Even With Accomplished Resume, Dawn Staley Still Learning, Working to Improve
A proven winner as a player and college coach, Staley is bringing her knowledge and expertise to USA Basketball
Any Olympic and World Cup gold medalist could accurately be described as a high achiever. A person with multiple gold medals might be referred to as a superstar.
When you have three Olympic and two World Cup gold medals, numerous player and coach of the year awards, a college national title, are enshrined in more than one hall of fame and cities have days named in your honor, you’re pretty much in a class by yourself.
Finding the right adjective or phrase for such a rare breed is a chore. And it’s not just appropriate, but perfect for such an individual to name their 10-month-old Havanese dog, “Champ.”
She’s thinking of getting her pup a brother or sister and naming it, “Natty,” a nod to her team’s 2017 National Championship.
Dawn Staley, coach of both the USA Basketball Women’s National Team and the women’s team at the University of South Carolina, would be more than satisfied if you simply call her coach Staley.
On Sept. 3, Staley will convene with prospective members of the national team for a training camp ahead of the FIBA World Cup in Tenerife, Canary Islands (Sept. 22-30).
Since taking over as head coach after previously serving as an assistant, Staley has been on the court with the national team for nine days spread over a trio of three-day camps. Nothing about being in the head coaching role has come as a great surprise, she said, but she is always learning.
“What I’ve learned is you can give them information and you can see it as far as how you want a certain play run and how you want it executed,” Staley said. “They bring options out of a set that are incredible. So you’re always learning, you’re always growing, you’re always trying to pocket things that you can take with you to the World Cup but also our team at South Carolina. It’s basketball utopia.”
Staley has been in love with the sport for decades, and to reach its pinnacle as a coach has been a thrill, but she isn’t one ever to see herself as a finished product. Even with a resume as ridiculously packed with accolades and achievement as hers. What fuels her these days is the next competition and the next opportunity to win.
“I think just to work on my craft because everything is fluid, everything is changing,” she said. “To be able to be around people who stretch you and force you to stretch yourself, they force you to always not let your guard down because there are more gold medals out there to win.
“Any time I’ve had a USA Basketball experience, it has by far been the best experience, the most innocent and positive experience of them all because never have I ever been a part of the team that puts aside individual awards for the sake of the team like it does here. You want that with every team that you’re a part of. That’s what you’re trying to capture. I aspire to be a part of that no matter what realm I’m in as far as basketball.”
Staley confronts multiple challenges in September. The first is trying to adequately prepare her team to win a world title despite spending so little time together. The second is that many of her players will have just finished a WNBA season and might be banged up.
But she said that the professionalism of the players has impressed her in her first year as head coach, and they don’t have to be prodded at this level to show up and give great effort. It’s part of who they are. It’s part of what makes them winners, she said.
So with that in mind, she isn’t as worried about players who might report to training camp with some bumps and bruises still lingering from their professional teams. She is more concerned about the lack of preparation time. She said she will focus her energy on making sure everyone is on the same page for those times that come along in a tournament when an opponent is making a run or maybe even takes a lead.
Staley has found that responding the right way as a coaching staff and as a team is the difference between winning and losing.
“It boils down to its people,” Staley said. “The culture is there. So now it’s putting personal touches to what is already our culture. That is having frank conversations, being able to listen, because although I’ve been around it, they’ve played in games. They know these international players better than I do. So, they catch me up to speed with certain things that are going on, and I’m not too big or too small to take in that information and utilize it.”
Staley takes pride in having been a part of building the culture that has led to the women’s national team winning every game it has played in Olympic competition since falling in the semifinals of the 1992 Games, ultimately winning bronze. It also has won multiple World Cups outside of the Olympics. In all, Staley has eight gold medals from her days as a player and assistant coach at the top level of USA Basketball.
Now she is looking for her first as head coach.
“You can’t get in the way as the head coach,” she said. “It’s not about me. It’s never been about the coach. It’s always been about the players and giving them the platform to be successful, giving them the blueprint to be successful. They’ve all won. Every single national team player, they’ve all won on a lot of levels. It’s how you get them to be in a great place of wanting to continue to be successful. That’s the culture of USA Basketball. You’ve got to tell them what to do and get up out of the way. They’ll take you to the promised land.”
The USA will be in the hunt to earn a 10th World Cup gold medal at the 2018 FIBA World Cup Sept. 22-30 in Tenerife, Spain. Follow along on the team’s journey on usab.com and through USA Basketball’s social media as the team goes for gold.