Dawn Staley aims for ‘generational impact’ ahead of South Carolina’s fourth Final Four appearance

When the South Carolina coach Dawn Staley was named Naismith Women’s Coach of the Year for the second time this week, the three-time Olympic gold medalist and Hall of Famer was quick to share the spotlight.

“It really takes a village,” said Staley, who called the associate head coach Lisa Boyer and assistant coaches Fred Chmiel and Jolette Law stand next to her posing with the trophy.

South Carolina vs. Louisville in the Final Four: How to watch, live updates

Staley’s humble but meaningful gesture is indicative of the 51-year-old’s “I don’t know how else to do it” personality, which is characterized by that signature gesture: uplifting those around her.

But no deviation can dull the luster of Staley’s accomplishments ahead of his fourth Final Four appearance with the No. 1-seeded Gamecocks, who take on top-seeded Louisville on Friday night in Minneapolis. She kicked off the season by signing a historic seven-year, $22.4 million contract, making her the highest-paid black head coach in women’s college basketball and one of the highest-paid coaches in the entire world. women’s college basketball. sent a piece of the 2017 South Carolina national championship net to every black female college coach in Division I basketball (nearly 70).

South Carolina’s second straight bid for a national title could provide the perfect end to a 29-2 season that featured a dazzling campaign from the junior forward Aliyah Boston, who was named Naismith National Women’s Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year. It could also serve as personal revenge after last year’s heartbreaking semi-final loss to Stanford. As the Gamecocks were down three points with less than two minutes left, a missed kick resulted in a quick breaking bucket for the Cardinal, who won 66-65 and clinched the championship.

“Last year is in the past,” Staley said Tuesday, displaying a zen-like approach to the controversial call. “He is there as part of your journey. So good, bad or indifferent, it’s part of who we are. As if it was meant to happen. Our paths are divinely ordained, so we must take the good and the bad and the disappointments just as we take the experiences of celebration.

Making these experiences a reality for his players is part of Staley’s mission.

“I want to be a dream kid marketer because my basketball career as a player was – my cup was overflowing, and I wanted other people to feel it,” she said.

Staley’s own story bears repeating ahead of South Carolina’s bid for a second national title. She burst onto the scene during her four years as a Virginia player, where she was twice Naismith Player of the Year and led her team to three Final Four appearances – including the national championship game from 1991. She elevated her legacy as a professional, winning three Olympic gold medals as a member of Team USA in 1996, 2000 and 2014, and her eight-year WNBA career was marked by a trip to the 2001 final with the Charlotte Sting.

But Staley’s legendary status was boosted after she found her calling as a coach. At the 2000 Women’s Final Four in Philadelphia, Staley was present as a spectator when she was approached by the athletic director of Temple University, Dave O’Brien, who made several attempts to seduce her as a coach. She was eventually swayed after O’Brien changed tack, challenging Staley to identify ways to improve the program.

NCAA Women’s Basketball 2022: Final Four Schedule, March Madness Results and Scores

That fall, while playing for Team USA as well as the WNBA, Staley took his place at the helm of the Owls and led them to their first winning season in 11 years and their first playoff appearance – at the 2001 WNIT – since an appearance at the NCAA Tournament. in 1989. Staley’s teams qualified for the NCAA Tournament six of the next seven years, highlighted by a 2004-05 team that won all 10 regular season and Atlantic Conference titles and went a perfect 15-0 in conference.

Staley admits she was ‘blind’ to the fact that she was a black woman trying to make her way through the college coaching ranks, and simply approached her job with the same love of the game she had as a player.

“You walk into coaching, and I really believe that other people make you look at the color of your skin, by the way they treat you, by the way you’re not at the top when it comes to opportunities. to coach,” she explained. “Someone really failed to give black women an opportunity and then when they have one, if they fail, you’re reduced to being an assistant coach. You are not recycled to another head coaching position.

Her perspective sharpened when her coaching job turned into a full-time career after retiring from the WNBA in 2006. She left Temple for South Carolina in 2008 and reached the NCAA Tournament 10 times with the Gamecocks, guiding the program to its first final. Four appearances in 2015, then again in 2017 and 2021. Last summer, Staley coached Team USA to gold at the Tokyo Olympics, winning all six games and taking his record to 45-0. Staley also coached Team USA to gold at the 2018 World Cup in Spain as well as the 2019 and 2021 FIBA ​​AmeriCups.

“I’m just doing what I’m supposed to do,” said Staley, who received the Pat Summitt National Coach of the Year Award from the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) on Thursday. “I’m good about myself, and I’m comfortable being uncomfortable and making others feel uncomfortable when it’s for the right thing.”

Of the SEC’s 14 women’s basketball programs, five are coached by black women, and Staley revealed the group has formed an informal network of mentorship and solidarity through group texts and zoom meetings.

“We talk about it. We lift each other up,” Staley said. “When someone gets a big win, we text because we know if we don’t succeed – if we don’t succeed, we go back down – we have to wait another 10 years to try again.

“I just feel like the black female coaches have been the voiceless ones, the ones who don’t really have the opportunity to fail. It’s winning at all costs, and if you don’t, don’t look for another opportunity.

Staley’s knack for building relationships was undoubtedly the “secret sauce” behind Gamecock’s overwhelming fan support for their women’s basketball program. South Carolina has led the nation in attendance every season since 2014-15, averaging more than 10,000 fans in 92 consecutive regular-season home games. A sold-out crowd of 18,000 was in attendance for this year’s home game against Tennessee.

“We took matters into our own hands,” Staley explained Thursday. “We invited our fans to our offices. We create opportunities for them to get to know us as people, and then in return, by word of mouth, they bring friends. They buy subscriptions just to have, just to invite people to our games. … We give access to our fans, and in return, they fill our arena.

Many South Carolina fans are expected to be in attendance Friday at Target Center, where the Gamecocks are the favorites against the Cardinals. But Louisville is coming up with its own sophomore star Hailey VanLith. The 5-7 guard is Louisville’s first player with four straight 20-point games in the NCAA Tournament, and her 22-point performance in the Elite Eight carried the Cardinals’ offense in their 62-50 victory over the Michigan.

Whether or not the weekend ends with Staley donning another ‘netlace’ – she wore the 2017 Championship net as a prop so often that her players gave her a nickname – Staley already has an idea of ​​how she wants to be known about this chapter of her career.

“I want to be remembered as an odds-beater – I am,” she said. “Then the other… I think what I want is to have a generational impact. That’s what I would like to have: a generational impact. Not just to have an impact on my current players and my players, but to have an impact on people, who will have an impact on people, who will have an impact on others.

NCAA Women’s Basketball – Final Four Schedule

Matches of the women’s basketball semi-final on Friday, April 1, 2022:

Teams

Time (ET)

TV channel

Location

No. 1 South Carolina vs. No. 1 Louisville

7 p.m.

ESPN

Minneapolis, Minnesota

No. 1 Stanford vs. No. 2 UConn

9:30 p.m.

ESPN

Minneapolis, Minnesota

2022 NCAA Women’s Basketball National Championship Game – Sunday, April 3, 2022

Teams

Time (ET)

TV channel

Location

TBD versus TBD

8 p.m.

ESPN

Minneapolis, Minnesota

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Dawn Staley eyes ‘generational impact’ ahead of South Carolina’s fourth Final Four appearance, originally appeared on NBCSports.com

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