USC coach becomes first Black female USA national head coach
Dawn Staley, then a two-time national player of the year, didn’t make the cut during the 1992 U.S. Olympics women’s basketball team tryouts.
“Those were the old school camps when they brought in about 100 people and we all fought it out 2-3 times a day,” remembered Staley during the March 10 teleconference with reporters, including the MSR, that introduced her as the USA Basketball Women’s National Team head coach through 2020. “I was just out there playing, trying to find my name and number on the board to say I made an Olympic team.”
Now the current South Carolina head coach for women’s basketball might be the first USA Olympic head coach that was once cut as a player on the same team.
“I’m extremely humbled and honored,” said Staley, the first Black female to be named USA national head coach. She is among five Black assistants — Staley was on the staff in 2008 and last summer along with C. Vivian Stringer, Marian Washington and sisters Peggie and Jennifer Gillom.
After not making the 1992 squad, Staley later made the roster on five of six USA’s Olympic gold medal squads as a player (1996, 2000, 2004), and twice as assistant coach (2008, 2016). As the U.S. national coach, Staley looks to build upon her 21-0 head coaching record as the 2014 USA U-18 team. “I look forward to this challenge,” she said proudly.
When asked her first reaction when she got the news, Staley told the MSR, “I was shocked and speechless. I wasn’t in a place where I could express my joy” because at the time she was scouting her next SEC tourney opponent. “Anytime I have the opportunity to represent the United States of America, I jump at the opportunity to do so.”
Retired Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the USA Basketball chairman said that the committee “couldn’t find anyone who is better qualified… Dawn is part of the USA Basketball culture.”
“I think she’s an obvious choice,” added UConn Coach Geno Auriemma, who completed his two-year stint as USA National Team head coach. “I think it’s a great choice. I’m happy for her.”
Staley’s Olympic teammate Teresa Edwards also endorsed Staley’s selection: “Coach Staley is not only a great choice to lead our national team — she is the only choice.”
“I think this is an incredible honor,” continued Staley. “I can’t think of a better organization with the culture that USA Basketball stands for. It is my basketball utopia.”
Staley was twice named USA Basketball Female Athlete of the Year (1994, 2004) and was enshrined in the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 2012 and Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2013.
Like Auriemma, she will be juggling two head coaching duties at this time. Right now, however, her focus is on guiding South Carolina through the NCAA tournament in hopes to reach this year’s Final Four later this month.
“If you’re a coach or in any profession, you have to be able to compartmentalize your life,” she stated. “It’s just basketball.” But she quickly added that once her college season is completed, hopefully at this year’s Final Four later this month in Dallas, “My concentration is on the first training camp” for the USA team’s competition, beginning in the 2018 FIBA World Cup in Spain. The winner automatically qualifies for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.
The U.S. women will vie for its seventh straight Olympic gold medal, and Staley’s talent pool more than likely will again come from the WNBA. “We have to have the participation of the players in order for us to continue to be successful,” explained the head coach.
When asked about coaching pro players she replied, “Once players reach this level, they’re pretty motivated individuals. You don’t have to worry as a coach on the buy-in [by the players] or being motivated.
“I think communication or the lack thereof can be the biggest distraction when you are trying to reach a goal. I think it’s important to build trust and the relationship with the players that are coming in and out of training camp.”
Staley, who grew up in the North Philadelphia projects, didn’t seem to be hurt in the long run by being cut.
“I try to go through life keeping my head forward and not really reflecting on what’s taking place until it is all said and done,” admitted Staley. “I would like to pass on to young people that the disciplined person can do anything. I got lucky; I have people in my life that directed me on a path that led to things like this happening.”
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.