Las Vegas, Nevada
• Day 2 Practice Report
Dawn Staley’s goal was one gold medal. Fifteen golds later, the USA Basketball Women’s National Team assistant coach is in hot pursuit of sweet 16.
An outstanding college guard at Virginia, Staley got started with USA Basketball after her freshman season in 1989. She had grown up watching the U.S. Olympic teams and knew once she was in the system that she would do whatever it took to get to the top of the podium.
Staley just didn’t realize she’d be able to do it so often.
“I just wanted one experience of that,” she said. “I never thought that I could leave a legacy here at USA Basketball but that’s what it’s become. I put myself in a position to be an asset.”
Competing with the most talented group of players she had ever been around, Staley learned quickly that her best path to sticking around was making herself valuable to those around her. The intangibles, she said, were the key, and that led to 10 gold medals as a player, including three in the Olympics and two in the FIBA World Championships.
“It’s the culture that I try to replicate now, because it’s a culture of sacrifice for the greater good of the team,” Staley said.
Staley’s playing career would have been enough to rank her among the best ever, but since she started coaching at Temple while still playing — in 2004 she led the Owls to the NCAA Tournament and then led the United States as the Olympic Games Opening Ceremony flag bearer — it only made sense to transition to the USA Basketball coaching staff. In that capacity she's helped the USA
to win five more gold medals, including the 2008 Olympics and the 2014 FIBA World Championship.
“Not many people get an opportunity to have that kind of career and have that kind of impact for as long as she had hers,” said head coach Geno Auriemma. “And then to be able to do it as a coach as well, it sets her apart.”
The dual roles put her in a special position to relate to the current players, including the group finishing up their three-day mini-camp at UNLV’s Mendenhall Center. It’s not like the players don’t listen to Auriemma or the rest of the staff, but when Staley talks there’s a little more something behind it because they know she’s been in their positions.
“She’s one of the best Olympians we’ve had in the history of our team,” said guard Skylar Diggins. “Those are the people you want to talk to while you’re here because they have the most experience and they’re going to give it to you straight.”
Staley first started in USA Basketball before 11 of the players in camp were born, and with an eye toward next year’s Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, that number will continue to grow as Staley proves her value no matter the era. She’s in no hurry to leave this “basketball utopia” as she called it, and now a lot of the fun is seeing bits of herself in the different stages of the players’ careers.
Guard Sue Bird has a combined six gold medals between the Olympics and FIBA World Championships, and she plans to add at least one more of those next year. Meanwhile, guard Odyssey Sims has just one of those as part of the 2014 U.S. World Championship roster, but with the right emphasis on a culture of sacrificing for the betterment of the team she could have a chance to become as decorated as those before her.
Staley remembers being in both of those positions and knows how to relate those experiences as a coach. That’s one of many reasons she’s so valuable to USA Basketball.
“To be a part of the development from Sims to Bird is a beautiful thing,” she said.