Sports have been one of the few constants in my life. Alongside writing, of course.
I began playing sports at a young age, obtaining my second-degree black belt in karate and growing to love running. I later started playing basketball and have since watched my love for the sport continuously grow. And when I say I love the sport, I love the sport.
Yes, I have favorite organizations, but I am genuinely happy sitting down and watching any game take place, anytime between any two teams, at any level. You never know what talent is hiding behind the lack of a national rating or a known program name.
That’s why the plane of Women’s College Basketball has been so interesting to me recently.
My name’s Trinity Rea, and I am pursuing a sports journalism degree at Ball State University and working on perfecting the connection between the two things I love the most: writing and sports.
Here, at Back Sports Page for the next couple of weeks, I’m looking to tell the stories of women’s college basketball and its current plane across eight special bi-weekly newsletters. To start, this week, I will be discussing a story of humble beginnings, one we’ve all heard before. A figure in the suburbs, overcoming adversity, rising to the challenge, and becoming a household name nationwide. Sometimes, across the globe.
For Dawn Michelle Staley, this fabled story becomes real life.
Growing up in North Philadelphia, Staley played basketball with her older brothers using a makeshift hoop made of plywood attached to an electrical pole. She was a force when she entered high school and joined their girls basketball team. In her three years at Murrell Dobbins Vocational High School, Staley averaged 33.1 points per game and led her team to three Philadelphia public high school city championships. At the end of her last season, Staley was awarded the title of national high school player of the year.
After high school, Dawn committed to the University of Virginia (UVA). Here, she would lead her team to four straight NCAA tournament appearances, claim the NCAA record for steals, and earn back-to-back national player of the year awards in 1991 and 1992. This collegiate career propelled her into professional play, first overseas, then to the American Basketball League (ABL). That’s where, in 1996, Staley would make her first of three Olympic run appearances as a player for USA Basketball, earning her a gold medal. In each of the following Olympics she played in (2000, 2004), she continued to help lead the team to gold medals, earning her three as a player in her career.
When the ABL collapsed in 1998, Staley was drafted before the beginning of the 1999 WNBA season by the Charlotte Sting. Staley’s career in the ‘W’ only lasted seven years. Yet within that time, she made such an impact that Temple University asked her in 2000 to coach their women’s basketball team during the WNBA off-season, a job she kept throughout her pro career.
When her professional career ended in 2006, Staley kept the job for another two years until the combined success of her playing and coaching career earned her the Head Coaching job at the University of South Carolina before the beginning of the 2008 season.
Success At South Carolina
We all know what comes next. Since Staley accepted the position, she’s built a resume that has propelled her into the Hall of Fame and earned her the status of one of the greatest basketball coaches of all time. Alongside her success in the Southeastern Conference (SEC) is Staley’s performance with USA Women’s Basketball as their Head Coach from 2017 to 2021.
During this tenure, she continued the national team’s streak of seven consecutive Olympic gold medals, her fourth Olympic gold, and also led the 2019 and 2021 USA Americup Teams to gold medals.
Before she left the position, she was named as a co-recipient of the 2021 USA Basketball National Coach of the Year Award alongside Gregg Popovich. To reach this success, Staley had to establish high standards and enforce specific rules for her players, ones that are inevitably still in place.
"I thought we did enough to win the basketball game, but probably not enough to win this league."
HC Dawn Staley talking after No. 1 South Carolina's win over Mississippi State that saw the Gamecocks play "undisciplined" despite the 85-66 final score@GamecockWBB | @wachfox pic.twitter.com/ruglHXa0vG
— Matt Vereen (@MattVereen) January 7, 2024
Staley’s Coaching Style
Regardless of this, Staley still seems unsatisfied. After a nearly 20-point win against Mississippi State on January 7th, Staley was not happy.
“I thought we did enough to win the basketball game, but not enough to win this league,” Staley said.
Though her team won by 19 points, Staley was more critical than positive of her team’s performance. In her post-game presser, Staley proceeded to go over the whole performance, pinpointing different areas of the Gamecocks performance that were “undisciplined” and needed to change. While Staley was the most direct with her frustration, the players who followed her in the press conference were also visibly frustrated and upset.
“It’s pretty tough… with all new chemistry and stuff like that, but we all came in with high expectations, and we all should be meeting them,” junior guard Bree Hall said in her post-game presser that followed Staley’s.
Hall is playing in her third season under Staley and must have a clear idea and experience of what culture her coach wants to implement. With this in mind, it is important to note that Staley’s team echoes her frustration, as it shows her ability as a coach to perform in the role.
Staley led a team to a 20-point blowout win in conference play, and they’re all frustrated about it.
It is not something that you see often. However, here we are, seeing a collective group of people frustrated with a performance that no one else in the sport regularly has. This is one example of how Staley has, throughout her career, made an impact not only within the teams she’s coached but also in the world of basketball as teams are taking note. South Carolina has bounced back from their frustrations and undisciplined performance after this game. They beat Missouri by 24 points, Kentucky by 62 points, and Texas A&M by 35 points.
Personally, I think it’s really telling how the team reacted and how disciplined they are. This is definitely something to take note of and something to watch with more than just interest.
For Staley, this coaching style will be something that she’ll have continued success with. Staley knows what it takes to win, most recently winning the title in 2022 and falling in last year’s championship contest.
By having these consistent winning performances, Staley is setting the tone for other coaches in college basketball. Also, by declining to take up the Wizards head coach position in November, she shows us that her success in coaching is unmatched and that we are watching history unfold.
Staley is staying in South Carolina for a reason.
If we turn a blind eye to how important Staley’s coaching style and uniqueness are, we overlook not just a storied career but one that is full of a unique type of success, too.
These newsletters will run bi-weekly and will hold conversations on different information surrounding the world of basketball.
Trinity Rea is a second-year student studying sports journalism along with women and gender studies at Ball State University. She works at the Ball State Daily News as an associate news editor. In this role, she focuses on storytelling within the community. Along with this, Trinity also writes for the sports sections and showcases stories behind the athletes. Outside of their love for sports and writing, she likes to listen to music, read, and hang out with her friends.
Contact Trinity Rea with questions at email@example.com or on X @thetrinityrea
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