Jen Smith on Basketball

What happens when a bitter rival transfers to your school?

mcornelison@herald-leader.com

As soon as Southeastern Conference Player of the Year A’ja Wilson learned that a player from one of South Carolina’s most hated rivals was transferring from Kentucky to play for the Gamecocks, she couldn’t help herself.

“I picked at her as soon as she committed here,” the junior forward said of Alexis Jennings, who left UK after the season. “I posted a picture of me blocking her shot.”

The fun didn’t stop there. South Carolina players had running videos of similar shot-blocking events happening against Jennings when she was wearing UK blue and competing against them two or three times a season.

“We just kind of joke on her and be like, ‘Y’all didn’t beat us,’” senior forward Alaina Coates said during her time at SEC Media Days on Thursday. “Just playful banter among teammates.”

South Carolina Coach Dawn Staley, who said Jennings’ family reached out to her after the 6-foot-2 forward decided to leave UK, said she’s not always privy to the amusing back and forth between her players and the newcomer from Kentucky.

But Staley said she’s confident Jennings holds her own.

“She’s pretty strong minded, pretty strong willed, so she just fits right in because she gives it right back to them,” Staley said of Jennings, who averaged 10 points and 7.1 rebounds last season for Kentucky.

Jennings will sit out this season per NCAA transfer rules, but she’s already a key contributor, her new teammates said.

“She’s definitely going to be a good piece of the puzzle to what we’ve been working toward,” Coates said. “She pushes us in practice and she’s really contributing.”

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