Dawn Staley was sitting in the stands at an SEC Tournament game last week when she received the phone call of a lifetime. The call was from Carol Callan, the USA Basketball Women’s National Team director, who told Staley she would succeed Geno Auriemma as the team’s next head coach.
Staley, a former WNBA star and now a longtime coach in the women’s game, was speechless when she heard the news.
“It was pretty loud in there, but I heard [Callan’s] voice clearly and jumped at the opportunity,” Staley said during a teleconference Friday. “I look forward to the challenge of continuing to bring gold medals to USA Basketball.”
Auriemma stepped down after guiding the USA to gold in Brazil this past summer, the team’s sixth consecutive Olympic title. USA Basketball will certainly face challenges in this transition, but it should help that Staley was part of the team for five of those six gold medals. She won gold three times as a player (1996, 2000, 2004) and twice as an assistant coach (2008, 2016).
As a member of the Charlotte Sting and Houston Comets, Staley was one of the top point guards during the WNBA’s early years. She was someone the younger players could look up to, as current USA point guard Sue Bird pointed out on Friday:
— Sue Bird (@S10Bird) March 10, 2017
Bird is still around 13 years after winning gold in Athens alongside Staley. The trio of Bird, Tamika Catchings and Diana Taurasi won their fourth straight Olympic title this past summer, equaling the record held by Lisa Leslie and Teresa Edwards.
With Catchings now retired, and Bird and Taurasi unlikely to play in 2020, the USA’s roster is bound to look much different in the next Olympics. But there is plenty of young talent in the WNBA ready to step up, including Elena Delle Donne, Breanna Stewart and Brittney Griner, who made their Olympic debuts this past summer.
“It’s a very talented pool,” Staley said. “I think a lot of it has to do with them being able to display their talents in the WNBA and overseas. You tend to get better when the competition is better. And because there are only 144 players in the WNBA, you don’t make a WNBA team without being very talented and having something to bring to the table.”
Staley also touched on how the game has changed since her playing career, when she was a perennial All-Star.
“I’ve seen the talent level increase, skill sets increase,” she said. “The physicality of the game has increased, and overall basketball from a cerebral standpoint has increased.
“I think the game is being played a lot quicker. We had a 30-second shot clock, and now it’s a 24-second shot clock. So naturally the game has speeded up a little bit. But I think it’s also because of the talent level in USA Basketball and from an international standpoint.”
Staley is already a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame, and now she will continue to add to her legacy. Before competing in the 2020 Olympics in Japan, Staley will first lead the USA at the 2018 FIBA World Cup in Spain.