South Carolina freshman Chloe Kitts received a roaring ovation from Gamecock fans Sunday when head coach Dawn Staley put her in the game against Charleston Southern.
“Welcome to the fam Chloe Kitts,” a fan’s sign read.
She adjusted her white No. 21 jersey while talking to senior guard Zia Cooke at half court, gleaning final tidbits of advice before her quicker-than-anticipated college debut. Kitts enrolled at USC early after graduating from high school this month, and is now part of the team’s active roster.
Kitts mostly looked like a natural in Sunday’s game against Charleston Southern, recording 10 points, seven rebounds, two steals and two assists in USC’s 87-23 victory. She had her moments where she looked new, but played with a certain feel for the game.
Postgame, Kitts was calm and collected, but admitted she didn’t hold that same level of tranquility heading into the game.
“I was definitely nervous,” Kitts said. “I didn’t show it, but right when I got out there, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh.’ And I was sweating already before I even played.”
Pregame jitters aren’t surprising for a player that got to campus a mere five days before her first game.
Playing in an 18,000-seat arena packed with some of the country’s loudest fans in the team’s 11th game of the season isn’t the easiest transition to make.
Kitts, who shined in her high school years and was ranked as the No. 17 player on ESPN in the class of 2023. She was taught the fundamentals of the game by her father at a young age and developed a versatile skill set.
Kitts practiced with the Gamecocks from the moment she arrived on campus, but didn’t get a real taste of college action until Sunday.
“I definitely did feel a difference,” Kitts said. “The defense here and everything is so much harder.”
Fortunately for Kitts, she joined a team with a plethora of sophomores, juniors and seniors who have won a national championship.
“It’s good when you have a good support system,” Kitts said. “All the girls around me are just very supportive of me. It helped me be less nervous, but I still was.”
She earned her first point as a Gamecock with a free throw late in the quarter, but got her first shot from the field early in the next frame.
Freshman guard Talaysia Cooper dribbled the ball down the court with Kitts running down on her right. Cooper dished it to the 6-foot-2 freshman forward, who finished the layup and commended Cooper on the pass.
The nerves running through Kitts’ mind earlier weren’t present for her first college field goal.
“I wasn’t really thinking about anything,” Kitts said. “I always do this.”
Her production didn’t stop there. She made a 3-pointer in the first half, one of USC’s 10 for the day. She made a nice left-handed dish to freshman forward Ashlyn Watkins inside. She made a continual effort to rebound the ball.
Staley liked what she saw in Kitts’ first go at a college game. She’s shortened the playbook for Kitts so far, but gave her a bit of a test in the 23 minutes she was on the floor.
“Sometimes, you want to force players to think about things,” Staley said. “See if she can execute under pressure, see if you can change defenses and see how quickly she processes things.”
The way Kitts played impressed Cooke, a senior and the team’s leading scorer, who noticed how advanced Kitts presented herself.
“I’m super, super surprised,” Cooke said. “Just from coming out of high school, I know how I would have been. I probably wouldn’t know what I was doing, but when she’s out there, she’s asking questions. She’s even knowing the answers to some things I didn’t even know my freshman year.”
Kitts will continue to build a rapport with the rest of the Gamecocks as conference play inches closer. The team has another game on Wednesday and an eight-day gap before hosting Texas A&M.
With the time in between, Kitts will have the opportunity to temper the nerves and find ways to contribute.
“I feel like I’m getting more confident,” Kitts said. “I’m just happy to be around this great coaching staff and all the players.”