By Chris McCarthy
Haley Troup recently showed where her priorities lie.
The highly recruited Gadsden City High School incoming senior basketball player had planned on waiting until August before committing to a college, but a close relative’s grave illness hastened that announcement.
With her grandmother Shirley Copeland suffering through the latter stages of ovarian cancer last week, Troup told her that she would sign with University of South Carolina.
According to Troup, her grandmother smiled and responded, “You made the team!”
Troup was happy that her grandmother was still responsive when she gave her the news.
“I’m so glad that I was able to share that moment with my grandmother,” said Troup. “She was able to understand what I was saying, and she was really happy for me.”
Haley’s dad Kevin pointed out that Haley has been visiting with her grandmother for two or three hours every morning in hospice care. Sadly, Shirley passed away on Wednesday morning. Wanting to fulfill her grandmother’s wish, however, Haley elected to play in the North/South all-star basketball game later that day in Montgomery.
“That shows you just what a special young lady she is,” he said. “I know that Haley also wanted to be here for the family, but her grandmother had told her that that she wanted her to play in the game, so she did.”
Kevin was a four-year starter at point guard for Emma Sansom and played college basketball at Athens State. He was the boys head basketball at Emma Sansom and Southside for several years before moving to Etowah, where he currently is the middle school boys basketball coach.
“South Carolina is an awesome program with Coach Staley and [assistant] coach [Nikki] McCray,” he said. “[Assistant] Coach [Melanie] Balcomb just got hired there after being the head coach at Vanderbilt for 14 years, and Haley has a great relationship with her.
“Not only that, but Haley’s a straight A student, and she’ll get a great education for her future.”
Haley was also considering scholarship offers from Alabama, Auburn, Vanderbilt, UAB, Missouri, Texas and Texas Tech.
“Wishing to show her appreciation for those programs’ efforts to sign her, Haley personally called every head coach to inform him or her of her decision prior to formally announcing her choice.
“You develop relationships with all of those coaches,” said Haley. “It was hard to tell them, and I felt a whole lot of pressure, but in the end, I felt relieved that I did it. It was the right thing to do.”
Haley is the second GCHS girls basketball player to sign with an SEC school. 2007 graduate Catina Bett signed with the University of Kentucky before transferring to Mississippi State.
Haley cited a solid relationship with the USC staff as a major factor in her decision.
“The main thing was that I trusted the coaches. I just believe that South Carolina will make me the best athlete and the best person that I can be. I was really comfortable with that. They also have a lot of resources. Their strength and conditioning program is probably the best in the nation as far as trainers and facilities go.”
Haley also appreciated the fact that the South Carolina women’s basketball program has a winning tradition and enjoys tremendous support from the administration and student body.
“They average around 14,000 fans for their home game, which is crazy,” she said. “The women’s [program] is just as popular as the men’s [program], or even more, so that’s really exciting.”
The 2015-16 Lady Gamecocks went 33-2 while winning the SEC Tournament title and making it to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament. South Carolina is coached by three-time Olympic medalist Dawn Staley.
“Haley has always wanted to go to a school where women’s basketball is as every bit as important as men’s basketball, and she certainly found one,” said Kevin. “It’s like the Alabama football of women’s basketball.”
The response on social media was immediate after Haley announced her commitment on her Twitter account.
“As soon as I posted it, I had around 800 people welcoming me to Gamecock Nation,” she said. “It was really overwhelming.”
The 5’10” shooting guard was a first-team Class 7A All-State selection this past season after averaging 17.9 points, 6.6 rebounds and 4.1 assists while shooting 80 percent at the foul line in 27 games as a junior. She also was among three finalists for the Alabama Sports Writers Association’s Class 7A Girls Player of the Year award and was selected as co-Player of the Year for the 2015-16 All-Messenger girls basketball team.
Haley was told that she would remain at the shooting guard position with the Gamecocks with the occasional shift to the point.
“[South Carolina] runs some stuff where any one of the guards and get [the ball] and go, which I like” she said. “If it’s not the most competitive conference in the nation, the SEC is right up there. It’s also a very physical league, so you really have to take care of yourself, so I’m looking forward to that challenge.”
Between the regular GCHS season, summer AAU ball, offseason workouts and individual training sessions, basketball has been a year-round sport for Haley since she ended her competitive soccer career around the age of 11.
“[Basketball] has pretty much been a lifestyle for me since the seventh grade,” she said. “I had to sacrifice a lot in the spring and in the summer, but it’s definitely been worth it.”
Haley currently has 1,740 career points, 1,017 career rebounds and 724 career assists.
“Haley had a lot of different options as far as her college choices were concerned, and I think she was pretty leveled-headed about weighing those options,” said GCHS girls head basketball coach Jeremy Brooks. “Ultimately she felt that South Carolina would be a really good fit for her. It’s a top-notch program that’s been ranked as high as No. 2 over the past several years, so Haley’s going to an established, winning program.”
Brooks pointed to the combination of natural ability, work ethic, intelligence and enthusiasm for the game as the reason for Haley’s signing with a top-tier Division I program.
“Haley’s one of those players who just loves to play,” he said. “All the extra stuff that she’s put in, like working with a personal trainer and extra workouts, has allowed her to be successful in high school and be prepared for the next level. In terms of girls high school basketball players across the nation, you’re talking about a very small percentile that will get the type of scholarship that Haley received.”
“It’s very gratifying to see your child work hard and something and having it pay off,” Kevin added. “Our motto has always been that hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard, and that good things happen when you do it the right way.”