Chloe Kitts has been tied to South Carolina for years. She just didn’t always know it.
She played against USC freshmen Talaysia Cooper and Ashlyn Wakins in high school, and she watched Raven Johnson and Sania Feagin play in AAU basketball.
Kitts, before she reached middle school, took a picture with Gamecocks head coach Dawn Staley in 2015.
And now — sooner than expected — she’ll team up with all of them.
The 6-foot-2 Kitts moved in at USC on Tuesday and will begin her college eligibility in January after graduating from high school early. Fast-tracking her high school career wasn’t always the plan, but it was always a possibility.
Kitts brings a ‘business mindset’
Kitts didn’t take the typical route of a high school athlete.
She took online classes throughout high school in a program called Florida Virtual. She did basketball training in the morning and worked on her classes in the evening.
The five-star forward from Oviedo, Florida played in some local AAU tournaments and also played for DME Academy for two years. She was able to establish her own schedule that differed from the class-to-practice model most kids operate under.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit during her freshman year, she and her dad, Jason, kept working in the gym.
“Her personality is more of a business mindset,” said her father, Jason Kitts. “And the reason why is because she learned how to manage her time. And she learned how to develop a mindset of, ‘OK, this is what I have to do to do what I want to do.’ Because a lot of people want to go to college, but do they really want to be a pro?”
Laeticia Amihere arrived at USC before her freshman year because of an injury, but Kitts’ case will be the first time a player has joined the roster midway through the season under Dawn Staley.
When Kitts took her official visit to campus in September, Staley pitched that she had an extra scholarship she wanted to use on the high school senior. So Kitts worked even harder to knock out her courses.
“I’ve been in my senior year for, like, five weeks, and I’m done with them,” Kitts said.
Kitts is joining a South Carolina team rife with McDonald’s All-Americans, Division I national champions and future WNBA players.
The roster is flooded with talent, but Staley thinks Kitts is a “cerebral basketball player” and can help the Gamecocks — this season.
“She’s gonna play,” Staley told The State. “We aren’t bringing her here to sit on the bench. She brings something to the table that we’ve been lacking, and that is the ability to consistently shoot the ball.”
Staley said Kitts reminds her a bit of former USC star Mikiah Herbert Harrigan, who had the nickname “Mad Kiki” because of the tenacity she played with.
“She doesn’t back down,” Staley said. “She’s got a nastiness about her on the floor. She’s not gonna be punked at all.”
Kitts will be tested early on by practicing with South Carolina, Staley said, and the staff and players will help her adjust to the college level.
Staley also hopes that Kitts’ head start will be an asset to the freshman class in fall 2023.
“It’s just one more piece to add to our future,” Staley said. “And if she can come and experience what it feels like to be on a championship team, that’s invaluable. That’s invaluable to any young person. So we look forward to it.”
A new challenge
Kitts has played with talented players before. She was a member of the U18 National Team for the United States this summer.
She played with such players as Kiki Rice, Isuneh Brady and Grace VanSlooten, who are all currently on Top 25 college basketball teams.
“I love playing with good players. I’d rather play with good players than be, like, ‘the man,’ you know?” Kitts said. “That experience really taught me that wherever the coach says to go, that’s where you need to go.
“I got taught that, but I never went through the actual process of playing with 11 other good players and playing against different countries for the USA.”
Kitts describes herself as a versatile basketball player who can shoot, handle the ball and pass well. Her father taught her the fundamentals of the game from the first day she took interest in basketball.
Jason Kitts founded a non-profit organization called CHB Global Corp to teach young athletes in the community and also get some gym time for Chloe — who later spent two years helping out by leading second- and third-grade kids in drills.
It was Jason Kitts who encouraged his daughter to make the leap to college basketball when given the opportunity. The door was opened with USC’s extra scholarship, and he wanted her to be challenged by playing with high-caliber athletes on the nation’s top team.
The family’s motto is “No one cares, work harder,” the father said, and that the transfer portal is “not an option.”
“We can’t challenge her anymore at home,” Kitts said. “We can’t challenge her in any gyms, we can’t challenge her academically, we can’t challenge her like she needs to be challenged. We need her to face some adversity, so she can grow and develop.”
Chloe Kitts felt welcomed when she visited South Carolina in September. She regularly communicated with the Gamecocks’ players after she left, leading up to her eventual commitment in November.
That made South Carolina unique to the other schools she was looking at, she said.
“Even now, they text me,” Kitts said ahead of arriving on campus.
Kitts will spend the next month familiarizing herself with the team and the Columbia area before she can suit up for any games. She’ll wear No. 21 for the Gamecocks.
She’ll soon adjust to the student-athlete life both on the court and in the classroom.
“Obviously, I’m still excited, but now I’m like low-key nervous,” Kitts said. “I just gotta lock in.”
And in a full-circle moment, she’ll do so under the tutelage of Staley.
“What has become now really was a vision years ago,” Jason Kitts said.
This story was originally published December 14, 2022 12:00 AM.