Q & A with Dawn Staley

Staley finished her career as a five-time All-Star and three-time Olympic gold medalist
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty Images

WNBA.com: I understand you recently paid a visit to South Africa. What was going on down there?

Dawn Staley: I went down to promote a partnership with one of the teams in one of the cities there. They partnered with the NBA to do programs for coaches and training, just from an infancy stage. I think that it’s an incredible program. We wanted to go over and help. And the best way to help was to teach the teachers how to teach. Everybody gets a lot out of it when you teach them how to teach adults and kids how to play the game. What better impression to leave than to give somebody some knowledge?

WNBA.com: Exactly. And you have the knowledge yourself having coached at Temple, South Carolina and during the Beijing Olympics in 2008. Were you giving any pointers or tips while you were in South Africa?

DS: No. This was very preliminary. It was actually just a press conference introducing it to the public, but I definitely told the people when I was down there that I would surely want to come back and lend my experiences. But they do have coaches that are there for three years – that have made a three-year commitment. They’re going to live there and work with them on a daily basis, but surely I wanted to make sure that the girl population knows I want to come back.

Dawn with NBA Vice President: Development – Africa – Amadou Fall
WNBA.com: How is basketball perceived and accepted there?

DS: It’s received well, I just don’t think they have the knowledge to sustain it. They like what they see on TV, but how do they get to that level? This is a great way for them to do that. Just get this type of teaching that I got. Most of the young kids in America, they have access to coaches who have played it, studied it and can watch it and learn it. Almost every day here you can find a basketball game. There it’s rugby and football, what they call soccer.

WNBA.com: What if you go back to how women’s basketball started in this country? Are parallels being drawn?

DS: I had some conversations with a woman who gave me some background on how girls view basketball. They view it as a masculine sport. And when they’re coaching they don’t stray too far from their roles of being very feminine and they try to stay within that role. But in order for us to be successful, it doesn’t mean you have to be masculine, it just means that you have to have a certain approach to the game to be successful. Or else you will get beaten up by the masses. Once it becomes more prevalent there, we’ll see more and more people who join in. They just don’t have the access to the knowledge. And I’m not even saying that they can’t coach, but I think when you can see it and when it’s tangible it’s helpful. A lot of basketball that is shown in Africa is NBA. And they get some college games here or there, and if they have to go on that then it’s hard to teach yourself what some of the best athletes in the world are able to do. Most of us can’t play at that level.

WNBA.com: Now as the WNBA enters its 15th season, you have to think about to longevity of it, but also the foundation that was built over time. What you’re talking about sounds very similar to how players joined the WNBA without that much exposure to the women’s game. Now you have players in the league who grew up with the league. Do you see foresee that exposure eventually happening not only in South Africa but other parts of the world?

DS: I absolutely do. I went over to England as well to promote the WNBA game against Great Britain, and it was very similar to that. I actually spoke to a lot more people about that and about basketball and I basically told them that I was happy they were hosting the Olympics because it gives so much more exposure for not only basketball, but all sports. I was promoting basketball and promoting the game, so I told them that just like us in America when I was growing up, there wasn’t a carrot dangling in front of me saying that I would be able to play professional basketball here in the States. Now that there is, there is 15 years that the WNBA has been in existence, there are so many people who have been touched by it that I think our game has grown from an exposure standpoint and also from a talent standpoint. Little girls can see their dreams being realized because they are being exposed to it.

WNBA.com: When you first started did you foresee the day when the caliber of play would be where it is now?

DS: I really didn’t think about it then, but now that I am thinking about it as this time then yes, I think we’re right on. We’re right on with the talent, the skill level. You have women dunking now. You have so many people and the skill level has been raised exponentially. Yes, I think we’re right on.

WNBA.com: Two of your former teammates, Sheryl Swoopes and Tina Thompson, are still in the league. Considering they’re among the older players in the league and still keeping up, what does it say not only about them but also about women’s basketball?

DS: It still boils down to this: You have to have some incredible skill level, but at the same time the fact that Tina and Sheryl are still playing, those are players who are two of the most intelligent players. The big part as to why they’re able to do that and continue to play is that they’re smarter than everyone else. Just from a basketball standpoint. They keep themselves in pretty good shape, but also I think it draws them back. Basketball is such a big part of our lives that it’s hard to let go. There’s no way I cannot be into coaching right now because it’s just so hard to let go. I think it’s an incredible thing that they’re still playing.

WNBA.com: What if one of the 12 teams called you up tomorrow and said, “Hey, let’s get you back out on the court.” Could you?

DS: Only if it’s half court. That’s the only way. [laughs] That’s the only way I can get up and down there. These knees won’t allow me to go full-court.

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