**Story by Kyle Heck/photo by Allen Sharpe**
The South Carolina women's basketball team leaves for its trip to Japan on Tuesday morning, and it's something that every member of the team is looking forward to.
The Gamecocks have been hard at work preparing for the trip for weeks, and head coach Dawn Staley updated the media on her team's plan while they are across the Pacific Ocean on Monday. South Carolina will play three exhibition games against the Japan National team while overseas, and the Gamecocks will return on July 5.
"We're getting better," Staley said of her team on Monday. "This group of players, they do pick up things fairly quickly. It's a young team, and paying attention to detail is key for us if we're going to be successful. (Japan) is a great opportunity for us to learn those things."
It's the first international trip under Staley, and the Gamecocks held their first practice on June 5, which is a much earlier start than normal. Per NCAA rules, the team was allowed 10 practices to prepare for the trip. Staley said the Gamecocks only held nine of those practices as she cancelled the one on Monday morning to give her team some rest in advance of the long flight to Japan the next day.
It'll be a great experience for a young team that will have to replace Alaina Coates, Kaela Davis and Allisha Gray from last year's national championship-winning team.
"You get to see who you are working with a lot sooner rather than later," Staley said. "Obviously the three players that left our program, they leave big shoes to fill."
Everyone on the roster will participate in the exhibition games, with the exception of Penn State transfer Lindsey Spann, who's recovering from an injury. While basketball will be an important part of the trip, Staley said her girls will also tour and look at competition sites for the 2018 Summer Olympics in Japan.
The trip will also be important for new assistant coach Jolette Law, who replaced Nikki McCray-Penson. She received a head start in adjusting to her new gig.
Frank Martin's men's basketball team took a similar trip to Costa Rica before last season, and Martin spoke all year about how much it helped his team with chemistry and developing relationships. The Gamecock men then went on a deep postseason run that ended in the Final Four. Staley is hoping this trip helps her own team just as much.
"You're forming that bond you need," Staley stated.