28 Years In The Making, Staley Seizes Another Opportunity With USA Basketball
Olympic gold medals from 1996, 2000, 2004 as an athlete and 2008 and 2016 as an assistant coach. Two FIBA World Championship gold medals as an athlete and one more as a coach. Seventeen gold medals in total during her USA Basketball career thus far.
That is as decorated a number as one could find in a USA Basketball jersey and on the USA sideline. It should not be compared to crossing the century mark in consecutive wins or winning several national championships in a row, because it is not meant to be compared to those achievements. No, 17 gold medals are symbolic of something greater than winning.
Those medals, and you can add two more if you include the bronze medals from the 1994 and 2006 FIBA World Championships, probably are somewhere at her home in Columbia, South Carolina. Some are shinier than others and all are a bit heavy. Not one is exactly like another, and that holds true for the memories they represent, because that is how life in basketball works.
And, this truly has been a life in basketball.
The journey to this point has spanned nearly three decades for Dawn Staley, and none of it has been the same. Now, 28 years after she put on a USA Basketball jersey for the first time, it all changes again.
Staley has stepped into the USA Women’s National Team head coaching role, as announced on March 10, 2017. Her 10-year coaching career with USA Basketball is highlighted by assistant coaching stints at the 2008 and 2016 Olympic Games, for the gold medal-winning 2014 USA World Championship Team and bronze medal-winning 2006 USA World Championship Team. Seven gold medals have been won since 2006 with Staley as part of the coaching staff, with those teams earning an 80-4 overall record, including a perfect 21-0 slate as a head coach.
That is an impressive medal haul and almost hard to comprehend, but it is no joke. Yet, when asked about her new role, Staley let out a bit of grateful laughter.
“It’s crazy,” she admitted. “It’s an emotion that leaves you speechless, but then when it sinks in, you kind of reflect on just really being blessed. To be named the head coach of the USA National Team is the best achievement, award, recognition, that any player or coach could ask for, especially when USA Basketball has been so dear to me in my career and all the things that I stand for and the game that I love.
“I will do my very best to uphold the standards and winning tradition of the national team, and must thank the selection committee for having faith in my abilities as a coach to trust me with such an important role.”
The truth is, each and every time Staley has been involved with USA Basketball, her role has been important. While collecting 10 gold medals as an athlete, she was the quintessential point guard and catalyst for Olympic gold medal-winning teams in 1996, 2000 and 2004, when she was selected by all U.S. Olympic Team captains to carry the flag for the U.S. delegation into the 2004 Olympic Games opening ceremony.
She was a member of the historic 1995-96 USA Basketball Women’s National Team that rolled up a 52-0 record before upping that to a perfect 60-0 mark in the Atlanta Olympics, and was named the 1996 USA Basketball and United States Olympic Committee Team of the Year.
She was on hand for FIBA World Championship gold medals in 1998 and 2002, and she stood on the top of the podium at the 1994 Goodwill Games, 1993 World Championship Qualifying Tournament, 1992 R. William Jones Cup and 1991 World University Games.
She is a two-time USA Basketball Female Athlete of the Year, earning the honor in 1994 and 2004.
There is not an appropriate metaphor for Staley’s commitment to USA Basketball as an athlete. But, she was a winner. Her USA playing record was an amazing 196-10.
“My first Olympics, winning my first gold medal, has always been etched in my heart, because it was a lifelong dream of mine, and to do it in our home country, in Atlanta, was pretty special.,” said the 1991 and 1992 Naismith National Player of the Year.
“And then being named the flag bearer and leading the Olympic delegation in Greece was one of the most exciting and memorable experiences of my USA Basketball career. The game has been an incredible gift that keeps on giving.”
Staley says this with pride and humility – clear from her voice. Playing careers eventually end, but there is no limit to giving back, and Staley has been nothing short of a basketball philanthropist.
Her professional playing career included time in the American Basketball League (ABL) before eight seasons in the WNBA. Even after entering the league in 1999, Staley welcomed an unheralded challenge by accepting the head coaching position at Temple University in her hometown of Philadelphia in 2000.
She made 219 starts in 219 games for the Charlotte Sting in her seven seasons – meanwhile leading Temple to three Atlantic 10 Conference regular season and three more A-10 Tournament titles. Staley departed the Temple program following the 2007-08 season for a new challenge at the University of South Carolina. One year prior, she experienced life on the other side of the USA Basketball huddle for the first time as an assistant coach for the USA National Team.
As Staley’s Gamecocks await the 2017 NCAA Tournament, the 12th of her coaching career, she enters with an overall collegiate coaching record of 387-160 (.707 winning percentage) in 17 seasons. She is a Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer and a Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame inductee. She is a winner.
“She is a former Olympic point guard who holds her players accountable, but completely understands the journey of each and every team member, which makes her a great fit for the job,” longtime Virginia head coach Debbie Ryan said of her former court general. “Dawn has dedicated most of her life to USA Basketball and her experience as both a player and coach in the system will be invaluable as the USA begins this next quest for Olympic gold.”
She also is a listener, a student, a teacher and a friend. Her newest challenge at the international level will combine her experiences and perspectives from playing for or working with coaching legends Tara Vanderveer, Ryan, Van Chancellor, Anne Donovan and Geno Auriemma.
“What I learned from Tara – and I’m glad I was under her tutelage as a player, because I learned to be very disciplined and structured in some parts, because that was probably the very thing that I lacked as a player. With Tara, it mattered what it looked like and it mattered how you approached it, it mattered possession by possession, it mattered that you go back and look at it to see where you can create an edge strategically. She made you a student of the game. She made you well-rounded.
“At the same time, a coach like Debbie Ryan, allowed me to be creative and make mistakes from just playing and and learning to correct them and understanding how the game is being played.”
Working alongside Donovan at the 2008 Olympics, Staley molded into a preparation maniac of sorts, saying, “I think I sometimes I over prepare, because I don’t like surprises. I want to be able to put my players in the best positions to succeed, and that only comes through preparation.”
Staley pulled double duty for USA Basketball for the third time in her coaching career in 2015, coaching the 2015 USA U19 World Championship to gold before assisting Auriemma and the USA National Team on its European tour. For her efforts in 2015, Staley was named a co-recipient of the USA Basketball National Coach of the Year award.
Staley was a three-time member of Auriemma-led coaching staffs. He broadened her perspective as a coach, she added, as she watched him calmly orchestrate the world’s top players. Further, he was an assistant coach for the 2000 U.S. Olympic Team in Sydney.
“I think she’s an obvious choice with all of the experience that she has had as part of the Olympic program as a player, as a coach, both as an assistant coach at the national team level and the head coach (for junior USA teams), being part of gold-medal winning teams,” Auriemma said.
“I think you have to have an expectation of winning, and proving that you can win and proving that you can take teams in a short period of time and guide them is not easy. And, Dawn’s been able to do that. I think she’s going to be really, really good, because she understands the way the whole system works. She’s been a part of it in every capacity. So, I don’t envision that there will be anything that she’s not prepared for. I think it’s a great choice. I’m happy for her, and I’m happy for USA Basketball.”
Although a changing of the guards, this is an appointment that was 28 years in the making. Staley is ready to take the reigns with a vision in place.
“I’m one that likes to play fast. I like to get up-and-down the floor. In the past, just in the history of playing USA Basketball, our best attribute was our depth. When you can play one through 12, you want to play fast. There’s no other team in the world that has the depth that we have. We need to utilize our depth, and in order to do that you need to play at a really good pace – exhaust people over a 40-minute period.
“We have a lot of talented, talented players, but we also have incredible competitors, and they want to win on both sides of the ball. So, we will utilize playing to their strengths. When you play at this level, you don’t like to get beat defensively. You always want to win and win each possession, and that’s how we want to play.”
Staley says this without knowing her pool of players, acknowledging the game sways with personnel, but she has proven to know the winning formula nonetheless.
When it all began in 1989, she was a member of the USA Junior World Championship Team – a team of 19-and-unders that finished in seventh place in Spain with a 3-4 record. Times have changed. Staley’s passion for success has not.
In 2018, she will return to where it all began, this time to lead USA at the 2018 FIBA World Cup. The plan is to improve her collection of gold medals from 17 to 18. The plan, as always, is to win.