South Carolina high school star Loyal McQueen unbound by borders in recruiting process
Loyal McQueen remembers that summer day when she was stumped into silence.
It was back in 2015, and she had yet to play a high school basketball game, but there she was, sitting in an office at Colonial Life Arena, talking with South Carolina coach Dawn Staley, a six-time WNBA All-Star who won three Olympic gold medals as a player.
McQueen sat there with her parents, Derrick and Hope, and listened as Staley talked about what she saw as her future.
"She said she liked the way I was developing," McQueen recalled of the conversation that took place a few months before she started eighth grade. "[Staley] said she was impressed with me, and then she offered the scholarship.
"I was very surprised. I didn't know I could be offered that early. I was speechless. I looked at my mom and dad, but I didn't say anything. It got real quiet ... and I just said, 'Thank you.' "
Because it was so early in the process, McQueen did not accept or reject the offer. Within days, she got a second offer, this one from Clemson.
McQueen, now a sophomore point guard at Wilson High (named after a former principal, not a current Gamecocks star) in Florence, South Carolina, has accumulated more offers since then, including Kentucky, Virginia Tech and Houston.
Last season, she played her first full varsity season, averaging 7.4 points and 8.0 assists, helping lead Wilson to its first trip to the state championship game.
This season, McQueen has shot up from 5-foot-3 and 100 pounds to 5-7 and 125. Her game has grown, too, and she now leads her team in scoring at 20.4 points per game, more than keeping up with teammate D'asia Gregg, a 6-2 senior wing who has signed with Georgia Tech. In McQueen's first game of the season, in fact, she scored 21 first-quarter points.
"Every night, it's a given Loyal will score at least 20 points," Wilson coach Jessica Gerald said. "She's very energetic. She can shoot the 3 and get to the basket. She can play both ends of the floor."
McQueen, a lefty, has posters of two players on her bedroom walls, and both of them are left-handers: Kelsey Mitchell, a senior guard at Ohio State, and Odyssey Sims, who runs the point for the WNBA's Los Angeles Sparks.
"Being lefty throws people off at times," McQueen said. "They say lefties are hard to guard."
From driveway to ...
McQueen, the younger of two children in a family that includes older sister London, started playing basketball in her driveway, where her dad would often go to put up shots.
Back in his youth, Derrick was no ordinary player. At 5-10, he was a four-year starting point guard at Wake Forest, setting up future NBA players such as Rodney Rogers, Anthony Tucker and Randolph Childress.
Now the head boys' basketball coach at Wilson, Derrick tried to teach London to play basketball, but that experiment quickly fizzled.
"[At age 6] London said she was sweating too hard," Derrick said. "She didn't want to play anymore."
Disappointed, Derrick was determined not to make the same mistake twice -- he wasn't going to push Loyal toward basketball.
But one day, Hope decided to put Loyal in a basketball camp. Within a couple of days, Loyal was dazzling the coaches, and Derrick, who was at work, started to get photos and text messages from Hope regarding their daughter's surprising aptitude.
"After that, Loyal told me, 'Daddy, I want to play basketball,' " Derrick said. "I said, 'Are you serious about the game?' We spent the next week talking about all the sacrifices she would have to make for basketball.
"When she assured me she was serious, we started her in a rec league, and we spent a lot of time doing drills."
She soon joined an AAU team, the South Carolina 76ers, a team she still plays for today.
Gregg, the Georgia Tech signee, first saw her future teammate when McQueen was still in seventh grade.
"It was an open gym at Wilson," Gregg said. "Loyal was really good, especially since she was still in middle school. Even then, she was very explosive.
"Now she's attacking even more than when she was younger."
McQueen is also smart, carrying a 3.75 GPA. Enrolled in the Early College Program at Wilson, McQueen will be an academic junior by the time she's a freshman athletically.
Just what college she will attend is the big question.
Nearly three years after it gave McQueen her first offer, South Carolina still is without an answer.
The Gamecocks won the program's first national title last season, riding the MVP efforts of another left-handed South Carolina native, 6-5 forward A'ja Wilson.
It doesn't matter where the school is if it's the right fit for me.Loyal McQueen
"I was very happy when [South Carolina won the title last year]," said McQueen, who lives just 75 minutes from the Gamecocks campus in Columbia. "I have watched A'ja since I was in the sixth grade. My dad took me to one of her high school games, and I was very impressed."
But McQueen, who wants to be "an educator" once she's done playing basketball, said she won't let sentimentality cloud her judgment.
After this season, there won't be any South Carolina natives on the Gamecocks' roster. McQueen could be the next great home-state player to lead the South Carolina program, but that won't sway her decision.
Instead, McQueen values her education. The school that will best prepare McQueen for her major will have a distinct advantage.
In addition, she talks regularly to the coaches who are recruiting her, and the strength of those relationships also will factor into her decision.
Ideally, she will name her five finalists in September and commit by November.
"I want to go somewhere I can have the biggest impact," McQueen said. "It doesn't matter where the school is if it's the right fit for me."