Dawn Staley Exceeds Expectations: Here are 5 Facts About the Coach and Former Hoops Star

As a highly decorated coach and former player, the three-time national champion is rewriting college basketball history.

In what ultimately became one of the most exciting seasons in the history of Women’s NCAA basketball, the South Carolina Gamecocks defeated Iowa State Hawkeyes with an 87-75 win for the NCAA championship on Sunday (April 7). For head coach Dawn Staley, it is her third championship, making her one of the most accomplished coaches that the game has ever seen.

After a tough loss in the championship game last season and graduating five starters who were all drafted into the WNBA, this season was viewed as a rebuilding year for Staley’s program. But as the year progressed, Coach Staley and the Gamecocks rode the wave to an unprecedented season.

"We've exceeded expectations, internal and externally," Staley said in an emotional post-game interview. "To be undefeated ... so unexpected. So, so very unexpected. There are plenty of times when I thought we should've won a national championship, but we didn't. This is somewhat of a repayment."

"You have to let young people be who they are," Staley continued. "But you also have to guide and navigate them. They made history. They etched their names in the history books."

Staley and her team capped off a perfect season with a storybook ending.

Coach Staley has catapulted into the discussion of all-time greats. Here are 5 Facts You Need To Know About Dawn Staley

1. Born and Raised in Philadelphia

In the words of Eve and Beanie Sigel, “Philly is where she is from.” Without a doubt, Staley reps being from the “City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection.” She can be seen throughout the year wearing throwback jerseys of Eagles legends such as Reggie White and Randall Cunningham as arguably the flyest coach in the sport. 

A native of North Philadelphia, her incredible basketball journey began in the city of her birth. Staring at Murrell Dobbins Vocational High School, she led the team to three consecutive Philadelphia Public League championships and was named USA Today's National High School Player of the Year as a senior. After her playing career, she came back home as the head coach at the Temple University Owls women's basketball team and led the program to six NCAA tournaments, three regular-season conference championships, and four conference tournament titles.

2. Standout Collegiate Player

Following her successful high school career,  Staley went on to play college ball at the University of Virginia as one of the nation’s top recruits.  In her four seasons at Virginia, she led her team to four NCAA tournaments, three Final Fours, and one national championship game. She was named the ACC Female Athlete of the Year and the National Player of the Year in 1991 and 1992. In 2006, she was honored with the Distinguished Alumna Award for the University of Virginia by the UVa Women’s Center, and in 2009, she gave the valedictory commencement address.

Dawn Staley Details Why She Decided To Cancel South Carolina’s Series With BYU Following Racist Verbal Abuse Incident

3. Named One of the Top 15 Players in WNBA History in 2011

As a professional player, Staley is a part of the trailblazing group of women who helped to put the WNBA on the map in the late 90s. After playing internationally and in the short-lived ABL, Staley signed with the WNBA’s Charlotte Sting in 1999 where she was a six-time WNBA All-Star. She was the first player in league history to represent both the East and West teams during her career. Also, she was a member of the WNBA’s All-Decade Team, Staley twice earned the Kim Perrot Sportsmanship Award (1999, 2006) and won the WNBA Entrepreneurial Spirit Award in 1999. Staley played her final season in 2006 with the Houston Comets.

4. Inducted Into the Naismith Hall of Fame

While Staley is undoubtedly one of the greatest coaches in women’s college basketball—during her playing career, she was one of the best. She is the first person to win the Naismith Award as both a player and a coach. Staley has also won three Olympic gold medals with Team USA (1996, 2000, 2004). For all of her accomplishments on the court, Staley was inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame.

5. The First Black NCAA Coach to Have an Undefeated Season

Under Staley’s leadership, South Carolina made history becoming the 10th unbeaten champion in Division I Women's basketball history and she became the first Black coach to have an unbeaten season in the history of the NCAA. Also, she’s just the second African American women’s coach to win the NCAA women’s title following Carolyn Peck who won the championship with Purdue in 1999.  On the international level, she has coached Team USA to gold medals in the 2018 World Cup in Spain, and two gold medals in the 2019 and 2021 FIBA AmeriCups. She also won the gold at the 2020 Summer Olympics.

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