NEW YORK (AP) — South Carolina coach Dawn Staley’s busy offseason after winning a second NCAA basketball title has included savoring the victory, lining up team-wide NIL deals and supporting coaches of color.
Nearly 80 Black coaches have received pieces of the winning nets from Staley since April, and she plans to hand out more to Black sports journalists in the future.
On Wednesday night, she’ll be on the receiving end of other accolades. Staley will accept the Billie Jean King Leadership Award at the Women’s Sports Foundation’s Annual Salute to Women in Sports.
She recently guided the U.S. women’s basketball team to its seventh straight gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics. A 5-foot-6 floor general at Virginia and six-time WNBA All-Star, Staley won three Olympic golds during her playing career.
The Philadelphia native turned around struggling programs at Temple and South Carolina, and the latter now boasts some of the highest attendance in the nation. She watched her former South Carolina star A’ja Wilson win the WNBA title with the Las Vegas Aces and earn MVP honors last month.
Now among the highest-paid coaches in women’s basketball, the 52-year-old Staley enters her 15th season at the helm.
The Naismith Hall of Famer talked to The Associated Press about role models, supporting the community and her 5-year-old Havanese dog named “Champ.” Comments have been edited for brevity.
AP: Why was it important to hand out pieces of the NCAA title net to coaches of color?
STALEY: It started with (1999 NCAA-winning Purdue coach) Carolyn Peck giving me her piece of the net a few years ahead of our 2017 national championship. Someone had done that for her, and she wanted to pay it forward. When we won in 2017, I wanted to keep that tradition alive. I knew what that tangible piece of the net did for me — gave me a constant reminder of what we were working toward, kept me focused. We tried to get everyone, but we definitely got notes from those we missed, and got pieces out to them, too.
AP: What motivates you to recognize Black sports journalists with a piece of the net?
STALEY: It’s the same as the motivation for Black head coaches. I know what it’s like to move in a space that’s not always built for you or understands your specific path or struggle. So, I want those journalists who are so important to giving a voice to the athletes and programs they cover to have that tangible reminder that whatever goal they’re working toward can be achieved if they keep focused on it.
AP: You’ve advocated for more coaches of color. How would you assess the current situation?
STALEY: It’s become more popular to hire a Black coach. But it’s a cycle — it’s at a place where it was maybe 10 years ago. The numbers are trending up but not nearly where it needs to be with having so many student-athletes that are Black. I’m not condemning anybody else, but if there are a certain number of Black student-athletes you’re coaching, I think they need to see someone who represents them.
AP: Female coaches for women’s sports used to be the norm in the 1970s, at about 90%, before the NCAA took over governance of women’s sports in the 1980s. Now it’s only about 41%. Who does the hiring can make a difference?
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