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Dawn Staley Earns Second USA Basketball Coaching Award

  • Author:
    Gary R. Blockus, Red Line Editorial
  • Date:
    Dec 3, 2018

Dawn Staley is proof you can take the girl out of Philadelphia, but you can’t take the Philly out of the girl.

“Oh no,” said the three-time Olympic gold medalist point guard, now in her 11th year as women’s basketball coach at the University of South Carolina. “I’m always going to be Philly, no matter where I am, in any city, in any state in any country. My roots are Philly, and everybody knows that.”

The tenacity she learned going up against boys in the projects of North Philadelphia, playing in Philly legend Sonny Hill’s league, served her well through college at the University of Virginia, to the Olympic Games and professional ranks, to beginning a coaching career at Temple University — also in North Philadelphia — and on to USA Basketball.

Most recently, Staley coached the USA Basketball Women’s National Team to a 6-0 record and the gold medal at the FIBA World Cup, an achievement that helped her become USA Basketball National Coach of the Year for 2018. 

“For me this award is a recognition of the people who helped me get my name on the trophy, the staff that was dedicated to winning the gold medal,” said Staley, who also won the award in 2015, after directing the Women’s U19 World Championship Team to a gold medal, and is a two-time winner of the USA Basketball Female Athlete of the Year award (1994, 2004).

“That’s my main focus, not the awards and such, but my main focus is when we suit up for USA Basketball with gold on the line, we win gold or it’s a failure.”

The 48-year-old Staley carved out her place in history as the first person to win the World Cup as a player, assistant coach (2014) and head coach. She was already the first woman to both play on a No. 1 team (Virginia) and coach a No. 1 team (South Carolina).

Staley won Olympic gold medals in 1996, 2000 and 2004, and was selected as the U.S. Olympic Team flag bearer for 2004.

Preparing the U.S. women for the 2018 World Cup provided a challenge in its own right as the team faced a short turnaround time from the end of the WNBA season. The complete roster of players wasn’t available for training until Sept. 19, three days before the U.S. opened the World Cup with an 87-67 win over Senegal in Tenerife, Spain.

“I saw Geno Auriemma, our head coach in 2014, do it, so it wasn’t like we were reinventing the wheel,” Staley said of the short preparation time. “However, Geno probably had a little more experience than we did, because he had so many Olympians on his team four years ago, and we had some inexperienced players, but we did have an experienced staff.”

Staley praised the work ethic and expertise of assistant coaches Dan Hughes (Seattle Storm), Cheryl Reeve (Minnesota Lynx) and Jennifer Rizzotti (George Washington University) for the team’s success, as well as their ability to understand what made the team successful.

The effort produced the World Cup MVP in Breanna Stewart and reunited Staley with WNBA Rookie of the Year A’ja Wilson, a key member of South Carolina’s 2017 NCAA championship team.

“It’s always great to have someone you have so deep a connection with both on and off the court, to share special moments with someone like that,” Staley said. 

Staley’s mindset for the World Cup and the exhibition games was to win every game, and the team fulfilled that mission, going 6-0 in exhibition games leading up to the World Cup.

“They were super motivated to win every time we stepped on the floor,” she said. “For us to do that time and again is incredible because the rest of the world is catching up to us, and they’re catching up when we have less time to prepare.”

That mentality of success was born on the streets of Philly and honed her ambition for bigger, better things as she worked the ranks from player to coach. In 2000, Staley began coaching Temple while still playing in the WNBA. She led the Owls to six NCAA Tournament appearances, four conference tournament titles and three conference regular-season titles. 

Since Staley took over at South Carolina in 2008-09, the Gamecocks have won four Southeastern Conference regular-season championships and four SEC tournament championships, while making six Sweet 16 appearances and two Final Fours and winning the first national championship in program history.

Staley pointed to her mom, Estelle, who passed away last year, as the biggest role model in her life, because of the sacrifices she made and the discipline she instilled in her daughter. 

The other big influences for her came in the coaching world:Debbie Ryan at the University of Virginia and Tara VanDerveer with the gold-medal-winning 1996 U.S. Olympic Team. 

Of course, her hometown also helped shape, and continues to shape, who she is as a coach and person. 

“We grew up with ‘Rocky,’” she said. “Rocky represented Philly toughness, being able to overcome incredible odds and persevere.”

And Staley has done more than that.


Gary R. Blockus is a freelance writer contributor to on behalf of Redline Editorial, Inc.



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