Hall of Fame Inductee Dawn Staley Reflects on her WNBA Career and Community Outreach

Dawn Staley is a three-time Olympic Gold Medalist and is recognized as one of the top 15 WNBA players to have ever played the game. She is currently the head coach for the women’s basketball team at the University of South Carolina and will be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on September 8, 2013. She chatted with WNBA.com about preparing for the event and her recent trip to Africa with the Clinton Foundation.

Ashley Atwell, WNBA.com: The Hall of Fame is coming up soon and there is a lot to prepare. Have you been given any advice on what to say in your speech and have you decided what you’re going to wear?

Staley: Well Coach Chaney [John] told me that I need to take my time and thank everybody. And he said once you get around the 35-minute mark in your speech, that’s when you probably need to wrap it up. [laughs] And no, I’m sort of a last minute [decision-maker], it’s got to hit me. I’m not a planner, I kind of fly by the seat.

Staley’s charity, Innersole, provides shoes to children in need. [Innersole.org]
WNBA.com: Who are you looking forward to meeting at the Hall of Fame?

Staley: I’m just really looking forward to taking the entire weekend to just meet different Hall of Famers, the people that gave me the aspiration and the inspiration to play basketball and be creative with it. They’re just the people who make up the game and the game that I love. Just being around great basketball minds is probably what I’m looking forward to the most.

WNBA.com: You’ve been a pioneer of the game and at the point guard position with your leadership and tenacity. Talk about how you paved the way for other WNBA players and how you are teaching those skills as a college coach.

Staley: I love basketball, it is truly my passion. It’s something that I want every aspiring girl basketball player to experience. I lived it, and when I played it I wanted to share it and I’m sharing it now as a coach. Because I think it’s really been instrumental in allowing me to have more self-esteem to be more confident. Now that I’m a coach, I think it created all of those things for me to help the game to grow. And I think the bottom line is that I want the game to grow, I want women’s basketball to be a household name, I want everybody to be able to be a part of it and I just want to make sure I did my part.

WNBA.com:You played with many great WNBA players during your time in the league. Is there any player that stands out to you that you played with or against that made a competitive impact on you?

Staley: There’s so many great players that I’ve played against, but probably the person that heads that list is Teresa Edwards. Just playing against her, every day, preparing for the Olympic Games…she was the most competitive person that I’ve ever played against. We played horse…we played every single thing. [laughs] And she was the toughest, a five-time Olympian. And she’s going to be one of my presenters [at the Hall of Fame] with Katrina McClain. So I think she’s one that when you look at her contributions to basketball, to the women’s game, is incredible. She was a pioneer, she was the one that paved the way for me to be a part of three Olympic Games.

WNBA.com: Last time we talked, it was before the WNBA Draft. Now that you’ve seen the new crop of talent play, and the “Big 3,” what do you think?

Staley: I think all of them have had tremendous seasons so far, but I think they are feeling the effects of playing at this level night in and night out and they’ve held their own. I think Elena Delle Donne is probably the one that has made the biggest splash and I think if I’m the basketball enthusiast I’d say that I could’ve guessed that she would. She’s highly skillful, she’s a machine when it comes to scoring and she just really does it naturally. And there’s some transition, but when you’re that height and you’re that skillful, it translates no matter what arena you’re playing in. I think Brittney Griner’s been hampered by some injuries, and probably the whole physicality of playing in the WNBA, and then Skylar [Diggins], I actually did get a chance to see her play against Connecticut. But I think it just takes some time to get your footing and play in the WNBA on a nightly basis. But, certainly our future’s bright in those three and some of the other players that are coming up.

WNBA.com: How has the WNBA game changed since you played?

Staley: I think what you’re seeing is the effects of what the WNBA has given to younger players. They have a carrot dangled in front of them to want to do more, to want to participate, to want to make a big splash, and when you’re exposed to that, you work on your game. You find a way to work on your game to separate yourself from your competitors. And I think it’s just that the fruit is ripe right now. I think the WNBA, in its existence, has a long term effect on our game. And we’re seeing it now. Just the evolution of it, it’s changing, Brittney Griner is dunking, people are more interested, they’re following her and Skylar [Diggins] and Elena Delle Donne, so I think they really have a good backing. People want to see what they are doing and it’s gaining momentum to get more people watching our sport.

WNBA.com: Outside of basketball, you have really been spending time helping out the community. And you recently traveled to Africa with the Clinton Foundation to help out, what was that experience like?

Staley brings some new shoes to children in her community. [Innersole.org]

Staley: That experience was absolutely mind-blowing, it just opened my eyes. I do have a passion for young people and I do have a passion for helping those who are in need, but when you see on the level that the Clinton Foundation is doing it, you feel like you need to do more. It leads me to want to do more, help more, inspire more, empower more, and I just brought that back to my team here in South Carolina so we can all join in on a journey to make this world a better place. When you look at the works of the Clinton Foundation, they’re doing it and they’re doing it well. And they have partners that allow them to expand and go into other aspects of making that particular country a better place and I just want to carve out my share in doing that. I’ve recently started my own organization called Innersole, which is a few months old right now, but we are going to provide new sneakers to homeless children and children who are in need. We actually gave over 500 pairs of sneakers over this past weekend, so I think it’s an organization I think that will grow nationally and hopefully we can partner with the Clinton Foundation one day to make it an international initiative.

[Photo Gallery: Staley’s African Outreach with the Clinton Foundation]

WNBA.com: As the head coach, what are you looking forward most this season at South Carolina?

Staley: I’m looking forward most to seeing the kind of effect that our team has on the community. And I know that we can talk about the wins and the loses and the basketball part of it, but I think the fact that my Africa trip had a huge impact on how I view things that I feel like, if our team can embrace that part of it, the wins and the loses will take care of themselves.

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