Dawn Staley stands alone in women’s basketball history after latest Coach of the Year honor

No one has matched Dawn Staley’s run of accolades over the past three seasons, with the South Carolina head coach being rewarded for the consistent dominance of her program.

South Carolina’s Dawn Staley became the first person to win three consecutive National Coach of the Year awards on Monday.

South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley won National Coach of the Year again - her third time in a row.

Under Staley’s watch, the Gamecocks impressively went through the 2023-24 regular season and SEC Tournament without collecting a loss. They faced tough competition, too, beating eventual high NCAA Tournament seeds such as UCLA, UConn and LSU (twice).

Staley’s dealt with roster turnover and disciplinary issues this campaign but kept an incredibly talented group focused enough to check off key objectives.

The Gamecocks set the record for longest SEC regular-season winning streak of all time, earned the conference’s regular-season title and beat rival LSU in a contentious SEC Tournament final.

In the SEC Tournament triumph, first-year guard MiLaysia Fulwiley made a massive leap after being coached hard by Staley throughout the season.

She’d endured benchings and withering public criticism that may have made people unfamiliar with Staley’s style question the harshness of her approach.

However, Staley’s strategy seemed to have a positive effect in the end, with Fulwiley delivering one of her best-ever performances to help keep their perfect season alive.

The freshman finished the victory with 24 points in less than 20 minutes off the bench. Her performance may not have been possible without the improvements made at both ends of the floor throughout her debut campaign with the Gamecocks.

Staley, who has now won four National Coach of the Year honors overall, earned widespread praise for how she handled the aftermath of an on-court fight between South Carolina and LSU.

MiLaysia Fulwiley was brilliant in the SEC Tournament Final after receiving tough love from Dawn Staley throughout the season.
MiLaysia Fulwiley was brilliant in the SEC Tournament Final after receiving tough love from Dawn Staley throughout the season.

The coach publicly apologized on TV and through the arena PA system at the SEC Tournament final. Her conciliatory stance may have helped cool the tensions between teams.

“I just want to apologize to the basketball community,” Staley told ESPN minutes after the buzzer sounded. “When you’re playing in championship games like this, in our league, things get heated.

No bad intentions. [Everyone’s] emotions just got so far ahead of them that sometimes these things happen, so I want to apologize for us playing a part in that because that’s not who we are. That’s not what we’re about.

“But I’m happy for the players who were able to finish the game. … We’re going to talk about it [in the locker room]. We always talk about it. Never leave the bench, never get too high with the highs or too low with the lows.

It’s hard when you’re playing. I’ve played this game a long time, and I can’t tell you I was a saint at all times. Your emotions get the best of you.”

South Carolina is a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, placed in the Albany 1 region where Notre Dame, Oregon State and Indiana also reside. Staley is trying to lead what star Raven Johnson has called a “revenge” mission after losing in the Final Four in 2023.

Her National Coach of the Year award will satisfy friend and Ole Miss coach Yolett McPhee-McCuin, who recently lobbied on her behalf.

“I’m gonna be biased, but coach of the year has to go to Dawn Staley,” McPhee-McCuin told Women’s Hoops Network. “She’s lost seven players, and they’re still kicking everybody’s butt. It’s not like she has an old team. It’s not like she brought in five players from the transfer portal. She’s just built a dynasty there.”

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