MiLaysia Fulwiley, Hometown Hero | Essence

Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images

To go undefeated is one thing, but to do it for your hometown in your first season is a different feeling altogether. That’s exactly what the SEC’s reigning Freshman of the Year, MiLaysia Fulwiley, did earlier this month. For her, it was decades in the making.

“Definitely a full-circle moment,” the Columbia native tells ESSENCE. “South Carolina was the first school to offer me, and me being from here I always wanted to play for them. They believed in me from day one, and I’m glad that I proved to them that I can bring home a National Championship.” 

Fulwiley has been a legend in the state since her pre-teen days. She started playing varsity basketball in the seventh grade, which would also be the year she received her first scholarship offer from Dawn Staley herself. In six years as a varsity basketball player, she won four state championships—winning at the highest level isn’t new to her. But earning a national title in her first collegiate season is something she could only imagine.

“To win a championship is like a dream,” she says. “So to do it so quickly in your career it means a lot. My teammates keep reminding me how crazy it is that we actually did it. But now, we just want to repeat.” A South Carolina repeat isn’t a far-fetched idea either, especially with Fulwiley returning for her sophomore year. She provided the missing offensive spark that the Gamecocks didn’t have last year, losing to Caitlin Clark and Iowa in the Final Four. She averaged almost 12 points off the bench, and was a huge reason her team was able to complete the undefeated season this time around, becoming only the ninth team in NCAA history to accomplish this. 

“Going undefeated isn’t easy,” Fulwiley explains. “We made it look easy and it’s really not. We love Coach Staley, and I’m glad we were able to help her make history.” 

After scoring a career high 24 points in the SEC Championship against Angel Reese and LSU, she became the first freshman in South Carolina history to win Most Outstanding Player of the SEC Tournament. She also became the first NIL signings for two huge brands. “I chose Curry Brand because they felt like family and made me feel like I could be myself,” she states. “With Red Bull it was a no-brainer because they are very cool and I feel like they match my play style.”  

Fulwiley’s freshman season was filled with unforgettable moments. She had high expectations entering the season, and met each and every one of them. Despite her immense success, the 2023 McDonald’s All-American still remains humble. After a National Championship, several awards and accolades, and even getting a “MiLaysia Fulwiley Day” at W.J. Keenan High School, she wouldn’t put herself above other first-year stars like Juju Watkins and Hannah Hidalgo. When asked who is the best freshman in the country, she responds, “I’ll say I’m one of the best.”

That, without a doubt, she is. Not only one of the best freshmen in the country, but one of the best players regardless of class. She has one ring to prove it already. And with at least another three years with Coach Staley, it’s not far-fetched that she could go down as one of the best ever.

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