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South Carolina's National Champion basketball team was honored with a parade Sunday afternoon.
Thousands of fans lined Main Street as politicians, school officials, support staff, and former players rode floats toward the State House. Final Four Most Outstanding Player A'ja Wilson had her own ride, before the rest of the team and coaches pulled up the rear, riding a customized National Championship bus.
"My cup is running over," Dawn Staley said. "It's been a tremendous season. We've had so much support."
During a ceremony lasting about thirty minutes, Athletics Director Ray Tanner, SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey, and University President Harris Pastides were among those who spoke to the crowd. Tanner, who headlined a couple of parades when the baseball team won the College World Series, read off the list of accomplishments made by this year's team. Sankey, who skipped The Masters to attend the parade, said he has spent six straight weeks with Gamecocks basketball.
"It started with the SEC women's tournament in Greenville," he said. "We came back when the men won two straight to go to the Sweet 16. We took over New York City for a weekend. We as a conference had two teams in the National Championship game. All of that is a culmination of the support provided by this great university."
Politicians lined up to offer congratulations. Earlier in the day, Governor Henry McMaster designated April 9 as South Carolina Gamecock NCAA Women's Basketball National Champions Day. The Richland County Council presented the Gamecocks with a plaque, and Wilson and Alaina Coates, both Richland County natives, were given individual trophies. Rep. Jim Clyburn entered a congratulatory message into the Congressional Record, and presented each member of the team with a copy of the record. But Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin stole the show.
He congratulated the players on winning the title, and praised them for being role models off the court, then he called Staley to the podium. He handed Staley a garnet street sign, and announced the renaming of a portion of Lincoln St. in front of Colonial Life Arena.
"When you come to Columbia, SC, from now on, when you come to Colonial Life Arena, when you pass Lincoln Street from Pendleton to Assembly, which will hereby now be known as Dawn Staley Way," he said.
Pastides wore the same clothes he wore to all the previous postseason games: a garnet sport coat and tie. He joked that his wife thought he should wear something a little cooler, but he was not going to mess with a good thing.
"I did was out a very few things," Pastides said. "I may never take these clothes off again."
Wilson spoke to the crowd, thanking the fans for their support and saying she wanted to bring home another title next. year Then it was Staley's turn at the mic.
Arguably the most popular woman in the state right now, Staley thanked everyone she could think of. She thanked her old teammates, her players at Temple, coaches, support staff, practice players, University and Athletics Department staff. She thanked city and state officials for supporting the team, and thanked Nikki Haley for spearheading the effort to remove the Confederate flag from State House grounds, which led to the lifting of NCAA sanctions that Staley long felt were restricting the program.
Then she thanked the fans. She looked out across the thousands of fans crammed onto the State House grounds, and reflected on the growth of the program and how fan support drove the growth of the program.
"Nine years ago we probably averaged 500 fans. I didn't know what a National Championship program looked like," Staley said. "What you have created at Colonial Life Arena, we couldn't write a book on, because it was you."
Then Staley addressed her favorite accessory, her "net-lace." As her players surrounded her and mocking picked at the frayed nylon, Staley explained why she has taken the net on a victory tour of sorts.
"I've been wearing this net, my net-lace, and it has a significance," she said. "Figuratively I want to give you all a piece of this net. Figuratively.
"Whatever it is that your heart desires, take a piece of our net and reflect on what we were able to accomplish."