Dawn Staley is one of the most celebrated women’s basketball players of her era and her collegiate career was filled with several highs but a national championship eluded her. Now, the head coach of the University of South Carolina Lady Gamecocks can finally count herself a champion after leading her squad to its first national title victory.
Staley, 46, was raised in North Philadelphia and was a standout player for Murrell Dobbins Tech High School. The girl’s National Player of the Year entered the University of Virginia in 1988 and became an electrifying point guard for the Cavaliers while leading the team to the NCAA Women’s Final Four three times. Staley’s squad lost to Stanford and UConn twice, and she lost a fourth time in the Final Four as a coach for the Lady Gamecocks in 2015.
The win over the Mississippi State Bulldogs capped Staley’s brilliant career in a way that even she couldn’t have imagined. In 2000, then a player for the USA Basketball women’s team, she was approached by Temple University to coach its team. Staley was a reluctant hire but brought her years of big game experience to the role up until 2008.
The six-time WNBA All-Star and two-time ABL All-Star can now boast of several honors, including winning the SEC Coach of the Year award. She’s a two-time Atlantic 10 Coach of the Year and a three-time winner of the regular season Atlantic 10 championships, among other accolades. Coach Staley is now also a four-time SEC regular season championship winner and three-time SEC Tournament champion as a coach.
Staley is just the second Black women’s coach to win the NCAA women’s title. The first was Carolyn Peck, currently an assistant coach at her alma mater, Vanderbilt University. Peck led the Purdue University Boilermakers team to the title in 1999.