By Mike Jensen (Philadelphia Inquirer)
By Chris Trainor (Free Times)
When three-time Olympic gold medalist Dawn Staley took the reins of the University of South Carolina women's basketball program on May 10, 2008, the Gamecocks' stature immediately rose not just in the Southeastern Conference but on the national stage as well. Building on a foundation of hard work, defensive effort and a "team first" mentality, South Carolina began to realize those expectations in 2011-12, and the program has continued to thrive as one of seven in the nation to be ranked in every Associated Press Top 25 poll since the start of the 2013-14 season. The Gamecocks boast five straight 25-win seasons, which include three SEC regular-season championships (2014, 2015, 2016), two SEC Tournament titles (2015, 2016), an NCAA Final Four appearance (2015) and three other Sweet 16 seasons (2012, 2014, 2016), the program's first ever No. 1 national ranking and a school-record 34 wins in 2014-15. Staley's success has united every demographic in the state of South Carolina as the Gamecocks' fan base tripled over a span of three seasons, and twice led the nation in home attendance (2014-15, 2015-16).
While her coaching career is blossoming, Staley is still recognized for her body of work as a one of the most decorated participants in United States women's basketball history. The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame solidified her legacy with her enshrinement as part of the Class of 2013. The Phoenix Club of Philadelphia established the Dawn Staley Award recognizing the nation's top guard in women's Division I basketball in 2013 as well. Staley was inducted into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2012 and was one of the final nominees for induction to the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame the same year. In the summer of 2011, the WNBA recognized her as one of the league's "Top 15," honoring the most influential players in the league's history.
In her 16 seasons as a head coach, Staley has amassed a 360-156 record, including her 188-76 slate in eight seasons at South Carolina. She has led her teams to seven 25-win seasons, a total of 13 postseason appearances (two WNIT) and 53 weeks in the Associated Press top 10, including 12 in the No. 1 spot. Also a force in USA Basketball, she has been the head coach of three gold medal teams -- 2015 FIBA U19 World Championships, 2014 FIBA U18 Americas Championship, 2007 Pan Am Games -- and served as an assistant on the Senior National Team 2006-08 and again from 2014 to present.
At the helm of the Gamecocks over the last eight seasons, Staley has been named National Coach of the Year (2014, Basketball Times), a Naismith National Coach of the Year Finalist (2014, 2015, 2016), SEC Coach of the Year (2014, Coaches and AP; 2015, Coaches; 2016, Coaches and AP) and BCA Female Coach of the Year (2012). Under Staley's leadership, four Gamecocks have collected eight All-America selections, two have picked up three SEC Player of the Year honors, two have earned SEC Defensive Player of the Year recognition, one has been the SEC 6th Player of the Year and three were named SEC Freshman of the Year. She has coached 10 Gamecocks who earned All-SEC honors a combined 19 times, including nine first-team selections, and two Gamecocks have been selected in the WNBA Draft in the last two seasons, including 2016 selection Tiffany Mitchell who became the third first-round selection for South Carolina.
On Staley's watch, the Gamecocks are enjoying the most sustained success in program history, especially standing out among their 25 seasons in the SEC. After posting back-to-back 25-win seasons in 2011-12 and 2012-13 for the first time in more than 30 years, the 2014-15 team broke the school record with 34 wins. South Carolina has won more SEC games than the season before in each of Staley's last seven seasons, culminating in the 2015-16 team recording just the second 16-0 conference record in league history. Staley's 83 SEC wins are more than any other Gamecock coach, accounting for 56.5 percent of the program's total 147 wins over its 25 seasons in the SEC. She has delivered the only SEC championships in program history, lifting that trophy three times in as many seasons, and she has helped the Gamecocks to five of the program's six top-four finishes in the SEC. Off the court, Staley's Gamecocks have been active in the community and thriving in the classroom. Every student-athlete who completed her eligibility under Staley at South Carolina has graduated or is on track to graduate, and the team GPA has been over 3.0 for the last seven semesters. During the historic 2014-15 season, eight Gamecocks posted at least a 3.0 GPA for the year.
After a humbling beginning to Staley's South Carolina tenure in 2008-09 (10-18, 2-12 SEC), the Gamecocks posted three wins over nationally ranked teams in 2009-10 and lifted their SEC record to 7-9, the largest one-season percentage jump for the program since the 2005-06 group turned a 2-12 mark the previous season into a 7-7 league slate. Staley's postseason debut with South Carolina came the next season as the Gamecocks played into the second round of the 2011 WNIT. The berth was small consolation to a young team that, in late February, had been on track to earn an NCAA Tournament berth after defeating a pair of nationally ranked league opponents and finishing fifth in the SEC.
The tide shifted significantly in 2011-12, as the Gamecocks proved they were odds-beaters in the image of their head coach. Staley rallied a team that had lost its top two scorers to a 14-2 record through the first week in January. South Carolina closed the regular season with 20 wins with four of those coming over nationally ranked opponents, including the program's first ever win at Tennessee. The Gamecocks pushed their way into the SEC Tournament semifinals for the first time in school history, which all but confirmed their place in the NCAA Tournament, where they were unfazed by the pressure of taking down a higher-seeded team on its home court en route to the first Sweet 16 appearance of Staley's coaching career. Ranked No. 25 at season's end, it was the first of three straight seasons with a final national ranking and the program's first since 2002-03.
Staley's 2012-13 team posted a series of new milestones for the program in the SEC era -- second-best overall winning percentage (25-8, .758), a school-record 11 SEC victories and the highest final ranking (17 by the Associated Press) since the 2002-03 team finished 16th. A loss in the second round of the NCAA Tournament suddenly felt unacceptable for the program, and the 2013-14 team immediately set about righting that wrong. Despite their youth -- no four-year student-athletes on the roster -- the Gamecocks took a 12-1 record into SEC action and proceeded to rattle off four wins to open that slate. Winning 10 of their last 12 games, the Gamecocks secured their first SEC regular-season championship, which they celebrated with over 10,000 fans at each of their final two home games. South Carolina had surpassed its win total of the previous two seasons before the regular-season had even finished and spent four weeks ranked among the top five teams in the nation (AP), peaking at No. 4 to match the program's highest ranking since Jan. 10, 1982. The Gamecocks dominated the league postseason awards, as Staley's first SEC Coach of the Year recognition joined a chorus of others -- the second sophomore to earn SEC Player of the Year honors in league history and the first SEC Freshman of the Year to also earn another of the highest individual honors with SEC Co-Sixth Player of the Year. The team experienced yet another program first when it earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, and the Gamecocks advanced to the Sweet 16 before their historic season ended -- a new standard clearly set for the future.
For 2014-15, Staley added the nation's No. 2 recruiting class, including the top-ranked player in the class, to a roster that lost just two letterwinners from the SEC championship campaign. The combination catapulted South Carolina to No. 2 in the preseason polls, and the newcomers blended seamlessly with the veterans to move the Gamecocks into their first No. 1 ranking on Nov. 24, 2014, making Staley just the second woman in history to both play for and coach a No. 1-ranked team. Staley guided her team through a perfect non-conference slate, including a win at No. 9/8 Duke that kept the program atop the national rankings heading into SEC action. The Gamecocks' win streak more than doubled the previous school record of 10, stretching to 22 to extend their time at No. 1 to 12 weeks, the third-longest stay by any program in the five seasons. A 15-1 SEC record secured a share of the regular-season title and put the Gamecocks into the SEC Tournament as the top seed for the second-straight year. The league coaches again showered South Carolina with awards -- co-Coach of the Year, Player of the Year, Freshman of the Year, Scholar-Athlete of the Year and four all-conference selections, including three on the first team. The Gamecocks celebrated with a dominating run to their first SEC Tournament championship game, which they proceeded to win with a commanding performance that also set the stage for a second-consecutive No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The 2014-15 team was on a mission to surpass the program's best ever finish in the event, and South Carolina overpowered its first two opponents despite the pressure of hosting games for the first time since 2002. The Gamecocks used the determination and guile they learned from Staley to rally past first North Carolina in the Sweet 16 and then Florida State in the Elite Eight to win the Greensboro Regional and advance to the first NCAA Final Four in program history.
In 2015-16, Staley became the first SEC coach to earn league Coach of the Year honors in three straight seasons after she led the Gamecocks to just the second 16-0 conference record in league history. South Carolina also became the first SEC program to capture league Player of the Year honors in three straight seasons and answered the barrage of awards by repeating as SEC Tournament champions. The Gamecocks recorded a school-record 13 wins over ranked opponents and were ranked among the top three in the nation throughout the season. The program posted its first official sellout of Colonial Life Arena, welcoming 18,000 rowdy fans for the No. 1 vs. No. 2 battle against UConn on Feb. 8, 2016, and the Gamecocks played in front of no fewer than 10,000 fans in any of its 17 home games on the season.
In her first coaching position, Staley helped Temple reach the postseason seven times in her eight seasons on the bench, including six NCAA Tournament appearances. The Owls posted 20 or more wins in a season six times, collected the first A-10 Tournament title in school history in Staley's second season (2002) and captured the program's first national ranking. The Owls became just the second team in A-10 history to collect three straight conference tournament titles, winning the event in 2004, 2005 and 2006, as well.
With a 172-80 record, Staley left Temple as the winningest coach in its women's basketball history and was the fastest to reach 100 victories. En route to that .683 winning percentage, Staley earned WBCA Region 1 Coach of the Year honors in 2005, was twice named A-10 Coach of the Year (2004, 2005), and guided the team to a share of the regular-season A-10 title in 2007-08. She built that success on a foundation of discipline and caring.
Staley has carried that coaching philosophy to USA Basketball, where her presence on the coaching staff has become as ubiquitous as it was on the court for nearly a decade beginning in 1994. In 2014, she had dual roles with the organization, serving as the head coach of the 2014 USA U18 National Team, which she led to a gold medal in the FIBA Americas Championship, and as an assistant coach of the 2014 USA World Championship Team -- helping the U.S. reel in another gold medal. She returned to the sideline as the head coach of the 2015 FIBA U19 World Championship team, leading the group to a gold medal, and will serve as an assistant coach on the U.S. National Team through the 2016 Olympic Games.
In a coaching tenure with USA Basketball that began in 2006, Staley has thrived both in the head chair and as an assistant. Her first coaching role on a national team level was as an assistant with the 2006 USA World Championship Team, and, following that team's success, she was asked to stay with the team through the Beijing Olympics in 2008. The U.S. won its fourth-straight Olympic gold medal -- all with Staley involved in some capacity -- that year. In between those two events, she helped the U.S. to a gold medal at the 2007 FIBA Americas Championship in Chile. While she worked with the Senior National Team, Staley also took on a head coaching role for the 2007 USA Pan American Games Team, leading the college players to a perfect 5-0 record and a gold medal against more veteran international squads. Staley was also a USA Select Team Court Coach with her former college head coach Debbie Ryan in the summer of 2010.
As a player, success came early in Staley's career, beginning with being named USA Today's National High School Player of the year in 1988 as a senior at Dobbins Tech. She went on to a four-year career at the University of Virginia that featured three trips to the NCAA Final Four, including a championship game appearance in 1991 after which she was named Most Outstanding Player. A two-time National Player of the Year (1991, 1992) and three-time Kodak All-American (1990, 1991, 1992), Staley was the ACC Player of the Year in 1991 and 1992 and the league's Rookie of the Year in 1989. Finishing her career as the only player in ACC history to record more than 2,000 points, 700 rebounds, 700 assists and 400 steals, Staley is one of three players at Virginia to have her jersey retired. She was named to the ACC's 50th Anniversary Women's Basketball Team in 2002 and earned a spot on ESPN.com's "Top Players of the Past 25 Years." In April 2008, she was inducted into the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame.
On the international scene, Staley made her first appearance in a USA Basketball uniform as a member of the 1989 Junior World Championship Team and 15 years later played her final international game after helping the organization to a 196-10 record. Olympic gold medals in 1996, 2000 and 2004 highlight her collection of 10 gold medals and one bronze on the world stage.
Staley was also on two FIBA World Championship gold-medal teams (1998, 2002). Twice named USA Basketball's Female Athlete of the Year (1994, 2004), Staley counts carrying the U.S. flag in front of the United States delegation in the 2004 Olympic Games Opening Ceremony among her most gratifying moments on the international stage.
Following the 1996 Olympic Games, Staley joined the Richmond Rage of the ABL, one of two women's basketball professional leagues started in the wake of USA Basketball's success on the world stage. After two all-star seasons with the organization, she switched leagues, signing with the WNBA's Charlotte Sting in 1999. Including the 2005 and 2006 seasons with the Houston Comets, Staley played in the WNBA All-Star game five times and was the first player in league history to represent both the East and West teams during her career. A member of the WNBA's All-Decade Team, as selected by a panel of national and WNBA-market media as well as the league's players and coaches, Staley twice earned the Kim Perrot Sportsmanship Award (1999, 2006) and won the WNBA Entrepreneurial Spirit Award in 1999. Following her retirement from the league, the WNBA began awarding the Dawn Staley Community Leadership Award in 2007, honoring the player who best exemplifies the characteristics of a leader in the community in which she works or lives.
Staley lives that mantra daily not only through individual appearances and in encouraging her teams to pursue community services opportunities, but also through co-founding INNERSOLE. After creating The Dawn Staley Foundation in Philadelphia, which was aimed at giving inner-city children positive input through after-school programs, Staley was eager to find a way to fill a need in her new hometown. She continued to invest time with various projects in Columbia, but found that she craved one hallmark initiative that could provide sustained assistance and create lasting change in one of your favorite constituencies - children. In July 2013, Staley found that in the creation of INNERSOLE, which aims to provide new sneakers to children who are homeless and children who are in need. Remembering the feeling of confidence and pride she felt as a child whenever she wore new sneakers, Staley initially launched the organization via social media, and her broad network of friends, fans and colleagues immediately leapt into action. Shoes poured in from all around the country, and a movement was born.
Local and national organizations have recognized Staley's commitment to giving back, most recently in 2013 when South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley tabbing her to receive the Order of the Palmetto, the highest civilian honor from the governor bestowed on those who have displayed significant achievement and service to the state. Staley has twice been presented the Wanamaker Award (1997, 2005), presented annually to the athlete, team or organization that has done the most to reflect credit upon Philadelphia and to the team or sport in which he/she excels. She is the only individual woman to ever win the award and joins Joe Frazier and Steve Carlton as the only individuals to capture the honor twice. In 2007, the Rotary Club of Tulsa named Staley its female recipient of the Henry P. Iba Citizenship Award, which is presented annually to the male and female athlete who has excelled in both their sport and their service to others.
Staley was honored by the University of Virginia Women's Center in 2006 with the Center's Distinguished Alumna Award, which honors a female graduate of the University who has demonstrated excellence, leadership and extraordinary commitment to her field and who has used her talents as a positive force for change. The University further recognized Staley's standing in the community when it asked her to give the valedictory address at the 2009 Valedictory Exercises.
The Staley Capsule
Coaching Experience 360-156 (.698) -- 16 seasons
South Carolina, head coach 2008-present
188-76 (.712) -- eight seasons
Five NCAA Tournament appearances, 2012 (Sweet 16), 2013, 2014 (Sweet 16), 2015 (Final Four), 2016 (Sweet 16)
One Women's NIT appearance
Three SEC Regular-Season Championships, 2014, 2015, 2016
Three-Time Naismith National Coach of the Year Finalist, 2014, 2015, 2016
Basketball Times National Coach of the Year, 2014
Three-time WBCA Region 3 Coach of the Year, 2014, 2015, 2016
Three-time SEC Coach of the Year, 2014, 2015, 2016
BCA Female Coach of the Year, 2012
Temple University, head coach, 2000-08
172-80 (.683) - eight seasons
Six seasons of 20 or more wins
Four Atlantic 10 Tournament titles
Six NCAA Tournament appearances, 2002, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008
One Women's NIT appearance, 2001
WBCA Region 1 Coach of the Year, 2005
Two-time Atlantic 10 Conference Coach of the Year, 2004, 2005
USA Basketball, U19 National Team head coach, 2015
FIBA U19 Americas Championship gold medal, 2015
USA Basketball, U18 National Team head coach, 2014
FIBA U18 Americas Championship gold medal, 2014
USA Basketball, Pan American Games head coach, 2007
Pan American Games gold medal, 2007
USA Basketball, Select Team Court Coach, Summer 2010
USA Basketball, senior national team assistant coach, 2006-08, 2014-present
FIBA World Championship gold medal, 2014
Beijing Olympics gold medal, 2008
FIBA Americas Championship gold medal, 2007
FIBA World Championship bronze medal, 2006
Houston Comets, WNBA, 2005-06
Two-time All Star, 2005, 2006
WNBA Kim Perrot Sportsmanship Award, 2006
Charlotte Sting, WNBA, 1999-2005
Three-time All-Star, 2001, 2002, 2003
WNBA All-Decade Team
WNBA Entrepreneurial Spirit Award, 1999
WNBA Kim Perrot Sportsmanship Award, 1999
Richmond/Philadelphia Rage, ABL, 1997-98
Two-time All-Star, 1997, 1998
Various international teams, 1992-94
USA Basketball, 1994-2004
Three-time Olympic gold medalist, 1996, 2000, 2004
Two-time USA Basketball Female Athlete of the Year, 1994, 2004
Flag bearer for the United States in Olympic Games Opening Ceremony, 2004
Goodwill Games Most Valuable Player, 1994
University of Virginia, 1989-92
Three-time Kodak All-American, 1990, 1991, 1992
Honda-Broderick Cup Award for Collegiate Female Athlete of the Year, 1991
Sports Illustrated Player of the Year, 1991
Two-time ACC Player of the Year, 1991, 1992
NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player, 1991
ACC Rookie of the Year, 1989
One of three UVa players to have her jersey retired
USA Today National High School Player of the Year, 1988
Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, Class of 2013
Order of the Palmetto Recipient, 2013 (highest civilian honor from South Carolina governor granted to those who have displayed significant achievement and service to the state)
Women's Basketball Hall of Fame, Class of 2012
Named to WNBA's Top 15 as one of most influential players in league history, 2011
Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame, Class of 2011
Virginia Sports Hall of Fame inductee, 2008
Two-time Wanamaker Award winner, 1997, 2005
Henry P. Iba Citizenship Award Female recipient, 2007
NCAA Division I "Top Players of the Past 25 Years" selection by ESPN.com
Institute for International Sport "The 100 Most Influential Sports Educators in America" selection
Bachelor of arts in rhetoric and communication studies, University of Virginia, 1992