiana Fever

The rookie race could change as the season progresses and players get settled into the league, but it’s hard to imagine anyone but Boston taking the award. She’s the frontrunner for all of the reasons mentioned above.

Coach of the Year

Galligan: Stephanie White, Connecticut Sun

We saw half the league face coaching changes this last offseason, and White didn’t have the easiest act to follow in the Curt Miller and Jonquel Jones era in Connecticut. The early showings of this Sun team seem promising, with a combination of the Sun toughness to which we’ve been accustomed but also a breath of fresh air and new faces. The Sun have experience, veterans who know what it takes to win and fresh faces eager to fit into White’s system. White has the experience to bring all of that together and compete at the highest levels this season, and because of that, I think she has a good shot at the Coach of the Year award.

D’Arcangelo: Curt Miller, Los Angeles Sparks

The Los Angeles Sparks were a shell of their former selves last season. Derek Fisher was relieved shortly after the season started, and Liz Cambage jumped ship later in the year. Enter Miller. Since taking the helm, he’s added key players around the core of Nneka and Chiney Ogwumike, including Layshia Clarendon, Lexie Brown, Dearica Hamby and Karlie Samuelson. He also brought in Jasmine Thomas and Azurá Stevens, who are both recovering from injuries. Adding Zia Cooke via the draft looks like a smart move as well. And by all accounts, the player combination and rotation seems to be working. Miller has the coaching pedigree and savvy to turn things around in LA. By the end of the season, I think we see the Sparks make the biggest leap.

Laase: Christie Sides, Indiana Fever

I can see White or Miller taking home the award, but I’ll add in Indiana Fever coach Christie Sides as a dark horse candidate. After losing 20 consecutive games, the Fever snapped their losing streak against the Dream, and you can see the product coming together on the court. Winning one game certainly isn’t enough to earn Sides the COY award, but if they Fever continue to put things together and find themselves in the running for a playoff spot, then she could earn the accolade.

Defensive Player of the Year

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(Chris Marion/NBAE via Getty Images)

Galligan: Brittney Griner, Phoenix Mercury

Griner was named Defensive Player of the Year in back-to-back seasons in 2014 and 2015 and is making a strong case for her third. Griner leads the WNBA in blocks at 3.7 per game early on this season, and the 6-9 center alters the entire dynamic of the game with her imposing presence in the paint. Griner has been dominant, swatting shots and forcing players to second guess their decision-making in the paint, and she single-handedly has the ability to shift game momentum. I’ve got my eye on Griner and the Mercury as they continue to work their way back into form.

D’Arcangelo: Alyssa Thomas, Connecticut Sun

Thomas has flirted with Defensive Player of the Year honors for the past few seasons. She was the WNBA steals leader and part of the All-Defensive First Team in 2020, and she made the All-Defensive Second Team in 2017, 2019 and 2022. Last season was her most productive year on the defensive side of the ball. Her physical play, knack for rebounding and court awareness have set her apart defensively, especially in the paint. Maybe this will be the year she finally comes away with the award.

Laase: Alyssa Thomas, Connecticut Sun

I’m with Lyndsey on this one. Thomas has been close to winning DPOY several times, and for good reason. Her defensive ability is well-known, but in many ways still underrated. Thomas has tremendous strength and instincts, and she can guard multiple positions on the court, making her a tremendous asset for the Sun. She also attacks the glass and manages to stay out of foul trouble. All of those qualities add up for an impressive DPOY resume.

Sixth Player of the Year

Galligan: Alysha Clark, Las Vegas Aces

This is a tough one for me early on this season, and with several names at the top of the list, ultimately I come back to Clark. She brings a well-rounded approach on both ends of the floor and has a versatility to her game that allows her to embrace whatever is asked of her. She made the decision to take her talents to the Aces fully understanding she’d likely need to embrace the sixth player role and contribute both offensively and defensively off the bench. Clark has been asked to accept many different roles during her WNBA career but arguably would be a starter for any other team. Early on, she’s been steady and consistent, averaging 8.5 points, shooting an efficient 48% from the field and collecting 1.8 rebounds per game.

D’Arcangelo: Sug Sutton, Phoenix Mercury

Sutton was selected 36th overall in the 2020 WNBA draft by the Washington Mystics. She played in 12 games, averaging 9 minutes and 2.8 points. This season, Sutton signed a training camp contract with the Phoenix Mercury. She not only made the roster, she’s been an integral part of the team. Coming off the bench, Sutton is averaging 30.0 minutes and 12.3 points per game. As the third-leading scorer on the Mercury, she has been a reliable and steady presence in the absence of Shey Peddy and Skylar Diggins-Smith.

Laase: Marine Johannès, New York Liberty

She hasn’t played a game yet because of overseas obligations, but now that Johannès is back on American soil, I expect her to make a major impact for the Liberty. The guard could easily be a starter on another team, but due to the stacked nature of the Liberty, she will be coming off the bench. Her ability to create, for herself and for others, makes Johannès an asset off the bench. It means the Liberty can sub out Courtney Vandersloot or Sabrina Ionescu without offensive drop-off, which is a major luxury. Johannès averaged 10.0 points and 3.4 assists last season, while dazzling with her passing ability.

Most Improved Player

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(Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images)

Galligan: Lexie Brown, Los Angeles Sparks

While there is a strong case to be made for a lot of second-year players – including NaLyssa Smith, Shakira Austin and even Naz Hillmon – I have been so impressed with the way Brown has started this season. While it has taken Brown a few years to find her full comfort as she has faced a lot of change, she looks as confident and comfortable than I have seen her in her six WNBA seasons. Brown is getting a chance to play consistent minutes, averaging 10.7 points and is shooting 43% from the 3-point line, making her one of the top perimeter threats in the league early on. Curt Miller knows how to coach a backcourt, and he’s going to put his players in the right situations to have success. For that season, Brown is one of my early favorites for Most Improved.

D’Arcangelo: Lexie Brown, Los Angeles Sparks

This award is going to be tough to decide. There’s a handful of players who have put in the work in the offseason and it’s translating to the court. As Rachel mentions, Smith and Austin look like anything but second-year players. Satou Sabally is fully healthy and having a great start to the season for Dallas. But I really like what I’ve seen in Brown, who is now in her sixth season in the W. Brown has come alive in her second year with the Sparks, averaging career-bests in minutes, points, field goal percentage, assists, rebounds and 3-point field goal percentage. There’s no denying she’s improved across the board.

Laase: Shakira Austin, Washington Mystics

Shakira Austin is well on her way to becoming a WNBA star, and she’s already a major piece on a Mystics squad that can contend for a title. Austin’s minutes have increased from 21.6 to 27.0 per game, and her stats have followed suit. The center is averaging 14.0 points, 8.3 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 1.3 steals per game, improving upon last season’s stat line of 8.7 points, 6.4 rebounds, 0.9 assists and 0.8 steals. What’s more, Austin is becoming a player the Mystics can play through. When they get her the ball, good things happen, whether it’s Austin attacking her defender and finishing, or finding a teammate for an open shot.

Most Surprising Team So Far

Galligan: Washington Mystics

The Mystics came out of the gate hot from the jump, dominating the Liberty on opening day, but then they dropped their next two to the Sun. Elena Delle Donne looks fantastic and healthy and Shakira Austin has really taken a huge step from her rookie season, playing more and more like a seasoned veteran every single night. The Mystics’ backcourt has struggled to connect and score at the rate I would have expected, but I’m not concerned. It’s early, and I fully expect their veteran guards to start to connect more offensively in the coming weeks. Look for this team to be among the top four at the end of the season.

D’Arcangelo: Chicago Sky

The Sky was literally falling in Chicago, as the team’s core group of players left for other teams during free agency. But coach and general manager James Wade has seemingly pulled a little magic out of his hat, assembling a viable roster that’s deeper than people think. Kahleah Copper leads the team with 14.6 points per game and is relishing the go-to player role. And although it cost Chicago a pretty penny, Marina Mabrey has been worth every cent so far with 14.3 points per game. Grabbing Sika Koné off waivers after the rookie forward was let go from the Liberty also looks like a win for the Sky. Despite having a completely different player rotation, Chicago has manage to make it all work. And it’s been fun to watch.

Laase: Connecticut Sun

With a new coach and the absence of Jonquel Jones, I expected some drop-off from last season’s runner up. But the Sun look just as good – dare I say, better at times – than they did last season. No one player has stepped in to fill Jones’ shoes, but together, everyone is taking on bigger roles to fill the scoring and defensive gap she left behind. Connecticut has incredible chemistry, and every player understands what Stephanie White needs from them. With two early wins over the Mystics, the Sun have my attention.

WNBA Champions

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(Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Galligan: Las Vegas Aces

It’s hard to look at the Las Vegas Aces and argue against them as the heavy favorite to win a title again in 2023. The Aces reloaded in the offseason and found ways to address their lack of depth with the addition of WNBA champions Candace Parker and Alysha Clark to go along with their All-Star core from last year. This team has what it takes to repeat, they are a matchup nightmare, and someone different can go off any given night.

D’Arcangelo: Las Vegas Aces

After winning its first title in franchise history last season, Las Vegas somehow leveled up by signing Candace Parker and Alysha Clark in free agency. With a complete roster featuring some of the best players in the league, it’s difficult to find a weakness. Jackie Young won the Most Improved Player award last season and looks even better as an early MVP candidate, while Chelsea Gray, A’ja Wilson and Kelsey Plum are continuing to do their thing. Adding Parker into the mix along with a defensive X-factor like Clark only makes the Aces that much more dominant. A repeat looks inevitable — unless the Liberty have something to say about it.

Laase: Las Vegas Aces

The defending champs are once again the favorite to win the WNBA title. There are teams that could challenge them, including the Mystics, Sun and Liberty, but overall, no one compares. A’ja Wilson, Kelsey Plum, Jackie Young, Chelsea Gray and Candace Parker are all incredible talents, but they also play well together as a team. Parker transitioned into the lineup seamlessly, and with the addition of Alysha Clark to bolster the bench unit, the Aces are even better than last season.

The Los Angeles Sparks enter the 2023 season as a transformed team, with a new coach, a new general manager and a new philosophy.

Nneka Ogwumike has noticed the difference.

The 32-year-old forward has spent her entire career with the Sparks, from her 2012 Rookie of the Year campaign to the 2016 WNBA championship season. While she has seen ups and downs in her tenure, she has never seen the organization at this level, she said at the start of training camp.

“This is the first time I’ve really experienced what I believe to be a professional organization,” Ogwumike said.

Head coach Curt Miller and general manager Karen Bryant, who both came to Los Angeles in the offseason, immediately put their stamp on the team.

“That leaves space for me to not have to step into a manager role, which doesn’t leave me a lot of time to do the things that I really want to do, which is play basketball and hang out with my teammates,” Ogwumike said. “I really feel like I’ve relinquished a lot of that because we have some truly phenomenal people that have turned this organization into what it deserves to be.”

In another change, the Sparks parted ways with team president Vanessa Shay earlier this week. She had joined the team last May from the NWSL’s San Diego Wave. Sparks managing partner Eric Holman thanked Shay for guiding the team “through an important transition.”

With the reins now in the hands of Bryant and Miller, the team is prepared to start fresh. And while Ogwumike rejoined the Sparks on a one-year deal, Miller does not feel any pressure for the upcoming season, which tips off on May 19.

Miller cautioned against looking too far into the future. Instead, he wants to work day by day to build toward success, a journey “we think could be very special — and more importantly, sustainable,” he said.

“There’s going to be no more pressure than what we believe in our own locker room,” Miller said.

Less than a month ago, Alexis Morris helped LSU win its first ever women’s basketball title. Now, the WNBA rookie is calling on college teams to better prepare athletes for the pro game.

Morris, who was drafted by the Connecticut Sun as the No. 22 overall pick, took to TikTok after her first day of group workouts with the Sun.

“This is for the colleges and the institutions: in order to grow the league, you have to prep the players for what’s to come. In order to do that, you have to watch the league, you have to see the style of play, the systems that they’re running, so that the adjustment and the transition for college players — women’s college players — to the WNBA won’t be so difficult.

“I’m not saying that it’s difficult for everybody. But I do think that the style of play that you play in college can either help or hurt you when you’re transitioning to college.”

Morris has more college experience than most. The Texas native started her college career at Baylor (playing for Kim Mulkey), but was dismissed from the team after a reported arrest. She transferred to Rutgers (where C. Vivian Stringer was head coach), but had to sit out a year due to the NCAA’s then transfer rules. She then made the move to Texas A&M for one year before concluding her college career by playing two seasons at LSU (where Mulkey had been hired as head coach). In her video, she didn’t specify how her own college experience prepared her for the WNBA.

Morris is one of 20 players on Connecticut’s preseason training roster. A max of 12 athletes will make the team, but that number could be as low as 11 depending on when the team’s salary cap is hit.

Morris isn’t the first person to suggest college players need better preparation for the WNBA. After the 2022 WNBA Draft, then Connecticut Sun head coach Curt Miller — who has since been hired by the Los Angeles Sparks — said of the 30 prospects he spoke to prior to draft night, 80% either didn’t follow the WNBA or follow it closely.

More recently, Kelsey Plum announced that she was partnering with Under Armour to launch “DawgClass,” a three-day camp for top women’s college basketball guards with the goal of helping ease the transition between NCAA competition and the WNBA.

“The women’s game has such a massive gap in the transition from college to pro, unlike any other professional sport,” Plum told Just Women’s Sports.

“You’re just kind of thrown into the fire and you’re on your way, it’s like sink or swim.”

@luthorrrrr First day as a #connecticutsun ! Here’s my take away from my personal experiences! #fyp #beapromovement #fyp #womensbasketball ♬ original sound - Alexis Morris