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April 1, 2015

Dawn Staley


COACH STALEY:  Hi.  We're just really excited about participating in our first Final Four in our program's history.  Our players are pretty excited about it, but we're also going to approach this as a business trip.  I can remember participating in my first Final Four in, I believe, 1990, and reflecting on that, I was really just happy to be there.
All the hoopla before you actually play the game plays a role in having the energy to finish the job.  So we'll be conscious of that throughout our stay in Tampa.  And also just instill in our players that we came to win games, and our focus has to be on that.

Q.  Hi, Dawn.  I know beyond the hoopla‑‑ and there may be more hoopla now than there was even when you played.  Beyond the hoopla, what it is about a first Final Four experience that you're going to have to talk through with your team.
COACH STALEY:  Well, just I think the biggest is the hoopla, the excitement.  Our kids have never been on this stage before.  I think only Tiffany Mitchell last year was around all the excitement and the hoopla of a Final Four, but to have our entire program‑‑ and not just our players.  It's probably our staff, our managers, every single person is going to be in an element that they haven't been before.
So it almost‑‑ you get a little star struck by it, but at the same time, our kids have been a team that has been focused all season long, and our focus has been to get to the Final Four.  But our main focus is to win a National Championship.  You don't want to shortchange this opportunity by being clouded by something other than the basketball game.

Q.  I did want to ask you about playing in the Final Four specifically in '91, when you came so close to winning and you guys lost by three in overtime.  How much have you thought about that game over these past few years or maybe this week?  Just how much do you think about that since it happened?
COACH STALEY:  I don't think about it much, meaning since we punched our ticket to the Final Four‑‑ I joke around with one of my former teammates who played on that team, Tonya Cardoza, and every now and then, I tell her, ask her, why did she go for the steal?
We talked about Debbie called a time‑out.  We listened to Debbie and the time‑out, and then we came back on the floor.  As players, we had our own little time‑out, our own little meeting after the meeting, and I just specifically remember telling Tonya, "Don't go for the steal," and she ended up going for the steal, and I ended up having to foul Dena Head, who was a 50 percent free‑throw shooter, and she hit both of them and kind of tied the game up.  So we joke around about that.
What I'm reflecting on now is the first time that I was able to participate in the Final Four because it's very similar to what our players are about to embark on, and I just don't want them‑‑ I want them to enjoy it because there's a fine line between enjoying it and enjoying it too much to where you won't focus.
It can be overwhelming.  I'm looking at the schedule, and there's not a whole lot of time that's dedicated towards practice and having our players focused on the game.  So we've got to do a really good job at keeping them focused and keeping them in the moment, but also knowing that our ultimate goal is to win a National Championship.

Q.  As a quick followup to that, Dawn, you've been in Thompson Boling Arena several times.  You've seen that '91 National Championship banner hanging up there.  Has there ever been a time you looked up there and shook your head and thought, Boy, I was this close to having it at Virginia?
COACH STALEY:  Not really.  It's so long ago, but when you bring it up, there are ill feelings because we were right there.  We had the game in our hands.  Unfortunately, it wasn't in the cards.  We're going to play it out that way.
I think this time around will probably be a little bit more gratifying because we're two decades removed from that, but I think for it to happen for us in South Carolina, I think it would be pretty special because it's at a time in which nobody really anticipated our program to be where it is today.
To be able to compete for a National Championship is something that I envisioned for our players, for their parents, for our university, for all of Gamecock nation, and we got an opportunity to see it through.

Q.  Dawn, the fact that virtually all the players on the other three teams have been through this before, is that a disadvantage?  Or does that take the pressure off your group?
COACH STALEY:  I mean, you can look at it either way.  They're probably looking at us like we're going to be running around, not knowing what to expect and not knowing what to do and getting full off of the excitement.  You will if you haven't experienced it.  I've experienced it, so I kind of know when it's time to draw the line.
And then you can also look at it like we're in a position that we haven't been in probably besides once this year, and that's playing the underdog position.  That's something our program has been probably for, with the exception of this season ‑‑ we've played that role before.  So it will be familiar territory when it comes to playing that role.

Q.  The first question is how important is your leadership, the girls that are leading your team going into this, the team's first Final Four?  And then I'll let you answer it, and I'll ask you a question about Notre Dame.
COACH STALEY:  I think it's extremely important, but at the same time, we need to continue to stress staying in character.  With all the excitement of going to the Final Four, we need to stay in character.  We need to continue to focus.  And our leaders, which they're in unfamiliar territory.  It's easy to focus at home, and it's easy to focus on the road when there are less distractions.
This is all teams.  All teams that are coming, they have a lot of distractions‑‑ the hoopla, their relatives, their parents are going to be there in the same hotel.  So there's going to be a lot.  I think it's really important that we focus‑‑ we enjoy, but we focus on the task at hand, and that is probably making some of our relatives upset because we won't‑‑ we're going to treat it as a road game where we don't have a whole lot of time to share and enjoy with our loved ones because we have April 8th to share all these wonderful times.
So we're looking forward to it, and hopefully, it ends the way we want it to end.

Q.  And going into that answer you just gave me, what is‑‑ in your eyes, what is the character of your team?  What is the South Carolina basketball team?
COACH STALEY:  We're a really focused basketball team.  We're resilient.  We are a team that I consider a very disciplined basketball team.  But we're not mistake free.  We do make mistakes, and we do have some lapses, but we're able to overcome those lapses by working hard and playing to our strengths.  And our strengths are being able to play inside out, to be able to utilize our depth throughout a 40‑minute basketball game.

Q.  And then my question about Notre Dame, how much have you seen of them this year when you haven't been working on with your team and its next game?  And give me a brief look at what you‑‑ you know, their strengths as you see them.
COACH STALEY:  Notre Dame is a very calculating basketball team, very patient.  They know where their shots are coming from.  From a defensive standpoint, they make you make plays while they are in between you and the basket.  So they want shots over you instead of around you.  I mean, the trick is being able to keep them off balance enough to get the shots that you want to get from an offensive standpoint.

Q.  Hi, Coach.  I was just wondering, can I have your thoughts on how your freshman you play a lot, such as Bianca Cuevas and A'ja Wilson, have evolved and perhaps bettered themselves from when training camp started to this point now?
COACH STALEY:  I think they've progressed nicely.  And I often think about, if we had to just throw them in the fire, how much of that progression would have put them in a better position of having more opportunity to play, unfortunately.  But fortunately, we have some older players that have been around the block that are teaching them.
And sometimes the lessons that they're learning now by getting less reps will benefit them in the long haul because they have to think now.  They have to be able to think and understand the game and slow the game down a little bit so they can get a better understanding of how you excel at this level every single day.

Q.  As a followup to that, even though they don't start, Cuevas and Wilson, that is, do you think going into the season they knew they were going to have to play a considerably sized role for this team to go as far as you all have gone to this point?
COACH STALEY:  I think both of them are pretty intelligent, talented players, and obviously, we brought them here with the hopes of having them play an integral part of our success, and they have.  I think sometimes we think integral and impact is being out there starting and scoring a certain amount of points.
But as you saw over the weekend, there were times in which I felt really good about putting Bianca in a game in which we were down by ten, and you saw how she thrives in that situation.
A'ja Wilson, she's in the end of the game when we play Duke, when we're in the Bahamas, when we're playing Syracuse, when we were down.
So these are experiences that they have and that they cherish because they haven't played a whole lot of minutes.  So when they've had some success, they bottle it up, and they find a way to allow those instances to help them.

Q.  Hi, Dawn.  I have two questions for you.  The first thing is you talked about keeping your team focused and sort of trying to avoid getting overwhelmed by the situation.  I'm curious for you as a coach, I know you're focused on planning, but I'm wondering if you've allowed yourself to appreciate that three of the four coaches in the Final Four this year have strong Philadelphia ties, and if so, is that special for you at all?
COACH STALEY:  Absolutely.  Philly people always have so much love when you do well, and Geno has been doing this for‑‑ Geno and Muffet have both been doing it for a long time.  I'm pretty much the new kid on the block when it comes to being at Final Fours with the basketball team.  So extremely happy that Philadelphia is getting the due that it deserves because a lot of times our sports teams always‑‑ well, not always.  Our sports teams end up breaking our hearts.

Q.  True, true.  My second question is you're one of the most accomplished people in the game, but I'm curious about your early days in Philly, maybe at Dobbins or wherever.  What accomplishment from back then are you most proud of or stands out most in your mind?
COACH STALEY:  I guess just growing up‑‑ I read the article today in The Inquirer by Mike Jensen, and I forgot about some of those days which my brothers touched on.  I did.  I had a really‑‑ I'm most proud of being able to cut the bottom of a milk crate out, nail it to a piece of wood, and put it on that electrical pole.  And I used to really‑‑ I perfected a bank shot off of a wooden basket in a crate.
So I know I've accomplished a lot of things in my life and my basketball career, but that's truly hard.  I won a lot of horse games on the streets of Philly learning how to perfect the bank shot under those circumstances.  So proud moments.

Q.  Hi, Coach.  My question for you is being a point guard, being that leader, that coach on the court, is that what made it so easy for you to become a head coach?
COACH STALEY:  I think being a point guard and being in a position to serve others makes it almost a natural move to be able to be a coach.  I think some of the other‑‑ the patience of a point guard.  I think the biggest transition was probably I wasn't one that talked a whole lot.  I saw things.  There isn't a whole lot of fat to when I'm speaking.  I just speak just to the point.
Sometimes speaking to the point, players don't always get it.  So you almost have to figure out‑‑ and this is a point guard thing.  You have to figure out how players process information.  You've got to figure out what buttons to push.  Those characteristics of being a point guard make it a lot easier to make the transition into coaching.

Q.  As a follow‑up to that, you're going against a former point guard in Muffet.  I don't know, what do you think that chess match will be?  Have you looked up to her over the years with all her accomplishments, going to five consecutive Final Fours now?  What do you think about that matchup?
COACH STALEY:  I have a great deal of respect for what Muffet has been able to do year in and year out for a very long time.  I think her style of coaching is incredible because she's able to get the best out of her players year in and year out.  She runs a system in which everybody seems to be able to be successful in her system, and that's what you want as a player and as a coach.
When everybody feels like they can make an impact on a game and they're involved, I think it benefits everybody.

Q.  Dawn, I've been talking the last couple days with Tammi Reiss and Debbie Ryan, and they're talking about how happy they are that you're in the Final Four and what this means to even people you played with back in Virginia, your former coaches.  Can you maybe talk a little about how you've kept all these relationships with your‑‑ if you will, the UVA family of friends and the Temple former players and stuff, and how maybe you're sort of carrying some of that in, the good wishes of all those folks going into the Final Four.
COACH STALEY:  Basketball has been my life for a very long time.  When basketball is so much a part of your life, it's the people that make it really important, that you meet, that you join hands with.  Every single team that I've been involved in, I've tried to be a really good teammate, tried to pass on my competitiveness, and I've tried to use some of what they do best and use it to benefit me.
Debbie Ryan, Tammi Reiss, Audra Smith, ‑all of those players that I played with at Virginia, and we came up short in winning a National Championship‑‑ those experiences fuel me to this day.  I know I've accomplished a lot‑‑ the gold medals, being a part of Olympic teams, just being a part of USA Basketball.  But the one thing that's always escaped me was the National Championship.
And I don't know if it's because it wasn't in the cards.  Maybe it wasn't in the cards.  Maybe there's something bigger that will affect a lot more people than my Virginia days.
But to be able to look back on my career‑‑ I talked to Coach Chaney a few days ago, and he's one that I look at.  I drove 12 hours from Philadelphia to Atlanta, and I believe he played Michigan State in the Elite Eight.  He fell short of going to a Final Four, a legendary coach like Coach Chaney.
I take with me to the Final Four all of those people that have played an integral role in my career and in my life because it's something that not very many coaches‑‑ they coach their whole lives and won't get an opportunity to experience going to the Final Four.  So I take all of those people who helped me along the way and who also experienced that awful feeling of not‑‑ you know, that void of not winning a National Championship.
So hopefully, the cards are in our favor this year, and hopefully I'll be able to hoist the trophy for all of those people that have played an integral role in my life.

Q.  Debbie says she always knew that you had a coach in you.  She wasn't sure exactly at what point, because you were such a great player, that you would transfer over to coaching.  But I'm wondering, even back then when you were at UVA, did you know eventually coaching was going to be what you got into?
COACH STALEY:  I absolutely did not want to be a coach a day in my life, not one ounce in me wanted to be a coach, and I don't know why.  I have coaches who were friends before I became a coach, and the only thing they talked about was their team, and I just thought there is‑‑ although I love this game.  It is my livelihood.  It is my passion.  But it didn't create balance as a coach.
Little did I know, once I became a coach, I understood.  It's almost like‑‑ and I don't mean to say this and lessen of what a mother who's giving birth to their first child, but it almost equates.  Because I don't have any children, so basketball has given me all the emotions.  Every freshman that comes in our program, or when I was at Temple University, it's almost like birthing them.  They become your child, and you live that, and you're able to shape their lives on a daily basis and leave part of you in them so they can have the tools to be successful.
So I don't know why I shied away from that, but I'm glad that‑‑ and bless his heart, rest in peace, that Dave O'Brien saw something in me to give me that opportunity to have these emotional relationships with all of my players.

Q.  Dawn, two quick things for you.  First of all, congratulations on a wonderful season.  Second of all, talking about transition from being a player to being a coach, could you compare the satisfaction, Dawn, the fulfillment you find in coaching to what you found as a player?  Is it harder for you as a coach?  Do you feel like you have less control, less ability to influence the outcome of the game?
COACH STALEY:  It's much harder as a coach.  Part of the reason is because you have to deal with all the trials and tribulations of having a team execute and perform at a high level, and sometimes you have no control over that.  You could try, but with young people, you have to have a feel for what they're feeling, and you almost have to figure out what it is.  You're constantly thinking, you're constantly trying to figure out the best way to handle different situations.
As a player, you practice, you get excited about the anticipation of playing, but then you don't have to worry about stuff that comes up.  As a coach, you take all of that every single day, and you never know‑‑ no day is the same.  No day is the same because we have 15 players on our roster that we have to make sure that they're eating properly, going to study hall, going to class, coming to practice with a great mindset.  Some of them have bad days.  Some things just happen.
So it's more about just the preparation of getting them to understand, to prioritize and to manage their time in a way that young people probably don't want to do, but once they get it, they find out that they're able to do a lot more with that time once they manage it properly.
So it's much harder as a coach, but it's more gratifying because you know what it took to get those players there, and they know, in turn, what you did to get them there.  When I say "Coach," I mean our entire coaching staff because it takes a village to raise a child and to raise a champion.

Q.  Dawn, I just wanted to ask you real quickly, when you took the job, I was wondering if you had a timetable, a timeframe with what you thought you could turn this thing around and make this successful?  And outside of talented players, what are two or three key things that have happened that have helped fuel the success of this program?
COACH STALEY:  I never really put a timetable on things.  I think for me and my outlook on just success, success has a certain feel, it has a certain sound, and it has a certain look.  So when all of those things are in place, you're going to be successful.  But that takes time, but it also is exhausting because you've got to figure out how you get‑‑ how you move 15 young people to feel, sound, and look like the success that it should be.
Then it takes talent.  It takes talent.  It takes great people, and it takes a commitment, a commitment of discipline.  So once we got those things in place, our program started to move in the right direction.  We didn't always have that.  Seven years ago, we didn't have that.
But obviously, I feel like I had to learn some things as a coach that I needed to learn in order for me to grow and for our program to grow in the way that it's grown.

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