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March 24, 2017
THE MODERATOR: Good morning. I'm pleased to welcome South Carolina Gamecocks coach, Dawn Staley.
DAWN STALEY: We're excited to be in Stockton. We got here yesterday and we got a couple of -- we got a practice in yesterday, and we're pretty excited about the challenges that we're faced within this region. We play a tough Quinnipiac basketball team that we've been preparing for for the past couple of days, and hopefully that will pay off tomorrow afternoon.
Q. Do you feel like with how successful this team has been, sometimes it's been a little overlooked, kind of how young it is, and how few seniors there are, especially with Alaina now out.
DAWN STALEY: We just approach things the same way. We just try to prep our players to play each game, and obviously there are a lot of moving parts from the previous years to this year. Just having new faces, and actually our perimeter play is totally new in the starting lineup. I just thought they embraced their roles, and when you embrace your role, the team, you, your individual self shines and the team shines; and we've been able to combine the two.
Q. You mentioned the word "tough" in talking about Quinnipiac. What else do you know about them and how much have you seen them?
DAWN STALEY: Very skilled team. Very unselfish team. You know, when you look at their stats, the thing that jumps off the page is the amount of assists to field goals, is quite an incredible stat that jumps off the page. And that's a team in which loves to share the basketball. Makes it very difficult for the opponent.
They love to get ahead of the possession. They get you rocking and rolling from a defensive standpoint. They are very poised and patient, and they wait until you make the mistake defensively and make you pay.
So very tough, skilled, unselfish, and watching them play, not surprised that they are where they are.
Q. How is Allisha, and how much -- how effective do you expect her to be?
DAWN STALEY: Allisha practiced. Full practice yesterday. So she's ready to go.
Q. What was it?
DAWN STALEY: Hamstring. Bad Charley horse.
Q. It seems like your team has been out here a lot in recent years, out West and in northern California. I recall several years ago when you had Tara come over and talk to that group. Your program has come a long way since then. Could you sort of take us through what you've done to bring the program to this level?
DAWN STALEY: I mean, we've experienced quite a lot of success over the past years. You know, I attribute that to a lot of things. I attribute that to some of the former players who believed in our vision when there was no vision for them to believe in. They believed in the people that made up our program, our coaching staff.
And then when you have that, along with playing in -- I know some of the Pac-12 teams will beg to differ, but I think we play in the best conference in the country. When you have that kind of platform that pushes you every day, every game, you know, if you can get lucky and get some talented players, you can experience success in a fair amount of time.
And that's kind of what happened to us where the people and the platform matched up, and we got lucky and got some great recruits and we just stuck with it.
I think the main thing is, you have to stay the course, no matter what happens. You'll lose some games that you're not supposed to lose. You'll win some games that you're not supposed to and -- you'll win some games you're not supposed to win, and if you just stay the course, success is bound to happen.
Q. Part of the success of your program has been your fan attendance. You've built such an incredible fan base at South Carolina. Is it tough now flying across the country and playing so far away from that group of people that has been so supportive?
DAWN STALEY: Well, it's hard on our fans because they have been there. They have supported at home. They do travel. We'll have some fans that will be here, but it wouldn't be anything like if it was a little bit closer to where we are. And you know, for them, I feel for them because it's a hardship. Monetarily, it's hard for them to get out here and support us in the way that they would like to support us.
But at the same time, they will have watch parties and they will send their support and they will be here in spirit. But second to none; what our fans have created for us in our program, they make our team and our program a lifestyle. I've never seen anything unfold like this in all of my years of being around basketball.
Q. Obviously Ty being a freshman, this has to be a big step for her. How has she been handling all this?
DAWN STALEY: Ty's been calm, cool and collected all season long. She's a point guard that's probably far beyond her years. She's got a great approach to the game. She's just composed. When you've played as many games and you've started as many games as she has in our league; she's battle tested. This stage, I don't think this stage will phase her. She will approach it the same way. Hopefully she'll continue to have the success that she's had.
Q. You have a roster right now that basically, everyone has only -- getting No. 1 seeds. And getting to the second weekend of the tournament, and I wanted to ask, does that change things at all culture-wise, and approach to players who have really only known this kind of success?
DAWN STALEY: Yeah, it's kind of weird that A'ja Wilson, Alaina Coates, they have only lost, I don't know, less than ten games over their careers. Maybe not Alaina. A'Ja, definitely. It's what they have made it. We just coach and they bring us along for the ride.
They are committed to winning, and when you have that kind of winning culture, obviously the winning is part of it, but the culture is the other part of it. It is our leaders leaving a legacy of leadership of how to do things, of having a culture of excellence expectations, and living up to those things, and accountability.
So does it help in recruiting? Absolutely it helps in recruiting to say what we have accomplished over the years and come be a part of this. But it's a lot of work. It's not easy. I think sometimes people think it's easy because we've done it over the last few years, but it gets harder having a target on your back and being the hunted, instead of hunting.
But you get used to it, and you have to -- I'd rather have it this way than the other way.
Q. You mentioned Quinnipiac does a great job with their assist-to-field-goal ratio. How do you try to disrupt that?
DAWN STALEY: Well, speed has to be involved in playing them. They can't comfortably look you over and come off their screens. Just play comfortable; shoot practice shots. When they are able to do that, they can beat anybody in the country.
So we have to try to disrupt the pace in which they want to play and execute. And you know, you have to be committed to it for 40 minutes, because if you don't, they can very well win the game.
Q. Allisha and Kaela were transfers, and it seems like they have obviously played big roles on the team. Why were they able to come in and fit in with the team so quickly?
DAWN STALEY: Well, we're talking about the culture. Obviously they transferred for a reason, one reason for another, and they chose us. They didn't go out and start their process over again. They made the calls to us, because they looked at our program as being right there.
So they were looking for something a little bit different. And when you're looking for something a little bit different, you're more apt to embrace whatever role that you're given.
And they have done it, you know, with incredible pride. And you know, I don't think it always has been as smooth and seamless as we may think it is, because you know, Kaela is used to having a ball in her hands. At Georgia Tech, she probably had the ball in her hands 90 percent of the time.
Here at South Carolina, when Alaina Coates was available, she had it maybe, you know, maybe 30 percent of the time. Now that we don't have it, maybe she's got it 50 percent of the time. And that's hard. That's a big adjustment.
Allisha Gray is probably a little bit different in that. She just takes what the defense gives her, and she embraces her role and she doesn't have very much to say. She's just one that wants to go out and compete and win no matter what. The way that they have transitioned into our program is they embrace their roles. They embrace playing with other great players.
And we almost -- you know, you've got to communicate. You've got to talk to them a lot, and we equate it to that next level. They are all going to go and play in the WNBA and they are all going to go play with other great players. You're going to have to learn how to play with other great players, and if you're pretty good at it, you know, you're going to have some success at the next level.
Q. How much do your own experiences in the game as a player come up this time of year, or even reflections to playing for Olympic Gold or any of those things.
DAWN STALEY: They really don't come up. Our players, you know, they relate to the here and now. I played 25, 20 years ago. They probably think the footage is in black and white of me playing.
We just kind of, you know, as a coaching staff, we just talk about the things that they relate to now. You make analogies to social, what's happening on social media, what's happened in the men's tournament, things like that they can relate to. They can't really relate to when I played.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Coach Staley. Good luck.
Please welcome South Carolina student athletes, A'Ja Wilson and Kaela Davis.
Q. This could be for either of you, both of you. Coach just got done saying that she feels like her players focus on the here and now and haven't really asked her -- she doesn't really talk about her playing experience. How aware are the both of you about her playing experience and is that true, or is she kind of just dismissing what she has shared with you about how to prepare for games like this and what her experience was?
A'JA WILSON: Kind of what she said. She really doesn't really talk about it, and I don't think I was born when she was playing. So I really didn't know (laughs).
Q. Have you seen any video?
A'JA WILSON: Yeah, I've seen some videos. Seen she's really good. Has some nice handles. I've heard her hair was crazy. But I mean, from her game, honestly, she hasn't talked about it. Honestly I haven't paid enough attention I guess to know how she kind of rolled.
But I know she's a competitor and I know she wanted to win every game. She's won a lot of games and I think that's pretty much all I know about it, and Coach Staley is the type of person that doesn't really talk about her game like that. She really kind of just leaves it kind of to us and let us kind of figure out our own ways of winning and how to, I guess, see the game.
KAELA DAVIS: Same thing. I think she just takes those experiences and puts them through coaching. I don't think she talks about her personal experience, but she puts those experience into our every day practice situations. And every game, I think she takes her experience and just puts that into her coaching style.
Q. (What do you know about Quinnipiac and their ranking)?
KAELA DAVIS: Obviously the team that we're playing, you can't take them lightly, at all. Obviously they are here for a reason and they have earned every single bit of that. The number next to their name, it means nothing, honestly. They are just another team that's, like I said, on their way here, and we have to come out and be ready to play.
Q. Almost seven years ago, I was there when Dawn came to talk to the South Carolina locker room after a really hard loss at Stanford, and she's built something since then, and you two are a big part of that. She spoke to how it's a matter of building that and keep, you know, getting good players and getting lucky. What can you say about the growth and what you two have been a part of?
KAELA DAVIS: You know, obviously I think, you know, I obviously didn't start my college career here. But to sit back and just kind of watch, you know, I think just being within D1 basketball, you watch other games obviously. You watch other teams. You see kind of this whole story kind of unfolding a little bit.
You know, obviously with A'Ja coming to South Carolina and Alaina and all the players that she managed to get into South Carolina, for me personally, it wasn't hard to make the decision to come to South Carolina and be a part of that, because I think Coach and the staff here, they are on to something really special.
So for me personally, it's a blessing just to be able to be a part of it and hopefully be able to just kind of write our own small little part in history of South Carolina women's basketball.
A'JA WILSON: Just really going off of Kaela, same thing. It's something special here. I don't think people would have ever thought -- growing up, you know the UCONN's, Tennessees, Stanford, but now growing up and seeing that South Carolina is a part of that, it's special. And just knowing that I am a part of it and just having a great team and teammates; just building a legacy, and especially with it being in my backyard, it makes it ten times better for me.
I give it all to the coaching staff and just like Kaela said, they have really formed something special, and it's the sky's the limit from here.
Q. Had you guys heard of Quinnipiac before the past couple of weeks, and have you learned how to say it yet?
A'JA WILSON: No, not really. But looking at film, they are a really decent, decent team. You really can't sleep on them at all. I don't want to pronounce it. I don't want to mess it up. I just know that they are the Bobcats and Connecticut.
KAELA DAVIS: So what is the official way to say it?
THE MODERATOR: Quinnipiac.
KAELA DAVIS: I just say QP -- all those other letters got to go.
Q. I asked Coach a similar question about the fans base that you guys have built in South Carolina. For you, having your backyard come to see you every home game, is it tough now to have to fly across the country and play so far away from that fan base?
A'JA WILSON: It is, and I know we have some loyal fans, I know my pastor would cut church short just so he can come to my games. Our fans are really loyal and it is tough being out west and them -- not all of them not being there, but we know that they are here.
We just have to just go out here and just pretend that they are there. I think that we have enough heart and enough talent that we can take care of business. But it is tough kind of not having your fans out here. But I feel like they are here in spirit. We get the text messages; we get the Tweets; we get the Instagram posts. So we know they are there, just maybe not physically.
Q. What went through, really for both of your mind, when you saw Allisha being carried off the court in that last game? How worried were you?
A'JA WILSON: I was very worried, but at the same time, I know Allisha and I know she's going to get over it. Allisha is like my best friend; she's my sister. So it was kind of tough seeing her get through it, and looking over at the bench and her eyes are all red and she's crying. And I'm like, "Girl, you got to get it together." But I knew she's going to be okay. Allisha, she's tough. She's a soldier. It's good to see her back on the court and doing something that she loves.
Q. Do you want to give shout out -- will you give us the name of your pastor and the name of the church?
A'JA WILSON: Reverend Dr. Jamey O. Graham, Senior. St. John Baptist Church.
Q. Quinnipiac, this is their first time, how much do you think your experience in this tournament and at this level can help you where the Bobcats don't have that experience?
A'JA WILSON: I think it's going to help us, but at the same time, it is March and crazy stuff happens in March. It can help us, but at the same time, we really can't overlook them. We really can't overlook the fact that they are a great team. They are very fundamentally sound and well coached. We are going to go out and stick with our game plan and understand that we can't take any slack off. We just have to continue to do us.
Q. Kaela, can you talk about Coach Staley's style and how she motivates your team and what attracted you maybe to come to South Carolina?
KAELA DAVIS: Like I said before, her big thing is, I feel like a lot of it's based off experience. You know, we always laugh at it but she's always talking about the way things sound, the way it looks, the way it feels.
You don't say that unless you've felt that yourself. Like I said, I think the biggest thing that drew me there was just her experience. She's been in these situations before, whether it be in college basketball, professionally. I think at one point she was playing and coaching at the same time.
You know, just to have somebody that's been in so many different situations. She's been with USA Basketball and now she's getting to coach USA Basketball. She's been there, done that, and I think as somebody that aspires to do those same things and to take their basketball career further, you know, I definitely think she's somebody that can help with that.
Q. Kind of a follow-up. You and Allisha have played big roles on the team after transferring. How easy or difficult was it to transition and become -- to kind your niche in a big role with this team after transferring?
KAELA DAVIS: I think last year helped a little bit. You're not so much just thrown into the fire. You kind of get to sit back and watch a little bit. And at the same time, just being in practice, you know, obviously we didn't get to play but we definitely practiced. Just kind of got a feel for everybody a little bit. It was a process.
I think even up until today, it's still kind of a process. Every game is different. Some days, it's Allisha goes off; some days I go. You roll with whatever happens. I don't know, it's like I said, it's been a bit of a process, but it's been an exciting one. Just because we've gotten to learn so much about ourselves and each other, and I definitely think Allisha and I will be a lot better off because of this experience.
Q. Years ago, Tara VanDerveer would snap a rubber band on her wrist as a player at Virginia; whenever she would make a mistake of any kind and snap herself with that rubber band. Does that surprise you ladies at all, and are there any little quirky things she does now, all these years later as a coach that crack you up?
A'JA WILSON: I think the snapping of the rubber band -- stuffing her mouth with Lifesavers. I think that's a switch. I think every time I look at her, her mouth is all, like just like filled with Lifesavers and she's yelling at us. I think that's just the flip of the rubber band. And she spits it out sometimes and it's nasty (laughter). Don't tell her I said that.
KAELA DAVIS: Yeah, she does, she has a ton of candy. I think she just eats candy if something happens.
A'JA WILSON: Keeps her from yelling at us so loud.
KAELA DAVIS: She'll just eat a Lifesaver and think about what she wants to say before she says it, which we can be very thankful for.
Seriously, if you look at, right next to the bench next and the little like scorer's table, it's a line of candy. It's Lifesavers --
A'JA WILSON: I've really only seen the white ones.
KAELA DAVIS: She really only eats the white ones, but there's a ton of candy. I think candy is a supplement.
A'JA WILSON: Yes, just kind of a lot.
THE MODERATOR: Well, thank you, ladies, and best of luck tomorrow.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports