1-On-1: South Carolina’s Dawn Staley on her success, her team, and previewing the WNBA season

Photo Credit: Richard W. Rodriguez/Fort Worth Star Telegram/TNS/Getty Images

Whether it has been coaching her South Carolina Gamecocks to a national championship or being named the head coach of the USA Basketball Women’s National Team, it has been quite a memorable year for Dawn Staley.

Staley, who is well recognized as a luminary within women’s basketball circles, had a playing career that spanned the collegiate ranks and eventually into the pros. Despite coming close to reaching that lofty plateau during her playing days at Virginia, a national title had eluded her throughout her college basketball career—until this year.

(Video Credit: Student Gamecock Television)

 

I think sometimes when something’s delayed as long as it’s been for me in my career, it makes it that more gratifying. And that held true.

 

She played in three Final Fours and one national title game while donning the Virginia Cavaliers colors. Staley also coached at Temple in her native Philadelphia before heading to Columbia to coach the Gamecocks.

In further comments to Beyond The W, she talked about how the glow of the national title win is still very present throughout the University of South Carolina campus. Staley believes her program is in a great position given how passionate Gamecocks fans are.

 

The fans are just incredibly loyal. They want to be part of a winning program and tradition. And they’ve been waiting for it. They’ve been waiting for it. They said if you build it, they’ll come. And it certainly held true for our program and the way things have turned out.

 


Beating the Odds

Photo Credit: Tracy Glantz/The State Newspaper (Columbia)

Getting that point was no easy task for South Carolina given that one of its premier players, Alaina Coates was sidelined due to injury for the duration of the tournament. The uphill battle was only amplified by the fact that as of late, it has been a case of UConn vs. the field.

 

All teams go through adversity. You deal with it in a variety of ways. You can either face it and hurdle it and move on or you can wallow in your sorrow and say woe is me, why did it happen to us, we can’t win it.

 

Instead of wilting in the face of adversity, the Gamecocks rose to the occasion—and delivered the first ever national title for women’s basketball in the school’s history.

 

When you have that kind of [positive] attitude, good things seem to fall your way. And our team never let one negative thought into their mind about not being able to win the national championship. And that was incredible to see them come together and pull together as an incredible unit and not be denied a national championship.

 

Staley also believes it gives a fresh face to women’s basketball that someone not named UConn, who lost to Mississippi State in the Semifinals thanks to Morgan William’s buzzer-beater, to cut down the nets at the end. She also feels it gives Geno Auriemma and his program in Storrs a different perspective.

 

I think it’s a great spin to put on women’s basketball when it’s something that was unforeseen.

 

Feeling like a Champion

(Video Credit: City of Columbia)

Have you ever heard of that old phrase “Pinch me, I must be dreaming?” That phrase signifies something so surreal that one cannot believe it is actually happening the way it is. It may have been the case for Staley and her South Carolina team that featured A’ja Wilson, Allisha Gray, Alaina Coates, and Kaela Davis.

Staley says it first began to sink in when she was at the championship parade in downtown Columbia to honor her team that cut down the nets in Dallas. At said parade, Staley was even honored by Columbia mayor Steve Benjamin with a portion of a street near Colonial Life Arena, the Gamecocks home stadium, being renamed Dawn Staley Way.

 

It sinks in when you see people continually congratulate us. The piles of letters and cards that were sent in that are just constant reminders of winning the national championship.

 

In fact, Staley and South Carolina not only received one trophy—but two. There was, of course, the trophy that the Gamecocks received for winning the national championship—but there was also a second one as well that came from the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association.

They have even given names to both trophies. Staley calls the national title trophy “Brownie” and the WBCA one “A La Mode.”

 

I think it was catchy.

 

Stars and Stripes

(Video Credit: South Carolina Gamecocks Athletics)

Winning the national title was not the only noteworthy accomplishment for Staley in 2017. Prior to that, USA Basketball had a press conference in Columbia announcing Staley as the new head coach of the women’s national team.

Not too many teams have epitomized winning and tradition the way the women’s national team has. Last year, Team USA claimed its sixth consecutive gold medal at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

 

When you’re entrenched in [the game] as much as I’ve been…good things happen and it certainly was a great thing that happened for me and my career.

 

Staley says she is already looking to the next Olympics which will be held in Tokyo in 2020—her first year as the head coach after several seasons as an assistant for USA Basketball under Geno Auriemma.

There also is a chance the Games after Tokyo could be held in the United States—if Los Angeles’ 2024 Olympic bid is successful. For 2024, LA is currently bidding against Paris.

While she has thought about 2020, but not so much on 2024.

 

We’ve got to prep for that. You just can’t do it once you get to the Olympics.

 

Remembering her roots

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In 2011, Staley was also named one of the WNBA’s Top 15 Players of All Time in honor of The W’s 15th anniversary. She is also a six-time WNBA All-Star. Staley’s accomplishments are many, but this has certainly been one of the more banner years of her career.

 

My dream was to play basketball—just be able to do it for as long as possible. And from being able to do that, you expose yourself to other things and honors far greater than you thought of.

 

Staley attributes a great deal of her success to her dream she had as a little girl of playing basketball while growing up in north Philadelphia. She mentions how that aspiration of hers as a child has led her to the eventual plateaus she has managed to reach in her career—first as a player and eventually as a coach.

 

I was just a little girl growing up in north Philly playing with the guys—and I was perfectly fine with that. I got my thrill, my competitive juices were flowing. Playing for pride was a great thing.

 

Philadelphia was, of course, the city that Staley was born and raised in. It is also well-recognized as being home to some of the most passionate sports fans in the country.

As Philly sees Staley as one of its favorite daughters, any accolade for her will have many in the City of Brotherly Love smiling with joy.

 

They’re diehard fans and they take care of their own.

 

 

If anybody from Philly does anything great, I’m always on their bandwagon to reach out and congratulate them. And it’s been that kind of great relationship especially with the city that I grew up in and I love. I’m forever in debted to the city because it raised me.

 

She does believe, however, on the concept of professional women’s basketball in Philadelphia, while she would like to see a team there, that the sporting landscape in Philly may be so full that there may not be the fanbase available to fully support a team.

Beyond The W tackled this topic a few months ago in its second installment of its “Where To, W?” series that looks at potential cities for WNBA expansion.

 

There’s too much competing for the type of fans that women’s basketball needs to be successful in a city like that. But I hope somebody proves me wrong.

 

Hard Work Pays Off

(Photo Credit: WNBA.com)

Not only did Staley get to witness her players making history and delivering a championship to South Carolina, three of her players—Coates, Gray, and Davis were drafted into the WNBA in the first round.

 

Those three players contributed in such a way to our program, to see them realize their dreams, it was quite incredible.

 

Coates was chosen with the number two overall pick to the Chicago Sky, but her injury will keep her sidelined for this season. Davis and Gray were both chosen by the Dallas Wings, meaning they will begin their professional careers playing alongside Skylar Diggins-Smith, one of the W’s marquee players as well as one of its most noteworthy personalities.

 

Anytime you get to play with such great talent like that, I think it’s a wonderful thing. And I hope that they have long, full careers.

 

Watch Me Work

Photo Credit: Kirby Lee/USA Today Sports

Staley also took some time to give her take on the upcoming WNBA season—a season that is likely to see the Lynx and Sparks compete for a title as well as one where plenty of eyes will be focused on the Mystics to see how they perform with Elena Delle Donne and Kristi Toliver.

 

There are no nights off. The talent is incredible. I think it’s spread out. I know you have the top teams like Minnesota and the Sparks. But Washington made some great moves. Dallas made some great moves. San Antonio got the number one pick. So, I think it’s a lot of storylines behind it…Excited to watch.

 

What’s Next?

Photo Credit: WIS-TV 10 Columbia

After the success of this season, a top question that is being asked around the Palmetto State is what can Staley and co. do for an encore? Despite losing three of their top talents to the W, the Gamecocks will still return Wilson for next year—her senior campaign, and she is also expected to be a well-looked after WNBA prospect.

South Carolina will also be expected once again to be in competition for women’s college basketball’s top prize in 2017-18.

 

We’ve got a great core of players coming back and we just got to figure out how to mesh them…We’re hoping to just get back into the swing of things and get back out there on the court.

 

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