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April 2, 2017

Dawn Staley

A'ja Wilson

Dallas, Texas

South Carolina - 67, Mississippi State - 55

THE MODERATOR: We are joined by South Carolina.

We'll take a comment from Dawn, then questions for A'ja.

COACH STALEY: Just want to give God the glory for allowing this to happen. Really proud of our team, but also I want to make sure that we recognize the Mississippi State Bulldogs for competing, for representing our conference positively.

THE MODERATOR: Questions for A'ja.

Q. A'ja, I want to thank you for delivering your promised dance with the band. What does it mean to help get your coach, who you've known forever, a South Carolina native, her first national championship?
A'JA WILSON: I really can't even put into words the feeling of how much it meant to win this game for Coach. She's put in so much time, so much sweat, just voiced her voice into us. Just prepping for times like this.

I think she really helped our confidence, to get over this hump that we were going through with adversity, stuff like that. It really means something special to kind of bring this back home, especially for such a great person like Coach Staley.

Q. A'ja, the stretch at the end of the game, maybe when it got tight, you had kind of a burst, a couple of big blocks, some points, was that a mindset change for you, you were going to deliver this down the stretch? When Alaina went out, what kind of conversation did you have with Coach Staley?
COACH STALEY: The first question, honestly I just kind of knew I needed to make an impact on the game. That's my biggest thing when I play, when I compete, is how can I make my impact. That was just my mindset going in, is I have to make an impact, whether it's a block, a score, yelling, bringing energy. I have to make an impact one way.

When Lai went down, it was tough. It was tough. Loosing a piece like Lai was really tough. I think Coach just kind of said, We have to play through it. We've all been hit with adversity, we have to work through it, play through it. That's when I knew I had to step up and be more vocal to our newcomers, just to the team.

Q. A'ja, can you talk about first just your mindset to dominate tonight, then it seemed like you guys as a team were in attack mode from the start. Just talk about those two things.
A'JA WILSON: I mean, I just kind of play my game and just stick within myself, play my role, whether it's being dominant, being a good teammate. I try to stay within my role and helping out my teammate as much as I can.

I can't remember your second question.

COACH STALEY: Welcome to my world (laughter).

A'JA WILSON: That was just a timeout just now.

That's our season, attacking in paint, paint dominance. We kept doing that, and got the win.

Q. A'ja, at the end of the game, you were very emotional as the clock was ticking down. It took you a few seconds to go out on the floor and celebrate. Can you talk about where all that emotion came from, what you were thinking at that time.
A'JA WILSON: Well, in October I lost my grandmother. I really kind of dedicated this season to her. It was a very emotional time for me. My teammates really rallied around me, helped me become a better person, a great player. Just to have -- for us to face adversity like we did, for us to overcome it, the doubters we had, just shake them off, honestly get this national championship, hanging up a banner, getting this ring, it really meant a lot to me.

This team is just so special. I can't really put into words and explain to you how special this team really is, on and off the court.

For us to really just see smiling faces, just positive vibes, it really set me into tears. I really couldn't hold them back.

I mean, yeah, that was it.

Q. A'ja, you've spoken about, and your game bears it out, you let the game come to you, you do not force things. I'm wondering how in the moment you go about making that happen. How hard it is, are there little things you tell yourself? Even after Alaina was gone, how did you manage to let the game come to you?
A'JA WILSON: I just honestly think that's a pride thing, within myself, that I just kind of say, You just got to take it all in stride, don't force stuff. You got to trust your teammates in that way. I trust my teammates a lot. I know the guards are going to hit shots, I know my other post players are going to work and dive in when I need them to. It really comes from trust, letting the game come to you. I can't put it into any other words.

It was tough losing Lai. At the same time I have to step up in different ways. I can't foul as much as I would or if I could. I can't do certain things. So I think that really helped my game out, just playing smarter.

Q. I saw you had a lot of success picking away at Mississippi State's defense. What did you do to throw them off their game early?
A'JA WILSON: Honestly I don't know. I think we just kind of took our time. We really took our time with plays, really read the defense, see how they were playing us. They were denying our wings. It was hard to get the ball in.

I think we really found a way of just attacking the paint and getting it inside.

THE MODERATOR: Thank you, A'ja.

A'JA WILSON: Thank you.

THE MODERATOR: We'll take questions for Dawn.

Q. Dawn, you're only the second African-American women's coach to win a title. Do you think, as what happened with John Thompson, that athletic directors will now being more receptive hiring African-American women to coach teams?
COACH STALEY: I mean, I don't know what athletic directors will think about. I know that I'm not one that looks at race. Basketball has been faceless and colorless and genderless. When I approached it, I grew up in a city which guys allowed me to play and hone my skills as a basketball player.

I think athletic directors need to hire what's best for them. If it's an African-American male or female, then that's what they should hire. If it's somebody else who they feel can take their program to the next level, it has to be the best fit for them, not necessarily color-based.

Q. Is that net ever going to come away from you, since you finally got one? What does it mean to you, to have been to the Final Four a few times as a player, to finally get the title?
COACH STALEY: It means that, you know, I can check off one of the things that has been a void in my career. It's one of two, you know, opportunities that I saw women play when I was younger. National championship games and Olympics. Those were the things that I held dear and near to me when I was growing up, because those are the things that I wanted. That's what I saw. That's what I was shooting for.

When I couldn't get it done in college, I thought that was it. I never wanted to be a coach. I never wanted to, you know, be sitting where I'm sitting. Dave O'Brien, the late Dave O'Brien, the athletic director at Temple University, saw something in me that I didn't see in myself. He asked me to come and be a part of changing the program at Temple.

From then on, I really can't see myself doing anything other than what I'm doing, impacting the lives of young people, and also being able to check this box off in my career. I'm really grateful and thankful that he made this possible.

Q. Dawn, with the trophy, it took you so long to get it, how long will you hold it? How long will it be till you let your players take a turn with it?
COACH STALEY: I mean, I'm going to enjoy it. It's something that I've been coaching for 17 years now. I played college basketball, what, 25 to 28 years ago. It took that long.

But I also want people to know that just because something takes a long time, I mean, you have to have patience, you have to persevere, stay with it. If something is a goal of yours to accomplish, you don't give up on it.

I never gave up on winning a national championship, no matter how hard it was, no matter what it looked like. I'm just so happy that I get a chance to share it with so many different people in my coaching, basketball family tree. Coaches, former players, mentors, everybody, everybody.

I do have to give a shout out, the other African-American woman that won a national championship is Carolyn Peck. Carolyn Peck, a few years ago, when she was commentating, she gave me a piece of her net, her national championship net. She told me to keep it. I've had it in my wallet for years.

She said, When you win your national championship, just return it.

I'm going to have to pass a piece of my net on to somebody else so they can share and hopefully accomplish something as big as this. I do have to give a shout out to Carolyn Peck, and I will return her net, thankfully.

Q. Dawn, when you convinced A'ja Wilson to come close to home and try to accomplish this with you, how did you frame that for her? Did you promise her this was going to happen? Did you think she could help you deliver it? What is your satisfaction that a South Carolina kid helped deliver a title?
COACH STALEY: With A'ja, no, I don't really make promises in recruiting. Probably the only promise that I make is, I'm going to work you, I'm going to do my best to try to make you a better person, then that will transition into making you a better player.

I just thought that A'ja Wilson needed a coach which could be patient with her, 'cause she's different. She's different. She's not one that you can keep pounding. She's one that needs to see it, needs it explained to her, and needs someone to be real patient with her. If you're patient with her, you know, this is what you get in return.

Her parents did a great job of doing their due diligence, making sure that South Carolina was ready for her, on all levels, from an academic standpoint, from an athletic standpoint, from a social standpoint.

Staying at home, there's a huge responsibility. It's taxing, because everybody knows her. Everybody wants to stop and have conversation with her. We knew that was going to take place.

But when the tragedy like losing her grandmother occurred earlier this season, if she was anywhere else, she would have probably been transferring back to South Carolina.

So I'm glad she chose to stay with us so we could share in that moment with her and help her mend a little bit.

But it was a great fit for our program. It was a great fit for her family. I'm glad that we were able to cut down the nets. It was a great fit from a basketball standpoint.

Q. Coach, with being named the national team head coach, coupled with the fact that some of your contemporaries are nearing the end of their careers, how does it feel to be the new face of this sport?
COACH STALEY: You know, basketball has been an incredible gift, you know, that keeps on giving. I don't know why, but I do work hard at this. It is my passion. It is my livelihood. It is something that brings me a great deal of joy.

It brings also challenges, as well. It keeps me engaged. I am forever grateful for the opportunity to coach USA Basketball. For so many years, it is what keeps me coming back, the culture of USA Basketball. It's what I desire for every team that I'm a part of.

You know, you're working together for one common goal. We work together at South Carolina for this common goal of winning a national championship. The way you do that is you try to do it the right way. Sometimes, you know, there are bumps along the road and things don't work out the way you want them to work out.

You look back on the culture of excellence of a USA Basketball system, and you just try to use that as an imprint on this level. I know we don't come close to it on the collegiate level because it's a little different. But if you can fall short of that, you're in the right ballpark.

Q. Dawn, with Mississippi State being such a good defensive team, they did struggle with cuts in isolation. Do you think that spoke to your offensive strengths as a team? When you look at what you've accomplished as a coach, as a player, you've pretty much done it all. You talked about checking those boxes. What is the next box for you?
COACH STALEY: Well, with Mississippi State, we've played them. This is our third time playing them, so we know exactly the things that create edges for us throughout the game.

I just thought, you know, from an offensive standpoint we needed to attack the paint. Yes, Mississippi State is a very good defensive team. They're also a team that fouls a lot. We wanted to make sure that we put 'em back on their heels, put them back in situations in which we were going to make the officials make a call, whether it was a charge, whether it was a block, whether it was a reach-in.

We feel like, with any team, a good defensive team or not, if you're attacking the paint, it's just a hard guard. Our players stuck to the game plan, you know, executed the game plan to a T.

Also I know we talk a lot about other teams being a good defensive team. But South Carolina is a really good defensive team, a really good defensive team. We hang our hat on that. I'm proud of our players. To hold Mississippi State to 55 points, probably 20 points under their average in the tournament, goes to show our commitment to that side of the basketball.

I mean, I've been named the USA national team coach. The next one is to win a gold medal in the 2020 Olympic Games.

Q. I'd like to hear your comments, fans said you came to South Carolina when it was only a few people in the gym. Now it's sellouts. We also heard the story about someone dealing with cancer. How are you able to be there when someone is fighting for their life and still be able to concentrate on your job?
COACH STALEY: The first one is, South Carolina is a place in which they love their sports. They love the University of South Carolina. I mean, they love winners.

Obviously if you start winning, and they start believing in your program, they're going to come. That's what took place. I'd like to think, you know, we got an incredible marketing department - and we do - but you can market women's basketball all you want, all you want. If people don't believe in the product that's on the floor, they're not going to come.

I just think our fans believe in the product. We make them feel a part of our program. We talk to them. We invite them to our offices. We put on events just for them. In return, you know, they become the No. 1 in attendance for the past three years, which is unheard of in South Carolina, what people think of as a football town.

Our town is a sports town. They love their sports. Certainly the fans have painted a picture of what a national champion looks like. I can't thank them enough. I can't wait to get home to share this moment with them.

Nikki McCray was diagnosed with cancer three years ago on I think a November afternoon. When we knew what her diagnosis and her treatments were, you know, we went to every single one of her chemo treatments. We did scouting reports, we talked, we kept her mind occupied.

With a disease like cancer, you have to stay occupied because it will consume you in a way that will downward spiral to a place where it's hard to get out of.

Nikki is by far one of the strongest women I know. She never missed a day of work until she had her surgery, then we forced her. She got out of surgery, and she came to work. We all had a bet how quickly she would get back to work.

When you have someone who has cancer, you wrap your arms around them. You occupy their minds with, you know, something other than cancer.

Nikki, you know, she's cancer-free. She's doing extremely well. God has His hands wrapped around her. It's something that's what family does.

Q. A couple years ago you spent two weeks overseas with President Clinton on the foundation. Have you heard from him this week?
COACH STALEY: His office did call to wish us good luck. Hopefully I'll get a chance to talk to him. And the UN ambassador, Nikki Haley, did reach out and text today. She's a proud South Carolinian.

Q. Coach, we've talked a lot about A'ja. We've talked a lot about Allisha. They both had double-digits in the game. I think the tone was set tonight at the tip when Bianca picked up Morgan William at halfcourt. I asked somebody yesterday, if you could tell us a little bit more about Bianca, how she helped control this game without scoring or assisting, just from the defensive end.
COACH STALEY: The maturity of Bianca Cuevas(-Moore) is quite incredible. I'm extremely proud of Bianca for accepting that role. Being a New Yorker, being Bianca Cuevas, she likes to score the ball. She likes to throw a little sauce out there when she has the ball in her hands.

She committed to impacting the game by picking Morgan William up, making it very difficult for her. She knew the game plan was to make it difficult for Morgan to operate in areas in which she could control their team, whether it's scoring, whether it's finding other teammates.

I knew she was going to impact the game in this way from the moment we knew we would play Mississippi State. She was great in practice yesterday. She was great in shootaround. If you ask her a question about anything, her answer was, I know the game plan, I got it.

A lot of times when a player's that confident, you don't know if they're going to be able to deliver. But I knew deep down Bianca Cuevas was going to come through for us, and she did just that.

So super proud of her. Super proud of her maturation process.

THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Coach.

COACH STALEY: Thank you.

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