MINNEAPOLIS (AP)Dawn Staley is already in the Hall of Fame as a feisty, fiery point guard. She one day might make it there too, for her coaching career.
So, Staley was asked Saturday, if she was a better player or coach.
”That’s a good question,” said South Carolina’s thoughtful, 14-year coach.
Staley, who already won the NCAA Tournament with the Gamecocks in 2017, can add to her coaching legacy Sunday night when her top-seeded team faces UConn for the national championship. She was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2013.
She became the first to win the Naismith player of the year award while point guard at Virginia and as South Carolina’s coach two years ago. She added a second Naismith trophy for her coaching on Wednesday.
Staley said playing the point required similar skills as a coach. ”I’ve always been able to see the big picture and I’ve carried that,” she said. ”It doesn’t matter if its basketball or if it’s just life.”
That vision, along with her ability to talk, listen and come to consensus with teammates or players, has helped her succeed as both a player and a coach.
”I’m probably a better coach,” said Staley, 51, who’s spent eight years as Temple’s coach before coming to South Carolina 14 years ago.
Her longevity as a coach is one reason for her answer, she said. ”Two, I think my impact is far,” Staley said. ”I can make more of an impact as a coach than I did as a player.”
If Staley’s coaching success continues, she could join Lenny Wilkens and Tommy Heinsohn as Hall of Famers as players and coaches. Wilkens is a three-time Hall-of-Famer, also honored as an assistant for the 1992 Olympic ”Dream Team.”
PHILLY FOR LIFE
Don’t be surprised if Philly cheesesteaks come up during the coaches’ pregame hello Sunday night. That’s because both UConn’s Geno Auriemma and South Carolina’s Dawn Staley are Philadelphia raised.
Auriemma’s family move to Norristown in Philly from Italy when he was seven. Staley was born in the city and starred at Murrell Dobbins Tech High.
”I think any time that you’re in this position to compete for a national championship, it’s a pretty big deal,” Staley said Saturday. ”And if you have Philly ties, it’s a bigger deal.”
This is just the latest meeting between Staley and Auriemma. UConn holds a 7-2 edge in such matchups, but the Gamecocks have won two of the past three including a 73-57 win earlier this season against the second-ranked Huskies in the Bahamas.
Staley served as an Olympic assistant to Auriemma on the 2016 gold-medal winning US team.
Auriemma believes people from Philly, perhaps due to its proximity to New York City, carry an inferiority complex that drives them to great heights.
”We have to prove to everybody that we’re smarter and tougher and better than everybody else,” he said. ”I think all of us from that area carry that around.”
Two UConn greats in Diana Taurasi and Sue Bird hosted a different sort of telecast of the women’s Final Four on Friday night.
One their former coach Geno Auriemma doesn’t plan to watch.
”I’m sure,” he said, ”they were funny as hell.”
The broadcast turned into an irreverent, sometimes’ crude, watching of South Carolina’s win over Louisville and the Huskies’ defeat of defending national champion Stanford.
Taurasi, the national, pro and Olympic champion, made an off-color comment involving the shortened form of South Carolina’s Gamecocks nickname.
Taurasi was discussing the healthy regimen today’s athletes have compared with her time at school. ”I was pounding beers and cheeseburgers in college,” she said.
Auriemma didn’t record the program and called the chances he’ll see it ”are less than zero.”
”When you’ve been around those two as long as I have, I really truly have no interest in hearing anything they have to say,” Auriemma, continuing the gag, said. ”On any topic, especially me.”
Bird and Taurasi will do another show Sunday night for the championship game.
South Carolina’s Zia Cooke has kept her confidence despite an inconsistent season.
The junior guard was the Gamecocks’ top scorer in 2020-21 at 15.9 points a game. Her total fell off to 10.7 points this year while her shooting percentage dropped from 39.3% a year ago to 34.1%
Cooke’s NCAA Tournament has been up-and-down, too. She had 15 points, all in the opening half against North Carolina in the Sweet 16 win, before going scoreless the second half and and all the next game against Creighton in the Elite Eight.
Cooke bounced back in the Final Four with 10 points in the 72-59 win over Louisville here Friday night.
”We’ve always got to turn the page in order to play well,” Cooke said. ”Coach (Dawn Staley) has always taught me I’ve got to move on. If I don’t play well in one game, I’ve got to move on the next game.”
Both South Carolina and UConn got a joyful, light workout in front of adoring fans before their matchup for the NCAA Tournament title.
The NCAA opened the Target Center to spectators for an hour per team on Saturday as the Gamecocks and Huskies finished preparations for the national championship.
Staley danced to songs like ”Rapper’s Delight” by the Sugar Hill Gang and ”MotownPhilly” by Boyz II Men.
Fans waived and sang from the stands as the team went through passing and layup drills.
The Huskies followed South Carolina, their cheerleaders and mascot lined up at the court entrance as UConn players took the floor.
The NCAA Tournament was called off in 2020 due to COVID-19. Open practices were not allowed last year as the tournament was played in a tightly controlled environment in San Antonio.
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