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From playing to coaching, Staley has found success everywhere she’s been
Dawn Staley is one of the most successful sports coaches of all time
Dawn Staley is one of the most successful sports coaches of all time

The South Carolina Gamecocks women’s basketball team won their 3rd national championship in 7 years on April 7th. Their period of dominance in college basketball has been unmatched in recent years. Every year since 2019, Dawn Staley has coached her team to at least 25 wins (out of a maximum of 36), showing their control over the Southeastern Conference. The team also took the top spot in their conference in four out of the last six years.

All of the stats show it: the South Carolina Gamecocks are the best NCAA Women’s basketball team right now, and they have been for the last several years. The South Carolina rosters and their opponents’ rosters are different every year. Coaches change around the division, and team dynamics are significantly altered. So what’s the constant that keeps South Carolina as a winning team? Her name is Dawn Staley.

Dawn Staley wasn’t always a coach; she started as a player. In her senior year of high school, she was named the National High School Player of the Year, and she committed to the University of Virginia upon graduating. At the University of Virginia, she went from a touted recruit to one of the game’s biggest stars. She earned many honors in her college career, the most notable being the ACC Player of the Year award, which she won twice.

Right after her extremely successful college career, she played professionally in France, Italy, Brazil, and Spain. Staley then decided to play overseas professional basketball in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Basketball League. 

Throughout all of this, Dawn Staley was chosen to play for the USA national teams and she competed at the Olympics many times for Team USA. Throughout her playing career, she won 3 Olympic gold medals and 2 basketball World Cup gold medals. She also won a bronze medal in 1994 in the Basketball World Cup.

Dawn Staley was finally drafted to the WNBA on her birthday in 1999. She was taken 9th overall in what is deemed as one of the most talented draft classes in professional sports history. The Charlotte Sting selected her early in the draft, and their pick certainly wasn’t wasted.

Staley’s time in the WNBA spanned over 8 years, during which she played for both the Charlotte Sting and the Houston Comets. Staley quickly proved herself as a leader on the court as well as an excellent defender. By the end of her 8 years, Staley was named a WNBA all-star 5 times. Though her career in the WNBA was relatively short, she wasted no time building her legacy as a player in that league. Staley went out on top at age 36 and then retired. Staley finished her last season with another WNBA all-star team selection.

For the majority of her career in the WNBA,

Dawn Staley not only played but coached at the same time

. In the year 2000, Staley joined the Temple University Owls as a coach and remained on the coaching staff for the rest of her playing career. It takes an extraordinary amount of effort and dedication to be named an all-star for a professional sports league, but to take on a coaching position as well is truly impressive. 

Staley justifiably had no interest in coaching when she was first approached. She had no experience and was still playing at a high level. Despite her lack of intentions, Dave O’Brien at Temple University was able to convince her to give it a shot. She was still playing in the WNBA at the time Dave approached her, and her friends discouraged her from putting so much effort into another path. She didn’t let any of this bog her down, though. Her play on the court remained excellent, and her coaching off of it helped turn the Owls’ basketball program around.

The coaching stint was very successful. Her teams combined for 172 wins and 80 losses, and Staley was the fastest female college coach to reach 100 wins. She led her college team to three regular-season conference championships and four conference tournament titles. She earned 2 conference Coach Of the Year awards, distinguishing her as one of the top coaching names in college sports. This coaching success would open doors for her later on in her career as a coach.

Staley retired from playing in 2006, but her basketball journey was far from done. She finished up her stint with the Temple Owls in 2008, and joined the University of South Carolina as head coach the same year. This was her first head-coaching position, and it was for a division 1 team; the pressure was on. 

The progress that Staley made with the Gamecocks was tangible. Every year for ten years, their record improved. Her teams got better and better, and the slow rebuild of the program was finally paying off. In the 2014-2015 season, South Carolina was ranked number 1 in their conference, and made their first final-four appearance. The team earned 3 Southeastern Conference championships before their second appearance in the final four, in 2017.

2017 was the year when all the stars aligned in favor of South Carolina. They had an overall record of 30-7, and they defeated Mississippi State in the national championship game to earn the school’s first NCAA championship victory. This year, Staley solidified herself as one of the best coaches in women’s basketball.

After 2017, South Carolina remained as perennial winners. Staley was robbed of some of her glory though, when the 2020 NCAA tournament was canceled. Her team had 32 wins and only one loss, and they had already won the SEC tournament championship. She won almost all of the coaching awards that a coach can receive, and became the first person to win the Naismith award as both a coach and a player. 

Staley added more NCAA championships to her Résumé in 2022 and 2024. 2024 was special for South Carolina, though, as the team completed the perfect, undefeated season. They finished with 38 wins and zero losses. The 2024 season was a special one for women’s basketball. For the first time ever, the women’s championship drew more viewership than the men’s. 

Dawn Staley has helped change women’s college basketball, and she hopes to keep up the success. At only 53 years old, the South Carolina Gamecocks will enjoy the success that Staley brings for years to come.

About the Contributor
Sam Maney
"Sports is life" -Sam