Skip to main content
Partner logo
Mobile Icon Link Mobile Icon Link Mobile Icon Link Gamecocks+

Sept. 16, 2008

Back from the Beijing Olympic Games and starting individual workouts with her team, women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley took a few moments to catch up with

How was your Olympic experience this year as a coach versus a player?
On the court was a big adjustment, because you really don’t have a hand in what takes place on the court. As an assistant coach, you sit back and the head coach decides on the game plan. Yes, you can suggest some things, but ultimately it was [Anne] Donovan’s decision on how the game was going to be played, so you just kind of sit back and be a sponge for how things are run.

Off the court, I had a lot more time to see China. That was enjoyable because as a player I never did any sightseeing or shopping.

Did you see any other sport competitions?
I didn’t go to anything but men’s basketball. I think I saw two of their games. It was a little bit different than it’s been in the past Olympics when there’s been an abundance of tickets to go to events. This particular Olympics there weren’t a lot of tickets to go around, so we didn’t get a chance to see a lot of events.

What was the best experience in China aside from the Olympic competition?
I had dinner at a traditional Chinese restaurant. I can’t say I ate everything that they offered, but I ate some things. I ate flowers. It was like a salad, but it was actual flowers. They just tasted like flowers.

I went to the Emperor’s Summer Palace, which was a rock climbing adventure, to say the least. I went to the Great Wall, but I’ve been there a couple of times. Other then that I haggled. They have a thing called the Silk Market. It has a lot of different shops within a big market. They sell a variety of things from pens to tailor-made suits and silk rugs. You have a chance to haggle on the prices. So, I haggled and brought back some silk rugs I liked.

You’ve been on the USA Basketball coaching staff two years now. Was it difficult to coach some of the players you played with?
That part of it was easy. I had gained their respect from when I was a player. I’m pretty no-nonsense when it comes to basketball, especially when it comes to winning gold medals and representing your country the right way. Being in my position, I knew when to say something and when to let them enjoy the experience. It’s always good, though, to have someone who’s been through it and knows the flow of the Olympic games, where the competition tries to lure you into how they want you to play. Fortunately for us we didn’t have any situations where the games were truly competitive, except maybe the Russia game. Our players were up for that, though, because Russia was the team that beat us in the [FIBA] World Championship. Any time you’re left with a loss like that, you don’t really have to do much to motivate them. So I think it was a pretty smooth Olympics for all of us.

Back to your playing days with USA Basketball, how was being part of that program different from other teams you played on?
It was different in that when you are representing an entire country, the pressure is a little bit more than if you’re representing a WNBA team or a college team. You are on the world stage. Any little thing, people can construe as being negative – it’s a total thing – it’s viewed differently than any other sporting event.

Describe what you’re thinking or feeling when you’re standing with your teammates getting your gold medals?
Truly, I look at young people. I get a vision of young people who are less driven, who think that their opportunities to succeed are bleak, and I try to equate it to the things that I’ve gone through growing up in Philadelphia in the housing projects. I want them to feel what I’m feeling, because it’s an incredible feeling to be able to realize your dream. There is no better feeling in the world, maybe a royal wedding, but nothing that you’ve worked so hard for or maybe that people told you that you couldn’t accomplish just because of maybe the color of your skin or maybe because of where you grew up or maybe because of just bad luck. Those are the things I think about when I am standing on the podium receiving my gold medal.

Does that change after the first one, second one…?
I think the first one was special for me. The second one is a blur. The third one, the last and final one, is special because I knew it was my last one. It was a finale, and it was exciting because it went all the way to the wire. There were points in the game in which we weren’t certain of a victory. So, it was just getting over the hump and knowing that I wouldn’t ever play in that capacity again. I was capturing all of it – I went to more events, I saw things that I didn’t see at previous Olympics. I was kind of savoring the whole journey and the moment.

Looking at your resume and your foundation, community service is clearly a staple in your life. Talk about why you feel it’s so important to give back?
It is important to me to give back because I have been given so much. I have been very successful at the things I have done. I think I am blessed, and I want to share my vision. I want to share a ray of hope for people who are under-privileged and think that they can’t be successful because of what they have or don’t have. I think I was given the God-given talent to play basketball, but ther people have the God-given talent to do something else. It’s important to help young people figure out what that is. I want people to enjoy life and not have to wake up in the morning and struggle to go to work. For me, life is pretty easy, because I am doing something that I love to do.

How much of a focal point is service for your teams?
It’s a focal point. Besides the academic and athletic parts of being on the team, it is probably third on the totem pole when it comes to what we’re trying to accomplish. You always have to keep things in perspective. There are people out there who are not living this life. You may think it’s tough because you have to go to class, or you have to go to practice. You may think that’s tough, but some people don’t have that chance. Some people don’t have the opportunity to go to school for free and to live this life of charter planes and things like that. Some people won’t even fly commercially, let alone, on a charter. I think we all need to share our vision and our stories to give somebody a ray of hope to be successful.

Talk a little bit about your staff. What makes this collective group a good staff?
I’d say this is probably the best staff in the country, although I’m pretty biased since I hand picked them. I knew it was going to be a difficult journey for us, and you want to form a group that can handle the strife of it, the stress of it, in a way that you never stop to take a breath to say it can’t be accomplished. The women that make up our staff have been successful on every level, and they’ve been successful on every level because they outwork people. That is probably our separation from any other staff in the country. We’re going to outwork you, number one. We have the credentials that state that. A lot of staffs say that they can outwork people, that they work harder, but when you have the credentials to back it up, it says a lot to the players that you’re recruiting and to their parents. It’s the statement that you want to make when you are representing the University of South Carolina.

Aside from that, we are very balanced in what we do, and we have a lot of energy. We have a lot of expertise in different areas. Things that I may not be good at, somebody else on our staff is. That applies to each of us.

Talk about the style of basketball you want to build your team for and about your coaching style.
I want our team to be balanced in everything we do. I would like for us to be up-tempo, to get in your face and create some offense from our defense. We all know in the perfect basketball world, you’re not going to always get that, though. So, I want to have a point guard that will direct and know the pace of the game at any time and know what’s needed – if we need to run, she’ll know; if we need to hold back and set up something on the half court set. We’ll be smart enough, disciplined enough, to be as successful.

As for my coaching style, I am pretty intense when we’re between the lines. I like to get after our players. I like to put our players in situations in practice so that the things that happen in a game won’t catch them by surprise. I am going to put them through every single thing necessary for them to be aware of whatever the opposition throws at them.

You’ve always talked about how people told you that you’d be a good coach, but you were reluctant to “switch sides.” What eventually convinced you to make the move?
Coaching is a challenge on all levels. A challenge to be social, a challenge to build relationships and kind of let my guard down. All of those things I look at as challenge for me, from a personal stand point. From a competitive or professional standpoint, I want to be the best. I want to be the best at every single thing that that I can do. I am not afraid to challenge myself in different areas. It’s not a job for me; it’s a passion; it’s my livelihood. I see it that way, and I approach it that way. That’s why it’s pretty easy for me to do what I do. I think it’s one of the reasons why I have been successful at doing it, because I never want to look at it like a job. I never want to work at something I don’t enjoy waking up for each day.