Rolling Out

Coach Dawn Staley stays true to the game and remains undefeated

Coach Dawn Staley’s accomplishments as an NBA star are eclipsed by her success as a coach

Dawn Staley has the heart of a champion and an innate ability to bring out the champion in others. The six-time WNBA All-Star enjoyed a legendary career as a player, but what is even more impressive has been her winning record as a coach and her achievements in women’s collegiate basketball.

As coach for the South Carolina Gamecocks, Staley led the team to a national championship after a history-making undefeated season. After her NCAA victory, cameras captured Staley thanking God for the win and congratulating her players. She says she was proud of the team, but believes this season was about more than just the South Carolina Gamecocks.

“Over 18 million people tuned in to watch the game. Regardless of who was playing, women’s basketball is at an all-time high and I’m just glad that we were a part of it. I have to give it to Caitlin Clark; a lot of people were tuning in to see her, but however we got it, it was great for the game,” Staley shares.

The Gamecocks’ winning season may have looked like a slam-dunk to the casual observer, but Staley says the team did face difficulties.

“Our biggest challenge at the beginning of the year was no one believing in us. Young people are looking for approval, both from the team internally and also outside. They want approval from social media, the national media, and us. They want to be great, and they want everyone else to see them as great. We had to figure out a way to help them find their own success and give themselves their own approval. Once we got over that hurdle, we became a great team. It was a long journey. To be undefeated is really hard to do. I would’ve been proud of them regardless, but it gives me joy to see they are proud of themselves. This season puts them in the history books as one percent of teams that have accomplished this,” she states proudly.

Staley’s recipe for success is her faith in God coupled with the family and social supports she has relied on since childhood.

“I had a disciplined mother. I was more afraid of her than anything else. The way she governed herself and our home, gave me a sense of structure that prepared me for this journey,” Staley explains.

Staley insists her unwavering focus and dedication to the sport are directly responsible for the successes she’s achieved both on and off the court.

“I was totally focused on basketball. I have an addictive personality, so this could’ve gone very differently if I had [chosen] something else. Everyone else had their vices, but I believe basketball chose me, and in turn, I chose basketball. Once you love on something, it loves [you] back. I poured everything into basketball. I treated it like a relationship. I was monogamous. I never cheated on the game,” Staley says, “and I still haven’t to this day. I didn’t have many friends, but the ones I have know the ball comes first.”

Growing up in the projects of north Philadelphia, Staley wasn’t afforded many opportunities to envision a future of fortune and fame, and there were even fewer examples of professional women in sports.

“With any sport, you need to see people that look like you and sound like you. It allows you to dream and grow. It allows you to walk in their footsteps. Thirty years ago there was no WNBA. There were so many talented athletes that we didn’t know about. Those women never got a chance to pursue their talent at this level with these opportunities. Today, there are women half as good as those women were — who are now superstars. I hope one day we’ll be able to honor those pioneers, and most importantly, I hope young women don’t take this new exposure and opportunity for granted,” Staley says.

Coach Dawn Staley stays true to the game and remains undefeated

Her intense commitment may have appeared extreme to some, but years later it’s what has distinguished Staley from her competitors. Her career is decorated with accolades and iconic accomplishments, but Staley says she has remained focused on what’s ahead of her instead of celebrating the awards and honors.

“I’ve never stopped. I still haven’t. I want to continue to win and take advantage of all the game has to offer. I’m sure one day when I’ve stepped away, I’ll look back and appreciate all that has happened, but today I’m focused on what I’m trying to accomplish next,” Staley says.

The heralded WNBA star’s transition from player to coach wasn’t as difficult for Staley as some may have imagined. She says playing the game prepared her to one day coach other athletes.

“My role as a player was very similar to the one I have as a coach. I was a point guard, so I use a lot of those same skills as a coach. Holding their hands and guiding them, working with people, I see it very much the same. I’m the same teammate that I was playing on the playgrounds in north Philly, or at the Olympic games, or playing at the University of Virginia,” she shares.

Staley insists numerous correlations connect the tools used in basketball and real life.

“Being a good communicator is essential to success in anything. You have to be able to meet people where they are. You have to have discipline in anything you do. I operate in a look, sound and feel perspective. If something looks, sounds or feels bad, I’m going to address it. In the same vein if it looks, sounds or feels good, I’m going to acknowledge that also. Treat people well. When you treat them good, they’ll treat you better,” Staley believes.

As the team prepares for next year, Staley is aware that there are more basketball years behind her than ahead.

“I’m more done than not, closer to retirement than not. When I’m no longer making an impact, I’ll hang my shoes up,” she laughs.

Understanding her career time clock is ticking, Staley is focused more than ever on making each game count. “The only selfish goal I’ve had was being a Hall of Famer as a coach,” she admits, and with the slew of recent successes, she’s on track to realizing that dream.

The formidable player and coach expressed hope that leading by example will encourage others to commit to greatness for themselves. She is of the school of thought that everyone is born with a gift, but the best predictor of success is one’s level of commitment.

“Discipline is the most necessary ingredient in the DNA of any champion,” Staley states.

Photos by South Carolina Athletics

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