It’s clearly South Carolina time. Here’s how Dawn Staley did it.

MINNEAPOLIS – Dawn Staley loses.

Staley, a three-time Olympic gold medalist and Hall of Famer as a player, had trained for eight years at Temple, in her hometown of Philadelphia, but the team could not make it through the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament.

So when Staley took over as coach of the South Carolina women’s basketball team in 2008, she had one goal in mind. “I wanted to win,” Staley said Saturday. “I wanted to win the national championship.”

Under Staley, the Gamcocks made 10 consecutive NCAA tournaments, earned four trips to the final four, and after Sunday night won two national championships. This was a slow burn for Staley, who built up South Carolina’s program from the ground up. This Sunday’s victory was against Connecticut, the most decorated women’s basketball program, says a change of guard in the sport.

Staley built a powerhouse team, led by Aliyah Boston, who won awards as a top player and defender. Start guard Zia Cooke, Brea Beal and Destanni Henderson, Staley said, “logged in together for many minutes,” and as a result they play as “Shorthand writing.”

“You do not have to say much,” Staley said. “You can just show up, and they know the switch.”

Their rosters have proven themselves time and time again. Staley led the Gamcocks to their only No. 1 ranking in program history and sent eight Gamecocks into the WNBA draft, including the No. 1 overall pick in 2018, A’ja Wilson, who helped the Gamecocks take home their first national title. bring. 2017.

One Sunday night, Wilson was on hand to root for her Alma Mater.

UConn, led by coach Geno Auriemma, laid the foundation for much of that success, Staley said. Auriemma won 11 championships at UConn, where he has been in charge since 1985.

“Whether people believe it or not, he has helped our game grow tremendously,” Staley said. “I think a lot of what we are able to do and get is from the back of their success. I think the people at UConn treat their women’s basketball team as a sport. They are forced because of winning and all success, but you can take a page from her book.

In the championship match it went, neither coach had lost a national championship. Then Staley defeated Auriemma.

“I told Dawn after the game, they were the best team in the country all year,” Auriemma said Sunday night.

While South Carolina was pushing people to think of UConn as the gold standard in women’s college basketball, Staley was reluctant to call their program a dynasty. But she acknowledged that the playing field was changing.

“What matters to me as a black woman and coach is the way you do it, like the example you set for other coaches to follow,” Staley said after Sunday’s game.

“I just want to be a great example of how to do things the right way and keep our game in a place where integrity is intact, because that’s the way we grow,” she added.

While the two South Carolina titles may seem like babies compared to UConn’s 11 championships, the sport is no longer dominated by a team. This season has shown how women’s basketball is in a very different era, one with a wealth of talent spread across the country, manifested in six double-digit seeded teams making the round of 16.

South Carolina is a member of the Southeastern Conference, which is primarily known for football. Staley, through her success, has attracted much more attention to women’s basketball at her university. She positioned herself as the highest paid black woman who coached a team and cultivated a loyal fan base that led the country for seven straight seasons for women’s college basketball.

“When she first came here, it wasn’t all rainbow and stuff,” Beal, a junior guard, said before Sunday’s game. “I mean, just looking back on that and as they built a great community, a great place, I think just having our own heritage and building that for us was the key.”

Candace Parker of the WNBA’s Chicago Sky said South Carolina is cutting its own way.

“I would say the next USC is the next USC, I think everyone is pursuing who they want to be, their own identity,” Parker said after Sunday’s game. “I think they are who they are and they do what they should be.”

If Boston has its way, Sunday night’s victory is just the beginning.

“I think in the last few years you could just see this program and how it just keeps growing,” Boston said, adding that more players want to go to South Carolina because of “the atmosphere we have here.”

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