South Carolina’s Don Staley out of court, becomes the force

Don Staley swore repeatedly during his playing days that he would never coach. Everyone could see it in his future, everyone except him.

She always coached in her role as an elite point guard.

Reluctantly, Staley eventually accepted her fate, with Temple becoming the head coach of the women’s basketball team.

Now, 22 years later, she is the first black coach to win two NCAA national championships. Besides Staley, only five have won in the history of men’s and women’s Division 1 basketball: John Thompson, Georgetown, 1984; Nolan Richardson, Arkansas, 1994; Tuby Smith, Kentucky, 1998; Carolyn Peck, Purdue, 1999; Kevin Oly, Yukon, 2014.

Staley’s success has given her the platform to champion issues out-of-court and she continues to speak about gender equality, diversity and opportunities for women.

“I don’t look for it,” Staley recently told the Associated Press. “If I’m asked, I’m going to answer. Why? It’s the right thing to do.”

While Staley isn’t looking for notoriety, basketball analyst Debbie Antonelli said he is under the influence and that everyone listens to what he has to say.

“This is a voice that isn’t just about South Carolina,” said Antonelli, who will be inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in June.

“Where you’re a youth coach, you talk about yourself and your team,” Antonelli continued. “When you are a seasoned coach you become a servant of the game… He has accepted it.”

Not that it came easily.

Staley repeatedly told the late Temple Athletic Director Dave O’Brien that she didn’t want a coaching job until she changed her mind in 2000.

Then, after eight seasons with the Owls, Staley worried that her move to South Carolina could be “career suicide” if she wasn’t able to quickly maneuver against Southeastern Conference powers such as Tennessee, Kentucky, LSU, and Georgia.

It turned out to be the best move she could make.

Over the past year, she guided the U.S. national women’s team to Olympic gold last summer, defeating Yukon 64-49 in the NCAA title game, and has a collection of Coach of the Year awards including those from the Associated Press, Naismith, and the SEC . She is headed to Los Angeles with Kendra Aliyah Boston for Friday’s Wooden Awards ceremony.

There is no doubt that Staley is at the top of his game; Lawmakers in South Carolina honored Gamecocks on Wednesday and next Wednesday they will be the stars of a parade in downtown Columbia.

It all sums up a hectic 12 months, during which Staley became the sport’s champion, and for it.

On the court, Gamecock made good on their annual goal of the national crown after falling to Stanford in the 2021 Final Four semifinals.

Staley barely had time to unpack ahead of his duties as the coach of the US Olympic team kicked it off with training camps, playing in the AmeriCup to qualify for the FIBA ​​World Cup in Australia this September All before leaving for Japan for the COVID-19 delayed Olympics.

He spoke about his coaching vacancy with the NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers in June, saying that he treated him like “a real candidate” and not a token interview.

Staley led the US team to a gold medal last August.

“When I came back, it was time to go with them,” Staley told the AP while preparing to run for Tile in Minneapolis, nods to his players during the team dinner.

Before closing the season, however, Staley received a long-term contract worth $22.4 million from South Carolina. He earned $2.9 million this season, one of the highest salaries in the game.

It wasn’t about the money, Staley said, “but it takes money to open an eye to this recognition.”

Recognized that South Carolina started the season No. 1 and never surrendered that ranking despite a pair of unexpected losses, including a 64-62 shock to Kentucky in the SEC Tournament Championship Game.

“We knew we had to take care of ourselves,” Staley said. “The big picture was still out there.”

South Carolina was never seriously challenged in its six NCAA Tournament games. The closest game was a 69–61 win over North Carolina in Sweet 16, as AP Player of the Year Aliyah Boston scored all 13 of her team’s 13 fourth-quarter points to keep the Tar Heels back.

Staley is often challenged with court.

But Staley has blended his coaching success with his thoughts on how to best develop the game. She said she had several Zoom calls with other head coaches, including Stanford’s Tara VanDerweer and Yukon’s Geno Auriemma, about keeping the game going.

“They were informative,” Staley said. “I mostly listened.”

She also listens to her players, connecting with high school students with an easygoing style. During the Final Four awards ceremony, all the Gamecock players bowed their heads while looking at their phones. Nearby, Staley was also tapping on her phone.

“That don,” said longtime South Carolina assistant Lisa Boyer.

“She’s like mom sometimes and best friend at other times,” added 21-year-old guard Zia Cook.

Then there are times when she is an activist.

Rebecca Lobo believes Staley is the strong female voice the game needs, be it women like the Late Pat Summit in Tennessee or Notre Dame’s recently retired coach Muffett McGraw.

“She isn’t afraid to talk about what she feels is right, what she feels is wrong,” said Lobo, a teammate of Staley’s on the US team that won the gold medal at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. ” “Even if it’s 100 percent her personality, she’s slipping into that very naturally.”

As Boyer, the South Carolina assistant says, it’s just Staley’s style.

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