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Make 2022 your best year yet and let this Moon Reading decode your destiny with precise wisdom you can’t find anywhere else!

Dawn Staley and South Carolina have done it their way — Andscape

Get This Before It Disappears!


Get This Before It Disappears!

Make 2022 your best year yet and let this Moon Reading decode your destiny with precise wisdom you can’t find anywhere else!

During a news conference ahead of a Sweet 16 matchup against UCLA, South Carolina coach Dawn Staley was asked what it means for her team to be one of women’s college basketball’s biggest draws during the TV ratings boom that the sport has experienced in recent years.

During that time, Staley has molded South Carolina into an undeniable powerhouse program, which in the last six years has resulted in two national championships, and now four appearances in the Final Four. Even as Staley and her team sit atop the field, she doesn’t view South Carolina’s dominance as similar to the sport’s past cornerstone programs.

South Carolina represents something new, something different.

“I don’t see us as a UConn or Tennessee. I don’t see us as that. They are the traditionally rich powerhouses of our game,” Staley said. “When you see South Carolina, we probably look like the rest of the country. The trajectory we are experiencing, someone else can do it that looks like our team. We’re more of a blue-collar, nose to the ground program that has found some success.

“I’m a Black coach. I got a majority, predominantly Black team. For the viewers to tune into that, it means we are opening doors that were closed for a program like us.” 

Women’s college basketball continues to shift. Look no further than this year’s Elite Eight that didn’t include mainstays UConn, Tennessee or Stanford for the first time since 1985. In this new chapter of the game, Staley and South Carolina have given audiences another appearance of what it means to sustain greatness in the sport. A Black head coach with a predominantly Black team celebrating victoriously on the sport’s grandest stages again, and again, and again. It quite frankly has never been seen before.

“What she is doing is helping the basketball world adjust to talking about something new,” said ESPN analyst Carolyn Peck, who coached Purdue to an NCAA championship in 1999. There’s now another program that wasn’t a one-hit wonder. It’s South Carolina.”

As we’ve seen over the course of this season, as South Carolina continues to shake the table it’s earned a seat at, its success doesn’t sit well with everyone. Those distractions, however, haven’t deterred Staley or her team as they continue to march toward their repeat championship goals. They enter Friday night’s Final Four game vs. Iowa an undefeated 36-0 while touting the best defense and, statistically, most efficient offense in the country.

South Carolina is busy forging a path of its own. Most impressively, they’ve done it and continue to do it their own way.

“South Carolina has done it in their own way, their own swagger and their own fashion,” said William & Mary assistant coach and former Hampton guard Kenia Cole. “They just created their own brand. They allowed people to see that this is South Carolina basketball.”

South Carolina forward Aliyah Boston (second from right) dances with teammates during the fourth quarter against Maryland in the Elite Eight round of the NCAA tournament at Bon Secours Wellness Arena on March 27 in Greenville, South Carolina.

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

South Carolina entered the tournament as the No. 1 overall seed after having capped a wire-to-wire run as the Associated Press’ No. 1 team in the country. The Gamecocks are full of decorated talent that, collectively, has formed one of the best defenses college basketball has ever seen.

“Rebounding and defending and outhustling their opponent. They play hard for 40 minutes,” Cole said. “They’re long, they’re strong, they’re big, they’re athletic. They do what they do best and they just grind you out.”

South Carolina’s presence on the floor can be characterized by its discipline or poise, but its defining quality has been selflessness, something Staley has praised all season. In a new collegiate environment in which options such as the transfer portal have given student-athletes unprecedented flexibility, the core of the Gamecocks have stayed together.

Their depth is one of their biggest strengths. South Carolina can switch out 2022 consensus National Player of the Year Aliyah Boston with Kamilla Cardoso, the SEC Sixth Woman of the Year. They have a former No. 2 overall recruit in Raven Johnson and Olympian in Laeticia Amihere coming off the bench.

Peck says the adoption of that mentality is a direct reflection of the leadership from their coach, Staley, who has managed to make each player on the team understand and feel her value.

“Every single one of those players have bought into sacrificing of self for the betterment of the team because when that happens they all win,” Peck said. “The way that Dawn carries herself and operates day to day becomes the model of what these players are.” 

The Gamecocks are poised to make history as a predominantly Black team. Having a team such as South Carolina represent the best in the sport as women’s basketball is attracting more attention is notable – especially as Staley has created an environment that has allowed her players to be themselves, says Cole.

“The colorful hair, the eyelashes, long braids — [Dawn has] allowed them to come into their own personalities and be who they are as Black women,” Cole said.

South Carolina’s success hasn’t come without its share of critics.

They’ve been the target of social media posts rife with microaggressions and coded language. Sometimes it’s not coded at all. The Gamecocks have been labeled as “thugs,” and compared with prison inmates. Their play has been reduced to being labeled merely as “bully ball” – their success linked predominantly to their size and athleticism and minimizing the depth of their on-court IQ.

Staley has needed to go to bat for her players a number of times this season, repeatedly defending her program.

“We’ve been called so many things and I’m sick of it. I’m sick of it because I coach some of the best human beings that the game has ever had,” Staley said in February. “We’ve been called thugs. We’ve been called prisoners. We’ve been called monkeys … We take this very seriously being the No. 1 team in the country, being a team that young people look at and want to emulate. We set the example of how you do it and do it the right way.”

Yolanda Laney, a former All-American point guard who appeared in multiple Final Fours with Cheyney under C. Vivian Stringer and Winthrop McGriff, recalled the racism she experienced as a player on an all-Black team. She was called the N-word and, on one occasion, food was thrown at her.

She commended South Carolina for staying focused amid the criticism, adding that the support for the program greatly outweighs the attacks.

“Everybody should be offended when it comes to someone attacking someone else and you don’t even know the person. You’re just in attack mode for whatever reason — because you don’t like Dawn, because you don’t like South Carolina or you don’t like the fact that they’re winning,” Laney said.

“I think the players in that program, and how they have handled that, has demonstrated the class and character of those players and of Dawn,” Peck added, “to rise above it.”

South Carolina coach Dawn Staley reacts after beating UCLA 59-43 in the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA tournament at Bon Secours Wellness Arena on March 25 in Greenville, South Carolina.

Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

At the head of South Carolina is Staley, who aims to be the last coach standing for a second straight season – something that a Black head coach has never accomplished in men’s or women’s college basketball. Staley stands as the face of a new era for Black coaches in college basketball where steadily increasing opportunity has resulted in breakthroughs previously unseen in the sport’s history.

In the Final Four, Staley is joined by Virginia Tech coach Kenny Brooks – the second time in history there have been two Black coaches in the national semifinal. In 2021, Staley and Arizona’s Adia Barnes became the first two Black coaches in a women’s semifinal.

Whenever presented with the opportunity, and at each step of her program’s ascension, Staley – recently named the Naismith and WBCA Coach of the Year for a second consecutive season – has always chosen to uplift and advocate for the advancement of Black coaches. With each win against a blue blood program or coach, she combats the limitations and perceptions of Black coaches that have existed for decades.

“I think the biggest thing that Dawn has overcome is especially being a Black woman in this position. It’s hard,” Peck said. “Dawn has done that through not only what she does on the court but off the court, really demonstrating that we can do it, too.”

As the coach who willingly carries that baton, she’s been forthcoming on multiple occasions about the pressure she feels to succeed.

“Of course, I feel pressure. Pressure for our team to be successful, pressure to have our team perform as they performed all season long, pressure as a Black coach to win,” she said in a news conference Tuesday, the day after South Carolina’s Elite Eight win.

It’s worth noting that while Staley continues to be a beacon for Black coaches, her overall goal has been to raise the profile of women’s basketball in all communities. That was clear in the months following last year’s championship win in which Staley embarked on a diverse post-title tour. She went from appearing on The Breakfast Club radio show to being the honorary pace car driver for a NASCAR race. She went from competing in the American Cornhole League to taking pictures with rapper Meek Mill at a Philadelphia 76ers game, where she rang the bell.

“Getting involved in the community, embracing all kinds, all races, different communities, different socioeconomic levels,” Peck said. “She’s been able to embrace all of that.”

Staley continues to reinvent the boundaries of what a championship-winning coach can be. Besides becoming a sideline style icon, Staley has turned her game day outfits into another platform. From advocating for the release of WNBA star Brittney Griner from a Russian prison to representing WNBA legends such as Sheryl Swoopes and A’ja Wilson, it’s just another area in which Staley has redefined her position.

South Carolina coach Dawn Staley watches from the sideline during the second half of the team’s second-round game against South Florida in the NCAA tournament on March 19 in Columbia, South Carolina.

Sean Rayford/AP Photo

South Carolina walks a path paved by pioneers – Stringer and her Final Four teams at Cheyney, Iowa and Rutgers; the 1983 USC Lady Trojans who won the first women’s national championship with an all-Black starting five; Peck becoming the first Black head coach in Division I women’s college basketball to win a title in 1999. Staley has made sure that she honors and recognizes them – from continuing Peck’s gesture of passing on championship nets to honoring the legacy of Stringer and her trailblazing Cheyney players.

The day Staley wore Laney’s Cheyney jersey on March 19 in South Carolina’s second-round tournament game, Laney’s phone wouldn’t stop ringing. Laney, a pillar of the Philadelphia basketball community who has known Staley since she was 12 years old, was receiving excited calls from kids she coached and players she competed with, and even from her daughter, New York Liberty guard Betnijah Laney, who is currently in Japan.

“[Dawn] brought the past forward so that it could remain relevant and continue to be a part of history,” said Laney, who called Staley the same evening. “For me, for her to reach back to someone who was there when she was young, she knows she’s giving back. It meant a lot to me, it meant a lot to my family and to my community.”

Laney added that the company that gave the jersey to Staley is now selling her jersey with proceeds going to local youth programs in the communities she grew up in.

One of the more impressive feats by South Carolina over the last few years is how it’s maintained its title of being the top team in the country. Staley has never ducked from the toughest competition. She’s embraced it. Over the last two seasons, South Carolina has swept Geno Auriemma of UConn, Tara VanDerveer of Stanford and Kim Mulkey of LSU – a feat that no other coach has accomplished.

“She is a fierce competitor,” Peck said. “She’s fearless.”

For all of the sustained success Staley has experienced with South Carolina, it hasn’t necessarily translated to recognition of her coaching proficiency, even for a coach who has won two national titles.

In a recent poll conducted by The Athletic, 30 women’s college basketball coaches were asked who they believe to be the best X’s and O’s coaches in the sport right now. VanDerveer received the most votes, followed by Auriemma. Staley is listed among coaches “also receiving votes,” showing that Staley received only one vote from coaches polled.

“That’s a shame. That’s a shame,” said Peck. “First of all, look at Dawn’s accomplishments over her success this season after facing a team for a second time. Is that not X’s and O’s? You’ve got the same players. Everybody is in the same uniforms. The adjustments that she is able to make. Look at first half to second half. She’s unfreaking defeated. There are teams that have a lot of talent that aren’t going to Dallas. It’s a shame that she doesn’t get more credit for her X’s and O’s.

“You can know all the X’s and O’s that you want to, but if you can’t get players to buy into the roles to fill the duties of those X’s and O’s and get them to carry them out — you’re not in Dallas.”

“She [Dawn Staley] is unfreaking defeated. There are teams that have a lot of talent that aren’t going to Dallas. It’s a shame that she doesn’t get more credit for her X’s and O’s.”

— Carolyn Peck

South Carolina is aiming to become the 10th undefeated national champion in Division I women’s college basketball history and join USC, Tennessee and UConn as the only Division I women’s teams with consecutive national championships.

A third national title for Staley would make her the fifth head coach to win three national titles, joining a short list of some of the game’s most elite coaches – Mulkey, VanDerveer, Auriemma and Pat Summitt.

At the same time, a loss wouldn’t diminish the greatness achieved by this South Carolina team. In a sense, that’s the beauty of forging a program built to last. South Carolina is now expected to compete for a championship every season. Staley has shown as much.

“Dawn has demonstrated that she knows what the blueprint is for not only creating a winning season but a winning program,” Peck said.

And if that third title does happen to travel back to South Carolina?

“I think it’s trending towards dynasty,” Laney said. “I think she’s going to be building a dynasty down there in South Carolina.”

Sean Hurd is a writer for Andscape who primarily covers women’s basketball. His athletic peak came at the age of 10 when he was named camper of the week at a Josh Childress basketball camp.


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