Q&A With 2017-20 USA Basketball Women's National Team Head Coach Dawn Staley
What does it mean for you to continue your storied USA Basketball career as the head coach of the USA National Team through 2020?
Staley: Being named head coach of the USA National Team is a tremendous honor. As a player, I was humbled each time I wore the uniform and this feels no different. 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. I would also like to thank my teams at Temple and South Carolina for putting me in this coveted position. They allowed me to learn and grow on the job and I am truly grateful.
You were able to coach on two different USA National Team coaching staffs – Anne Donovan’s from 2006-08 and Geno Auriemma’s from 2013-16 – what were you able to learn from each of them that you can use through 2020?
Staley: From Anne, I learned the importance of preparation. Anne is the consummate professional. She’s thoughtful and always prepared. With Anne, it was my first time on the sidelines in that capacity. I was still relatively new to coaching and Anne allowed me to be myself and bring a player’s perspective. She afforded me the space to learn what was needed to coach on that level. I’ll always appreciate her for the opportunity. In contrast, with Geno I was 13 years into my coaching career and was very settled in my way of coaching. Watching Geno made me step up my game. The way approaches the game, his strategy and overall calm, opened my perspective as a coach.
What lessons did you learn from coaches you played for throughout your career that helped mold you as a coach?
Staley: I’ve had so many great coaches and I’ve taken a piece from each of them. I think my first Olympic coach, Tara VanDerveer taught me the biggest lessons. She challenged me to be a more
disciplined, efficient player, and up to that point I had never been challenged in that way. I often challenge my players to become more efficient at that one thing that will make them a better overall player. From Debbie Ryan, I learned the importance of allowing players latitude. Players need the freedom to do what they are good at. So, I try to allow them the latitude to play their game within the systems we run. From virtually all my professional and Olympic coaches I learned to be prepared. I think I sometimes 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. Oh and from Van Chancellor I learned the importance of playing hard and having fun…And a good confidence builder is letting them beat me in card games.
What kind of system do you see yourself utilizing during your tenure at the helm of the USA National Team?
Staley: Historically, the USA National Team has the best talent in the world. I know we’ll run and will be defensive oriented, but the actual system will be based on the players selected.
USA Basketball has a wealth of extremely talented athletes from which to choose. What makes someone a great candidate for USA National Teams?
Staley: I always enjoyed my USA National Team experience with players that were competitive, had great attitudes and truly understood that the team and country come before individual goals. I think when those qualities are coupled with talent, the best candidates emerge.
As the coach of three USA Basketball junior teams that won gold, you have coached against some of the top rising talent across the globe. Who do you see as a threat for the 2018 FIBA World Cup? Who could be a surprise medalist?
Staley: Year and in and year out, Russia and Australia are always tough opponents but Spain has been a strong competitor on the international scene.
You began your USA Basketball career in 1989. How much has the international game changed since then?
Staley: I think the international game is much more physical now. I also think the talent has gotten better. International players tend to learn each position which makes their players well rounded and more difficult to guard.
What are some of the highlights of your USA Basketball career as an athlete and a coach?
Staley: Receiving my first gold medal at the games in Atlanta in front of our home crowd will always be special. However, 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. I’ll never forget that feeling and will always be humbled by the honor.
What are the challenges of transitioning from coaching at the collegiate level to the international level?
Staley: The biggest challenge is probably going to be knowing all the international rules, which will fall on me and my learning curve. Since most our players play overseas, they will be familiar with all the rules and the physicality of international play.
Do you take a different approach when coaching & instructing players at this level?
Staley: I do take a different approach with coaching on the national team level. Players at the national team level typically don’t need much motivation. They understand what a privilege it is to be in that uniform and they give great effort every day. In contrast, on the college level, players are still young and developing. A big part of the job is figuring out what motivates each player and staying on them to get their best. With national team players, you just tell them what you need, and they get it done.