MINNEAPOLIS. Dawn Staley lost.
Staley, a three-time Olympian and Player’s Hall of Famer, coached at the Temple in her hometown of Philadelphia for eight years, but the team failed to make it past the opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament.
So when Staley took over as coach of the South Carolina women’s basketball team in 2008, she had one goal in mind. “I wanted to win,” Staley said on Saturday. “I wanted to win the national championship.”
Under Staley’s leadership, the Gamecocks won 10 straight NCAA Tournaments, earned four trips to the Final Four, and won two national championships after Sunday night. It was a slow burn for Staley, who rebuilt the South Carolina program from the ground up. That Sunday win over Connecticut, the most decorated women’s basketball program, suggests a changing of the guard in the sport.
Staley has built a powerful team led by Alia Boston, who received awards as the best player and defender. Starting quarterbacks Zia Cook, Brea Beal and Destanny Henderson “have spent many minutes together” according to Staley, and they play like “shorthand” as a result.
“You don’t have to say much,” Staley said. “You can just point and they know the switch.”
Here the compositions have proven themselves again and again. Staley led the Gamecocks to their one and only number. #1 in program rankings and sent eight Gamecocks to the WNBA draft, including No. 1st overall pick in 2018, A’jah Wilson, who helped the Gamecocks win their first national title in 2017.
On Sunday evening, Wilson was there to support her alma mater.
According to Staley, UConn, under coach Jeno Oriemma, laid the foundation for much of that success. Auriemma has won 11 championships at the University of California, which he has directed since 1985.
“Whether people believe it or not, he really helped our game grow,” Staley said. “I think a lot of what we can do and get is due to their success. I think people at UCLA treat their women’s basketball team like a sport. They have to do it because of all the victories and all the success, but you can take a page out of their book.”
Before playing in the championship, none of the coaches lost a single game of the national championship. Staley then defeated Auriemma.
“I told Don after the game that they were the best team in the country all year,” Oriemma said Sunday night.
While South Carolina makes people think not only of UConn but of the gold standard of women’s college basketball, Staley is hesitant to call his program a dynasty. But she acknowledged that the rules of the game are changing.
“What I think is important for a black woman and a coach is the way you do it, the example you set for other coaches,” Staley said after Sunday’s game.
“I just want to be a great example of how to do things right and keep our game in a place where the integrity is intact, because that is how we will grow,” she added.
While South Carolina’s two titles may seem like small steps compared to UCCT’s 11 championships, the sport is no longer dominated by one team. This season has shown that women’s basketball is in a completely different era, full of talent. across the country, which saw six teams with double-digit seeding advance to the round of 16.
South Carolina is a member of the Southeastern Conference, which is best known for football. Staley’s success brought much more attention to women’s basketball at her university. She positions herself as the highest-paid black woman coaching the team and cultivates a loyal fan base that leads the nation in women’s college basketball attendance for seven straight seasons.
“When she first got here, it wasn’t all rainbows and all,” Beal, a junior guard, said before Sunday’s game. “I think just looking back at that and how she built a great community, a great place, I think having our own legacy and creating it was key for us.”
Candice Parker of the Chicago Sky WNBA said that South Carolina is forging its own path.
“I would say the next USC is the next USC, I think everyone is chasing who they want to be, their own identity,” Parker said after Sunday’s game. “I think they are who they are and they are doing what they should be.”
If Boston gets their way, Sunday night’s win is just the beginning.
“I think over the past couple of years you have just been able to see this program and how it continues to grow,” Boston said, adding that more players will want to go to South Carolina because of the atmosphere we have here. ”