DALLAS— South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley has a great couple of months. After being named the new coach of the United States Women’s National Team, Staley is now on top of the world of women’s college basketball after the Gamecocks defeated Mississippi 67-51 State for the program’s first-ever national championship.
It’s been a long time coming for Daley, who fell short of winning an NCAA title in her time at Virginia. That just makes this victory even sweeter.
“It means that, you know, I can check off one of the things that has been a void in my career,” Staley said.” When I couldn't get it done in college, I thought that was it.”
With the win, Daley became the second African-American head coach after Carolyn Peck did so with Purdue in 1999.
“Carolyn Peck, a few years ago, when she was commentating, she gave me a piece of her net, her national championship net. She told me to keep it,” Staley said. “She said, ‘When you win your national championship, just return it’… I do have to give a shout out to Carolyn Peck, and I will return her net, thankfully.”
South Carolina’s win is new high point for the school, thanks largely in part to Staley, who took over the program nine years ago and transformed it from a school that made just eight NCAA tournament appearances into a national powerhouse.
As the Gamecocks program has grown, so too has Daley as a coach. Known primarily as a defensive coach early in her career, Daley has grown offensively to build an efficient offense that averaged 1.11 points per possession this season.
For someone who never even saw themselves a coach, the victory is a testament to that improvement.
“I never wanted to be a coach. I never wanted to, you know, be sitting where I'm sitting. Dave O'Brien, the late Dave O'Brien, the athletic director at Temple University, saw something in me that I didn't see in myself,” Staley said. “From then on, I really can't see myself doing anything other than what I'm doing, impacting the lives of young people, and also being able to check this box off in my career.”
While the Gamecocks have been in title contention for the last few seasons, the win over the Bulldogs means that the ultimate goal was finally reached.
“I never gave up on winning a national championship, no matter how hard it was, no matter what it looked like. I'm just so happy that I get a chance to share it with so many different people in my coaching, basketball family tree,” Staley said.
After eight seasons at Temple and posting a 172-80 record, Staley made the jump and joined South Carolina in 2008. Since then, it’s been almost nothing but success.
In Daley’s nine seasons in Greenville, the Gamecocks have made the NCAA tournament six times, reaching the Final Four twice. Thanks to dominant play in the post and a phenomenal performance from junior A’ja Wilson, South Carolina became the first SEC school to win a national championship since Texas A&M did so in 2011.
The championship win is more than just a milestone for Daley and the program she built. The victory cements South Carolina’s place amongst the game’s powerhouses and as a legitimate competitor year after year to schools like UConn, Baylor and Notre Dame for multiple national titles.
“I mean, they love winners,” Staley said of the South Carolina fanbase. “Obviously if you start winning, and they start believing in your program, they're going to come.”