Dawn of a New Era for Staley

Dawn Staley is back with USA Basketball for her fourth straight Olympic Games, only this time she has traded in her jersey and shorts for a polo shirt and khakis.

After earning gold medals in the past three Olympics as a point guard for the United States, Staley is embracing her new role as an assistant coach for the U.S. team set to begin the defense of its gold medal in Beijing next week.

“I’ve spent a lot of time – almost half my life – with USA Basketball,” said Staley. “I’ve made a career out of it. And moving into coaching is just the next step in this career. It’s natural. I love the quality of play with USA Basketball, I love representing our country in international competitions.”

Staley began her USA Basketball career in 1989 as a member of the USA Junior World Championship Team and capped off her impressive international career in 2004 at the Olympic Games in Athens, where she was selected to carry the American flag and lead the American athletes into the Opening Ceremonies. During her USA Basketball career, Staley’s USA teams posted a remarkable 196-10 record (.951 winning percentage) and won 10 gold medals and one bronze.

Staley’s coaching pedigree is impressive as well. The Philadelphia native coached at Temple University for the past eight seasons and compiled a 172-80 record (.683 winning percentage) while leading the Owls to six NCAA tournament appearances and four Atlantic-10 Tournament titles. She was recently named the head coach at the University of South Carolina.

USA Basketball added Staley to its coaching staff shortly after her playing days finished when she was named as an assistant to the 2006 USA World Championship Team. She is in a unique situation where she is now coaching players that she has played with and against for years.

“Dawn is someone who I was fortunate enough to play alongside of and learn from,” said USA point guard Sue Bird. “And the best thing about Dawn is, whether it’s on the court or off it, she sees things 10 steps ahead of when they happen.”

Dawn Staley helped lead the United States to Olympic gold in Athens in 2004.
Mark Dadswell/Getty Images
Bird and Staley were teammates on the 2004 Olympic squad that won the gold medal in Athens. It was Staley’s final opportunity to run the point for the United States and she not only led the Americans to gold, she helped groom her replacement in Bird.

“Even in Athens, she was always in my ear during practice, telling me stuff and giving me pointers,” said Bird. “I learned a lot from listening to her and from watching her. And it’s nice to have her on the sideline. The ball has been passed on, so to speak, and I feel ready to take over.”

Staley believes her protégé is ready to lead this team to a fourth-straight gold medal – even if Bird does it differently than she would.

“Sue is different; she’s a little more patient,” said Staley. “But all I can do is give her suggestions, and I respect very much the way she plays the game. We’re very different. Sue’s not going to lead like I led. I just tell her to lead the way she’s capable of leading. And it’s OK that it’s much different from the way I used to do it. I’m kind of in your face, ‘I want to get this done…’ She’s a little quieter and she has her own leadership qualities that people appreciate… and she’s got to do it her way.”

Running the point for an Olympic team is a tough task. It is somewhat similar to playing in the All-Star Game, only you’re not just playing with the best players in your conference, but with the best players in the country. Staley has over a dozen years of experience in this role and is sharing her knowledge with the young guards on this squad like Bird, Kara Lawson and Cappie Pondexter.

“My strength is dealing with the point guard position, but I’m also good at working with different types of people, different backgrounds and different positions,” Staley said. “I’ve been young before and in the USA Basketball system and I know when you need to be patient.

“It’s my job to convey that experience to our younger players, and even really great players like Sue and Kara,” she continued. “I just try to help them understand the position a little bit more. It’s a lot different than with their respective WNBA teams. You have to manage 11 other superstars. You have to make them feel like they’re the superstar every time they step on the floor, even though their roles will be different than with their WNBA teams.”

Tina Thompson – Staley’s teammate on the 2004 Olympic squad and with the Houston Comets in 2005 and 2006 – said Staley has the same fire as a coach as she did as a player.

“Dawn is Dawn. Seriously,” Thompson said. “Her personality doesn’t change whether she’s on the court or on the sidelines. She’s not out there on the court, but to hear her explain things in huddles or in practice, she does it from the perspective of someone who’s been out there.

“And she’s so competitive that you get the sense she’d still love to be out there. That’s what made her such a great point guard. She knew all of the plays and she always knew where everyone was supposed to be. It’s great to have her in that role as a coach for us.”

So does she ever get the urge to put the whistle down and put the jersey back on?

“No, not at all. I’m done,” she said. “I have zero urge to get out there and mix it up. You know you’re done when you don’t even get the urge to get out there anymore. The time has come and passed you by.

“But I still do have a passion for the game and for how the game should be played and coached. I think some of the young players may have different approaches and different ways of showing their passion, but it’s a natural transition for me to be where I am and I’m very comfortable in that position.“

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