Philly's Own Dawn Staley Named USA Basketball's Women's Olympic Coach
By ROB KNOX @knoxrob1
Even though she has won 10 gold medals as an athlete and was the flag bearer for the United States during the opening ceremonies of the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Dawn Staley has earned the ultimate honor of her star-spangled career.
The Philadelphia legend was named head coach of the USA Basketball Women's National Team through 2020 Friday afternoon.
Even more significant is that Staley is the first African-American female head coach of the USA Basketball Women's National Team in its history.
“Being named head coach of the USA National Team is a tremendous honor,” said Staley, who was enshrined into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2013, the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2012, and Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame in 2011.
“As a player, I was humbled each time I wore the uniform and this feels no different. I will do my very best to uphold the standards and winning tradition of the national team, and must thank the selection committee for having faith in my abilities as a coach to trust me with such an important role. I would also like to thank my teams at Temple and South Carolina for putting me in this coveted position. They allowed me to learn and grow on the job and I am truly grateful.”
At the announcement press conference Friday afternoon in Columbia, South Carolina, Staley paid tribute to the Olympic coaches she played for and worked for as an assistant and noted she can reach out to any of them at a moment’s notice for guidance on any situation from game plan to administrative matters.
Most recently, Staley was an assistant coach for the gold medalist 2016 U.S. Olympic Women's Basketball Team this past summer in Rio under Geno Auriemma, another Philadelphian.
Staley also served as an assistant to Anne Donovan when the USA won gold at the 2008 Olympics.
She follows Donovan as the only two to have played for the gold and coached the Olympians.
Staley's selection was made by the USA Basketball Women's National Team Steering Committee and approved by the USA Basketball Board of Directors.
Coming out of Rio, with Auriemma having no wishes to coach a third time, speculation on his successor focused on Staley and another Philadelphian and 2016 staff member, Cheryl Reeve, the former La Salle star who just missed coaching the Minnesota Lynx to a fourth WNBA title in recent seasons.
“I would do anything to help Dawn,” Reeve said in a recent conversation noting that she would be as delighted for Staley to get the job as she would herself.
Staley’s staff will be assembled over the next several months but it would not be a surprise to see Reeve selected and George Washington coach Jen Rizzotti, the former UConn star who has guided the next generation of national team members to gold medals.
Immediately following the ’88 games, Staley, who had been on Donovan’s staff, was considered the frontrunner until the organization called on Auriemma, which, in retrospect, seemed the right move on several levels.
Soon after Auriemma’s selection, in a conversation with a USA official about the move, the Guru was told “We will always want Dawn in our family.”
And at this point, if Staley was not named then it’s a minimum delay of a 5-8 year run if the appointment did not come until the next cycle.
With Staley at the helm and a likely return of Delaware grad Elena Delle Donne to the squad, likely USA will hold some exhibitions in the area as it did at Delaware last summer.
This is a huge moment at the ideal time. She’s the perfect choice to lead Team USA.
She’s a marvelous motivator, has terrific knowledge of the game, brings a youthful exuberance into the gym each day and is enthusiastic off of the court. Staley is a terrific ambassador for women’s basketball and it’s great to see her passion, patience and perseverance be rewarded.
“Everything about Dawn screams champion,” former USA teammate and Indiana Fever great Tamika Catchings said. “Her dedication on the court, from being a teammate of hers, to having her as one of my mentors, to what she's been able to establish on the coaching level… (she is) the epitome of a champion! Dawn is a great choice (to lead the USA National Team), because she knows how to win and what it takes to be on the USA Basketball level. Her expertise is unmatched when you look at her history and the way she has been able to transform programs and create a winning recipe.”
Staley has been winning ever since she laced up a pair of high-tops. She helped Dobbins Tech win three consecutive Philadelphia Public League championships from 1986-88. She led the University of Virginia to three straight Final Fours while earning national Player of the Year honors twice.
Including her eight seasons as head coach at Temple University, Staley owns a career coaching record of 387-160 (.707 winning percentage) in nearly 17 years as a collegiate head coach.
I fell in love with women’s basketball right about the time I witnessed Staley crack a few fibulas and break ankles when she was at her dominating best at the University of Virginia nearly two decades ago.
Then a few years later when Staley was part of the legendary 1996 U.S. Olympic team that captured gold in Atlanta after a one-year barnstorming tour across the country to help increase interest in the sport, I was hooked on women’s basketball forever. I still have a scrapbook full of articles from that Olympic run.
Basketball has a way of rewarding somebody if they don’t cheat the game. For all of her talent, individual accolades and coaching accomplishments, Staley’s greatest gift to the sport of basketball, which she quickly developed a love affair as a child, was sacrificing to help grow the game.
Turning down significant financial commitments, Staley along with 11 other women embarked on a successful year-long tour of the United States in advance of the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. Staley knew then that her blood, sweat and tears would eventually make a difference and be impactful.
The 1996 United States Olympic squad paused their normal lives and became trailblazers so that Skylar Diggins, Delle Donne, Candace Parker, Breanna Stewart, Maya Moore and many others could thrive and enjoy the fruits of their labor today.
“Receiving my first gold medal at the games in Atlanta in front of our home crowd will always be special,” Staley said. “However, being named the flag bearer and leading the Olympic delegation in Greece was one of the most exciting and memorable experiences of my USA Basketball career. I’ll never forget that feeling and will always be humbled by the honor.”
Staley is USA Basketball. Her selfless attitude has led to numerous great accomplishments. Doing small things with great love, Staley has always been a special leader that people have followed. Staley has transformed lives and inspired countless others.
The impressive roll call of teammates, coaches and athletes coached reads like a who’s who of women’s basketball in the last 30 years. Staley has been the constant and bridge linking the past, present and future of women’s basketball.
She’s had over 60 different teammates on various national teams spanning from Suzie McConnell, Teresa Edwards to Lisa Leslie to Sue Bird. Staley has coached 61 athletes who have competed for Team USA from Parker to Diana Taurasi to current collegiate standouts A’ja Wilson of her Gamecocks squad and Crystal Dangerfield of UConn.
One of most recognizable women’s basketball treasures on the planet, Staley understands she has plenty of work ahead of her to continue Team USA’s dominance. The challenge excites her. Staley is used to working hard and making the best of situations. She revitalized Temple during her time on North Broad Street. Staley transformed South Carolina into a powerhouse and one of the premiere programs in the nation.
No one knows if the new presidential administration will give Staley the time of day the way the previous one did with sports individuals and teams, but the current UN ambassador is the former South Carolina governor and several seasons ago Staley went on an international tour with former President Bill Clinton doing work for his foundation.
The 2016 Olympic finish marked the USA's sixth-straight Olympic gold medal, and Staley was on the roster for five of those titles -- three times as an athlete (1996, 2000, 2004) and twice as an assistant coach (2008, 2016).
“I think she’s an obvious choice with all of the experience that she has had as part of the Olympic program as a player, as a coach, both as an assistant coach at the national team level and the head coach (for junior USA teams), being part of gold-medal winning teams,” Auriemma said. “The success that you need to have at the Olympic level is, you’re expected to win a gold medal every year.
“In order to do that I think you have to have an expectation of winning, and proving that you can win and proving that you can take teams in a short period of time and guide them is not easy. And, Dawn’s been able to do that. I think it’s a great choice. I’m happy for her, and I’m happy for USA Basketball.”
Aside from her on-court brilliance, one of my lingering images of Staley is of her doing cartwheels across the Georgia Dome floor with Teresa Edwards and Ruthie Bolton after beating Brazil in the gold medal game of the 1996 Olympics.
As a testament of her enduring excellence, Staley has helped elevate the sport. Being able to give back to the game that she loves as the first African-American female head coach of the USA Basketball Women's National Team in history is a special symbol of significant progress and worth flipping for.