**Story by Willie T Smith/Photo by Allen Sharpe
Dawn Staley discovered she had been named Head Coach of the USA Women’s National Basketball Team while scouting a game during the SEC Tournament in Greenville.
“I was watching our quarterfinal game,” said Staley. “I was elated, but calm. I didn’t want to bring any extra attention to myself. I was shocked. It was a surreal moment.”
“You put your name in the hat, but you don’t know what’s going to take place. I didn’t continue to scout that game. Thank God for assistant coaches.”
Staley enters the position position with outstanding credentials. She won 10 gold medals as an athlete, including three in the Olympics (1996, 2000, 2004). She also served as an assistant coach for two more gold medal-winning teams (2008, 2016).
“She has been involved in USA Basketball since 1989,” said USA Basketball Chairman Gen. Martin E. Dempsey. “Since 1986 the USA Women’s Team has won six straight Olympic titles, four out of the last five World Championships, amassed an incredible record of 89-1 during that time.
“Dawn Staley has had a lot to do with all of that.”
Staley has led her South Carolina squad to four straight Southeastern Conference Championships and three consecutive league tournament titles.
Her team was in attendance during the press conference and quickly huddled around its coach when the event ended.
“This means a lot,” said South Carolina junior A’ja Wilson. “This is very special to me because I played at the junior level for USA. For her to be named the national coach also means a lot to our program, just bringing that national attention to our program.
“She and the coaching staff have worked so hard to get us to this level. Finally, it’s kind of nice to get recognized.”
Job one for Staley will be attempting to lead the Gamecocks to a national championship. When that journey ends, it will be getting to work on helping the USA Team win the title at the 2018 FIBA Women’s World Cup of Basketball in Spain and, eventually a gold medal at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
“Dawn is a competitor that aims for perfection," said six-time gold medalist Teresa Edwards, a close friend of Staley. “We were crazy in practice every day going after each other. You couldn’t take a day off.
“With that pedigree in her, aiming for perfection every time she stepped on the court ... she has learned a lot. Players have taught her a lot. I’ve watched her grow. She is very intelligent and has a high IQ for the game.”
Staley’s appointment should also help shine a brighter eye on the SC program.
“Who wouldn’t want to be coached by the person coaching the Olympic National Team?” said Wilson. “I know that’s one of our goals as players, to make it to that level. Now my coach is the coach.
“It makes it special for her to now have that role and be able to take us through the things they do.”
Staley is prepared for the role after working hard to make it a reality.
“Through dreams arrive other dreams,” said Staley. “That’s what has taken place today.”