Dawn Staley, the current USA Women’s National Team Head Coach and South Carolina Gamecocks Coach, has a long list of accomplishments both as a player and coach. Dawn’s love of basketball began in the Philadelphia projects and has taken her all the way to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall Of Fame.
“In Philly, you have to understand that it’s really not just a sport. It’s a lifestyle. In basketball, you have so much competition, but also so much love. Everybody wants everybody to do well in Philly. We want to outdo each other, but we want each other to do well,” Dawn said. “We won’t let each other fail. We’ll just do enough to help others out. They keep the bragging rights and pride going for whatever neighborhood that you represent.”
Dawn recalls proving herself on the court from an early age and dedicating herself to hard work and constant practice. She describes playing basketball in her North Philly neighborhood and earning respect while playing with the boys.
“What I had to do as a girl, was just persistently go out on the court to just show my loyalty and my faithfulness by being out there. I just had to persistently go out there…And luckily for me, I didn’t sit too many times because I knew how to make a team better.”
Dawn played for the University of Virginia and was awarded USA Basketball Female Athlete of the Year, National Player of the Year, and NCAA Region Most Outstanding Player before joining the WNBA in 1999. As a member of the Charlotte Sting, Dawn proved to be a formidable player. She was a member of the Olympic gold medal winning U.S. teams in Sydney in 2000 and 2004 in Athens, before transitioning to coaching.
“Coaching was the best of both worlds. Honestly, I never wanted to coach, I never saw myself as a coach,” Dawn said.
She recalls how Dave O’Brien at Temple University called her into his office and kickstarted her coaching career with two simple questions.
“He asked me two questions that I’ll never ever forget. One one of the questions was, ‘can you lead?’ In my head, I’m like, ‘Hey, did you do your research on me? Not this what I do. I’m a point guard.’
“Then he asked, ‘Can you turn the women’s basketball program around?’I never looked at it as a challenge. I am so drawn to challenges that once he said that, I knew I was taking the job with no coaching experience, just [my experience] being a point guard.”
Dawn began coaching the Temple Owls in 2000, while still playing in the WNBA. She led the Owls to five NCAA Tournaments in seven years and is just one of two players in NCAA Tournament history to be voted the NCAA Final Four Outstanding Player and coach a team in the NCAA Tournament.
One of her coaching claims to fame is building up the basketball program and fanbase for the South Carolina Gamecocks.
“We were starting from scratch. We were the doormats of the SEC. We came here saying that we’re going to make this. We’re going to bring national prominence to this university. People
really thought we were crazy for saying that,” Dawn said. “I never envisioned the full house, when we started having some success, people started coming into you just just coming into our arena filling it up, I really didn’t know how to act. It’s a difference for our players. It’s a different atmosphere when you coach in front of 15,000 versus 1,500…we don’t call them ‘fans” we call them ‘fams,’ ‘F-A-M-S’ because they’re they’re really a part of our family and in our program.”
Dawn credits her mentor, Hall of Fame coach Don Chaney with adding to her coaching philosophy. Chaney was coaching the University of South Carolina’s men’s team when Dawn took the helm of the women’s program.
“Coach Chaney was so authentic, so real. Basketball was genderless to him, he only saw how the game should be played…He was a mentor. He was a friend. He was a giver. He actually gave me his coaching philosophy, all the paperwork that he utilized over his career. I’m gonna keep it, I’m gonna value it. I’m going to share it because that’s what he would do.”
In addition to the skills she learned as a player and by observing other coaches in action, Dawn explains how she helps players stay in the moment during a season.
“I’ve been around competitive people all of my life. I’m probably the most competitive person you’ll ever meet or don’t want to meet. I find myself being attracted to those types of people. I recruit those types of players who take losses hard, it used to linger on, for days. I had to do
something because we’re missing opportunities to continue to win and be successful because we’re wallowing in this sorrow of defeat.
“I felt like the 24-hour rule was a great rule to implement, because whether you’re in a victory or defeat, you gotta keep moving. You can’t stay in one space. Your next opponent is going to be right there waiting on you to spoil a big win, or add to those defeats.”
Dawn is also known for speaking out on social justice issues. She recently penned “Black People Are Tired” a response to Black Lives Matter and recent conversations about racial justice, for The Players Tribune.
“There is optimism, but we’ve got to continue to fight for what is right and what is right for all people. I’m a black woman and I see my blackness more and more nowadays, because people pointed out. We had two black women in the Final Four, which has never happened, we had two black women in the final in the final SEC Tournament this year.
“It’s historical, we should give the flowers while people can smell them. If we’re celebrating two black women in the final four, two black women in the SEC tournament championship game, somewhere there have been some failures. That means that black women weren’t given the opportunity to be there. So let’s celebrate it. Why can’t what happened this year be the norm, where everybody’s represented in that way? I know we’ve got a long way to go. But progress is being made,” Dawn said.
Hear Dawn’s stories from the first Women’s Dream Team at the Olympics in Atlanta, her memories of Kobe Bryant, and more. Listen to the full Legends Of Sport podcast. Watch the video of the podcast on the @legendsofsport YouTube channel.