‘I’m just grateful’: Dawn Staley on the team, the season, her experiences (so far) as South Carolina’s coach

With two national championships under her belt, University of South Carolina Coach Dawn Staley is ready to take her Gamecock women’s basketball team to another March Madness.

But before the Big Dance, News19’s Andrea Mock got a chance to sit down with the GOAT and talk about how she’s changed the face of women’s basketball. Here is a portion of Mock’s interview with Staley:

MOCK: She’s brought home two national titles for the Gamecocks, she’s the SEC Coach of the year again, a 3-time Naismith College Coach of the Year winner (and a semifinalist in 2024), and an Olympic gold medalist, but one thing Dawn Staley still amazingly is… is humble.

STALEY: I’m just grateful. Grateful that people want to spend their time and their money to come the Colonial Life Arena for two hours, and just dive into our team.

Dawn Staley - Wikipedia

Nothing else matters besides what’s happening in and around the arena. And that doesn’t happen very often in life. “Life” stops when they come into Colonial Life Arena, it stops. Everybody’s unified in a way which I have not seen in a you know, in a lifetime.

In a sport that used to have a hard time filling the seats, Staley and her staff have created a program that is the envy of the nation. In fact, in their undefeated season this year, the women’s basketball team sold out Colonial Life Arena five times. So, how did she do it?

STALEY: We mommed and popped it. We pounded the pavements. We’ve made ourselves accessible to anybody. Like, any of our fans can walk up to our office, knock on the door, come in, chill out.

Sometimes they do sit for hours. And we just walked by, hey, y’all don’t have a bouncer. There’s not somebody. We give them access to our team. We have open practices. They can ask me anything. Like it was built from the ground up.

And I do think we still have that. We have a lot of people come to our game. Everybody feels like they have access to us. They have access to me they have access to our players.

Staley isn’t just known for her connection with her FAMS. Her players are her babies, and the relationship doesn’t end when her players walk the stage at graduation.

Who Is Dawn Staley? All About Former WNBA Star, Olympic Athlete

STALEY: If you follow you and A’ja on Twitter, its hilarious.

MOCK: What’s it like to watch them be the biggest names in the WNBA?

STALEY: I sit back and I’m really just proud. Like, I never birthed a child, but I’ve come close to — having so many current and former players. I know what a mother’s love feels like, yes.

I know what a mother’s pride feels like. I know what it feels like to see a young person succeed. And, and become, like, incredibly successful. And A’ja Wilson’s story is just top shelf. But every single one of our players that have left here or Temple (where she coached from 2000-2008), they all have success stories in their own right.

Where we get to see A’ja live it out, you know her life, but as the other ones that you don’t, you don’t see every day on social media or writing books.

Staley has fought for her players too. As a college athlete herself, Staley pushed for the NCAA to adopt the Name Image Likeness (NIL) Rule allowing athletes to make money off their names with sponsorships or endorsements.

MOCK: You and I were at an event, together a million. I don’t know it feels like a million years ago, and you told me that when you went to college, some of the girls on your team, they would go out to movies and dinners and that you didn’t have the money. Now we have NIL. How have you seen that change things for some players?

STALEY: First of all, I didn’t have the money. And second of all, I wasn’t interested in going out. I’m saying I’m a homebody champion. I like what we do (with NIL).

I mean, if you look at the billions of dollars that are being made college athletics and people were are benefiting, who’s benefiting? Universities are benefiting, colleges are benefiting. So, I think there are ways in which we can provide a way that every student athlete can benefit from being in the space. And that’s why we take a lot of time to help our players build their brands.

As Staley speaks of building her players’ legacy, her own is about to immortalized with a statue right across from the South Carolina Statehouse.

STALEY: I mean, that was really taken aback. Like, A’ja’s was the only statute. Like, I was living through her, right, because it’s something that doesn’t happen very often.

And it doesn’t happen very often to a young person. For what my statue stands for, I can stand behind because it is giving women an opportunity to be presented in a way of having a statue because not very many women are bestowed this honor.

And as far as what the statue looks like coach says…relax people that was just a mold!

STALEY: And I just don’t. I know it was an uproar, because there was an uproar about how it looked. Let the artists finish up, you know, and I think people will be proud of it.

So, as we look ahead to another trip to the Big Dance. We’ve got to know… does the GOAT (Greatest of all time) get nervous?

STALEY: I don’t really get nervous, I do get little butterflies. But guys, I get a little butterflies, at probably all of the games because I, you know, there’s a little part of me that really can’t control that part of it.

Like, really, as a coach, you can prep, you know, you could prep throughout the week, and then on game day, its really the players that have to execute what our preparation is, or was. And that little part of me feels like, “If something goes wrong…”

You can watch Andrea Mock’s entire interview with Dawn Staley on wltx.com and of course catch all the March Madness action on WLTX.

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