After NCAA title win, Dawn Staley spoke about her faith. It's nothing new for SC coach.

South Carolina women's basketball coach Dawn Staley, seconds after completing a perfect 38-0 season to win her second NCAA championship in three seasons and third overall, doubled over and broke down during an on-court interview as she tried to celebrate her Christian faith.

Eventually, she composed herself and got the words out.

"We serve an unbelievable God — we serve an unbelievable God," Staley eventually told ESPN's Holly Rowe. "Uncommon favor, unbelievable. So proud, I'm so proud."

Staley would also take the time to thank and praise her players, assistants and support staff. But, before the brief interview would end, Staley would once again return to religion.

"God is funny like that, He is funny," Staley added later. "He rips your heart and He makes you believe. He makes you believe the unimaginable. Thank you, Jesus, thank you."

Championship game: South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley and her players celebrate during the trophy presentation after the Gamecocks defeated the Iowa Hawkeyes in the final on on April 7, 2024 to win the 2024 NCAA Tournament.
Championship game: South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley and her players celebrate during the trophy presentation after the Gamecocks defeated the Iowa Hawkeyes in the final on on April 7, 2024 to win the 2024 NCAA Tournament.

Staley has talked about her faith after other big moments

This is not new for Staley, nor is it uncommon for coaches and players across all sports to praise God moments after victories; Staley has been outspoken about her faith, repeatedly attributing it to her successes as a player and coach. But it has also become a source of pushback and controversy for some, with critics suggesting that she is pushing advocacy and pressing her beliefs onto others.

On March 31, which was Easter Sunday, the Gamecocks prevailed over Oregon State in a 70-58 victory that advanced South Carolina to the Final Four. Interviewed on the court after the victory, Staley took the time to praise God.

"He's really funny," Staley said then. "The devastating loss that we had last year, to put us back here on a totally different team — if you don't believe in God, something's wrong with you, seriously. I'm a believer. I'm a believer because He makes things come true. When you're at your worst, He's at his best."

Critics, including a faction on social media, pointed out that there are almost certainly faithful believers on losing teams whose hopes are dashed in defeat. Others felt that Staley's comments minimized the hard work and achievements of her players. Staley's outspoken expression of her faith has even led to questions about potential violations of her players' religious freedoms under the First Amendment.

An article published by the Daily Beast exploring the issue quoted Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, saying that Staley "appears to have no boundaries when it comes to pushing religion on a captive audience of students dying to please her."

Opponents to Staley's open expression have also argued that nonreligious students or players may feel uncomfortable when faced with Staley's open praise of Christianity.

Staley: 'I'm not here to offend anybody'

Staley does appear to be aware of some of the pushback. On March 31, hours after the victory over Oregon State, Staley posted a message on social media alluding to her "something's wrong with you" comments, saying she was "not ashamed to praise" God.

She also responded to those criticisms a few days later, after she won the 2024 Naismith Coach of the Year award.

"I said, 'If you don't know there's a God then something's wrong with you' —  if I said, 'If you don't watch women's basketball, something's seriously wrong with you,' would you take it as threatening as somebody took the other one?" Staley told FOX Carolina News April 3. "I mean, it's a figure of speech. If you can't comprehend that, then tune me out. Tune me out. I'm not here to offend anybody. ...

"I'm not going to apologize for what I said and what I feel because I know my life and I know why things have happened in my life and I'm going to salute God as much as I can because I know it's not just my doing."

There are also plenty of people on the other side, people who support Staley's open celebration of her faith. Some have suggested Staley is facing a double standard not applied to male coaches, in particular to football coaches like Clemson's Dabo Swinney, who is similarly outspoken about his faith.

In December 2022, Swinney infamously said during a press conference that Clemson "built this program in God's name, image and likeness," referencing the influx of NIL deals exploding in college sports.

Staley, 53, played college basketball at Virginia and was a five-time WNBA All-Star, a three-time Olympic gold medalist and was enshrined into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, in the class of 2013. She has coached at South Carolina 16 seasons and has compiled a 440-106 (.806) record in that span, including a 109-3 (.973) mark over the past three seasons.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Dawn Staley, South Carolina's title win brings out talk about faith