Staley’s arrival would mark a dramatic change in the fortunes of the Gamecocks women’s basketball program.
Basketball player and coach. Dawn Staley was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania where she starred at Murrell Dobbins Tech High School. She led the Mustangs to three league championships and during her senior season she was recognized as the USA Today national high school player of the year. Staley played collegiately at the University of Virginia and led the Cavaliers to four NCAA Tournament berths and three Final Fours. She was twice recognized as both the ACC Player of the Year and the Naismith National Player of the Year (1991, 1992) and finished her career as the ACC’s all-time leader in assists and the all-time NCAA leader in steals (records that have both since been broken).
Staley is also a three-time Olympian and three-time gold medalist, each time as a member of the Team USA women’s basketball team (1996, 2000, 2004). In 2004 she was selected to carry the United States flag during the parade of nations at the opening ceremony of the Games in Athens.
Following her collegiate career, Staley played professional basketball internationally before joining the Richmond (VA) Rage of the American Basketball League (ABL), an independent professional basketball league for women that operated 1996–1998. After the ABL folded, Staley joined the WNBA, where she was selected by the Charlotte Sting it he 1999 WNBA Draft. She played seven seasons in the WNBA (seven with Charlotte and one with the Houston Comets).
Even before her professional playing career had ended, Staley began coaching collegiately, becoming head coach of the Temple Owls in her hometown of Philadelphia in 2000. She coached at Temple for eight seasons, leading the Owls to six NCAA Tournament berths. In 2008 Staley announced that she would be leaving Temple to take the position as head coach of the University of South Carolina women’s basketball team. Staley came to a South Carolina team that had largely struggled, often finishing among the worst teams in the Southeastern Conference (SEC).
Staley’s arrival would mark a dramatic change in the fortunes of the Gamecocks women’s basketball program. In the thirty-five years before Staley’s arrival the Gamecocks had finished the season ranked in the Associated Press (AP) Top 25 only six times. In her twelve seasons as head coach, the team has finished ranked in the AP Top 25 nine times and twice has finished as the top ranked team in the nation (2016–17, 2019–20). Under Staley’s leadership, the Gamecocks have reached the Sweet Sixteen six times, the Elite Eight three times, and the Final Four twice. In 2017, South Carolina defeated Mississippi State to earn the first NCAA Championship in program history.
The Gamecocks finished the 2020 season with a record of 32–1, winning both the SEC regular season and tournament titles. They also finished as the top ranked team in the nation. They would have entered the NCAA Tournament as a #1 seed, but the tournament was cancelled due to the COVID-19 global pandemic. Following the 2019–20 season, Staley was recognized as the winner of the Naismith Coach of the Year award, becoming the first person ever to win the Naismith Award as both a player and a coach. The Gamecocks had a less successful 2021 season, finishing with an overall record of 26-5 and suffering a 66-65 defeat by Stanford in the NCAA Semi-Final Championship game. However, the team showcased its resilience during the 2022 season, earning a 35-2 record and a monumental win against UConn in the NCAA Championship Final- earning Staley her second national title with the Gamecocks. Staley was also selected as head coach of the USA Women’s Basketball Team for the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, where she led the team to its 7th consecutive gold medal.
Staley was inducted into the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame in 2008, the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 2012, and the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2013. She was also awarded the Order of the Palmetto, South Carolina’s highest civilian honor, in 2013.
Bell, Daryl, “Dawn Staley Has Always Had a Special Relationship with Philadelphia,” The Undefeated, April 17, 2017. https://theundefeated.com/features/dawn-staley -relationship-with-Philadelphia/
Cloninger, David, “Gamecocks’ Dawn Staley Named AP National Coach of the Year.” Post and Courier, March 23, 2020.