Dawn Staley on What It Takes to Play for Her Three-Time National Championship Team

Courtesy of Nike

Dawn Staley is leading the way. If you’re new to collegiate women’s basketball, Staley’s name will be one of the first to pop up when researching the current landscape of the sport — the 53-year-old coach serves as a key player in women’s basketball’s meteoric rise. Staley is the head coach for the University of South Carolina’s women's basketball team, The Gamecocks, who have reached historic heights. They are the 2017, 2022 and 2024 National Championship winners in the NCAA women’s basketball division — a huge feat for the team and for Staley, the first Black coach (man or woman) to do such a thing.

Staley is originally from Philadelphia and began playing basketball as a young kid. She played in high school at Murrell Dobbins Vocational High School and even won the national high school player of the year award her senior year. After playing point guard for the University of Virginia, she played professionally in the WNBA. In 2012 Staley was inducted into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame. She then won three Olympic gold medals with Team USA as a player, and later coached another US Olympic team to the gold.

Staley coached the women’s basketball team at Temple University starting in 2000, starting when she was still in the WNBA, and continuing for eight years. During that time, her team won six NCAA tournaments, three regular-season conference championships, and four conference tournament titles. In May of 2008 Staley was named the head coach of USC and has gone on to shape the future generation of leaders in women’s basketball.

We caught up with Staley at the Nike On Air event in Paris, France to talk about the evolution of women’s basketball and what it takes to play for her winning team at USC.

Teen Vogue: How do you think this season of women’s collegiate basketball changed the perspective of the way people viewed the sport?

Dawn Staley: I think if this is the first time that you've sat down or attended a women's basketball game, you're locked in. You're locked in. You'll be buying season tickets somewhere. You will be tuned in somewhere. And I think it is great because now if one person, like a Caitlin Clark, sold you on watching or sold you on coming to see her play, I'm sure you walked away with seeing other players who you didn't know anything about, that you'll want to follow. So I think it is going to help our overall game grow.

TV: What is it like to be in a community like South Carolina that is so eager to support and ready to see the continuous growth of your team?

DS: So I'm going to tell you this, being in Columbia, South Carolina, it's like being at no other place. We've been doing this for 10 years now, meaning our community. You can't just go to the mall, any of our players just can't go to the mall and think, "Oh, I'm going to run up to the store, walk around a little bit, pick up a pair of sneakers." It's not like that. So you make a run to the mall, you're going to hear about somebody's life story. You are going to take pictures, you are going to sign autographs. It's just really the fabric of who we've been.

And now I think we've become even more popular. This team, it wasn't that we just won a national championship, it was all season long. We would be up 50 and there'll still be 16, 17, 18,000 people sitting in their seats waiting, waiting until MiLaysia Fulwiley opens up her [over]shirt, throws it off. She's doing some superwoman things out there on the floor. So it has been that level, it's been comfortable for us. This is our norm when it comes to the support that we get from the community and our athletics department at South Carolina.

TV: What would be your advice to any young girls hoping to play at the collegiate level?

DS: My advice would be really, it's cliche. It is the fundamentals. I know it's fun and exciting when you see a young lady make an incredible play. But those plays are few and far between. The real meat and potatoes of basketball, it's playing in between those beautiful plays. And if you can get really good at the plays in between, you're going to be a great player.

TV: What are you looking for in a young athlete that potentially would want to join your program one day?

DS: You have to be talented. And then the next thing that we look at is your relationship with your parents. If it is respectful, then you could play for us. If it's not, you're probably going to have a hard time. That's our prerequisite when it comes to scouting. Once we identify a talent and how good they are, boom. That's the easy part. The hard part is the next step. “What are you like? What's your relationship with your family? Are you respectful to your mom, to your dad? How do you treat them? How are you being treated?” That's important to us.

TV: Lastly, what's the best advice you've ever gotten in your career?

DS: I grew up in a disciplined household, so there wasn't really advice. I was threatened. (She says laughing, slightly). So I had a fear of God and my mom. I stayed within her lines.

Originally Appeared on Teen Vogue