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March 29, 2022

Dawn Staley

Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA

Target Center

South Carolina Gamecocks

Semi-Final Media Conference

DAWN STALEY: I'm just super excited to be in this position of bringing our team to the Final Four. To play in the third weekend of our tournament is exciting, it's special, and it means that you competed and beat some very, very good competition. I thought our women's basketball tournament was exciting. Congratulations to all the teams, but especially the other three that will be in the Final Four.

Q. You've obviously been in Final Fours with Geno multiple times now. But to be going to Minneapolis with not just him in the Final Four, but also Cheryl being there with the Lynx and with USA Basketball, what does that say to you about the continued residence of the Philly area in women's hoops even though there's not a WNBA team yet, there's not a really top elite level DI college team right now, but the three of you are flying the flag?

DAWN STALEY: I think it's great. Philly produces a lot of great talent, players, coaches, and I think the reason that that occurs is because sports is a lifestyle in Philadelphia. We live and we die off of the highs and lows of the Sixers, the Flyers, the Eagles, the Phillies. And because we put our sports teams under the gun so much, we know that we ourselves will be under the gun. So we just prep well. We also have tough skin to be able to handle whatever is thrown at us.

But I'm not surprised to be sharing a space with Geno and Cheryl. They are from our area, and we've been raised the right way and the right pedigree when it comes to being super competitive and finding ways to be successful.

Q. I was wondering if you could address -- there seem to be just so many more eyes on the sport right now, and can you just talk about the showcase that having this many stars and these great teams in the Final Four presents? And the NIL seems to have brought a lot of eyes to the sport, as well, through social media. How do you think that is helping grow the game going into this Final Four?

DAWN STALEY: Yeah, here's the thing. Our game has always been rich with great coaches, great players, great competition. I think we are starting to appreciate it a lot more because we're hearing about all the stories in our game, and this is what everybody has been asking for for such a long time. It doesn't mean that a team can't be dominant, doesn't mean that you can't have several teams that are dominant. It just means that there are stories that come along throughout our season that beg to be heard about.

When you hear about more and more stories, it just really grows our game because we know that there are incredible, talented people that comprises our game, and now we're hearing about them.

I think the NIL issue -- not issue, it's not an issue, it's actually a really good thing for our student-athletes. We're expanding. I think individual by individual, it's expanding our game in areas that we didn't reach before. It's helping our game grow. It's helping our student-athletes provide for themselves, their families. And all the people that invested in them, they're seeing the fruits of their labor through NIL, and just playing some terrific basketball.

Q. How has the sports performance and conditioning routine in your program changed over the years, and how important has that become? And for you personally, I know you're super competitive in this, but what's your daily workout routine?

DAWN STALEY: I mean, the sports performance piece is a huge piece. Like it is a piece that we decided several years ago that we were going to invest in because it creates an edge. When I was here at South Carolina, when we actually ended up going to the NCAA Tournament and actually getting to the Sweet 16, I think we did that the first time out. I was tired. Like I was tired because I wasn't really used to playing during that time in March. Like I felt more tired than anything.

If I felt tired, I'm sure our players, there was something in them that -- they may not have mentioned it or were aware of it because of the excitement, but that's when I knew that this is some serious stuff right here.

We were fortunate to have some of the very best sports performance coaches. The one that took it to another level, her name is Katie Fowler. She's not our sports performance coach at the moment, but when she decided to go in a different direction, I asked her who's the best. We only want the best, and you've made us -- you've put us in this position, so we can't go backwards.

She recommended Molly Binetti. Molly has come in, and during the interview process, I said I would like for her position to be -- not just get our team where it needs to be, but also just our players' lifestyle. I want them to be aware of how much right now in college really has an impact on what the rest of your life could look like and feel like when you take fitness pretty seriously.

My daily routine during the season is I just walk. I probably get in an hour on the treadmill or an hour and 15 minutes if I go out and walk on the trail. If I'm lucky, I lift maybe once a week. I wish I could do more, but that's all the time that I have.

Q. I wanted to ask you, you often describe what you do as being a dream merchant for the kids that you work with, and given your work trying to further the efforts of women of color in coaching, it seems like you do the same thing for them. When you look at all you've accomplished and all the wins you've had and all the titles, when this is all over, what are you going to be most proud of, the games you won or maybe the impact you had on the game?

DAWN STALEY: I mean, for me, I want to be known as or remembered as an odds beater. That's one. Then the other -- I got a text this morning from a really good friend. And as you walk this path of whatever you're supposed to be, whoever you're supposed to be and wherever you're supposed to go and whoever you're supposed to touch, I don't really stop to think about it. I'm just acting. I'm just doing what I'm supposed to do. I'm comfortable in my skin, and I'm comfortable being uncomfortable and making other people uncomfortable when it's for the right thing.

I think what I want is to have generational impact. That's what I would like to have, generational impact. Not to just impact my current players and my players, but to have impact on people who will have impact on people who will have impact on other people.

Q. I wanted to get a status report essentially of where your think your offense is at this point, coming off a game where you shot 51 percent from the field and had seven turnovers. As we know, your defensive rebounding is elite enough. It's not like the offense needs to be similarly elite, but do you see it as performing at the level where you want it to be going into these final two most important games?

DAWN STALEY: We're just going to play the game. Like I think a lot of people have questioned our offense throughout the tournament, and it just seems to be our team that's been targeted about what our offense is doing, and no other team has been targeted in the way that our team has.

We're playing good basketball. Whether our shooting percentage is in the 30s or in the 50s, I don't think we're taking bad shots. So if we're taking bad shots, then we have issues. We're just taking good shots that aren't going in. At some point those shots will go in, and I thought they did a great job of finding them fall through the rim on Sunday. So I hope that will remain the case.

But I hope that we do what we need to do to win basketball games and just be able to survive and advance to Sunday.

Q. Connecticut is returning to the Final Four site, Minneapolis, where they won their first title in 1995. Hoping you can look back, that 1994-95 Connecticut team, how iconic was that team in maybe the way it helped raise the popularity of women's basketball and perhaps even played a role in the WNBA being formed a couple years later?

DAWN STALEY: I don't even remember yesterday. To go back to '95? I'm 25 years old in '95. That's over half of my age.

I mean, Connecticut has done a great job at advancing our sport. No doubt about it.

As far as the WNBA, their success, that was just the beginning of UConn. I don't know if they had an impact on whether or not we'd have a WNBA league. That was probably 10 years in the making, or at least five years in the making, so it pushes it back to '95. I don't even know.

Hey Renee, do you know when the WNBA, just the beginning talks?

See, I got Renee Brown, I got a historian sitting in my office and she worked for the league for 20 years -- from its inauguration for 20 years. She said it probably had a little bit of thought behind maybe years before it actually came to fruition.

We're going to have to probably give the '96 team a little bit of credit for just giving us a premonition of what women's basketball could look like from a professional standpoint.

Q. Let me ask you one more thing about another historical topic. This takes you back 50 years, but this weekend in Minneapolis, they're honoring the 50th anniversary of Title IX. They're over at the Mall of America and having a big thing with displays and that sort of thing. How do you feel about them honoring Title IX this weekend at the Final Four?

DAWN STALEY: I mean, I think it's pretty cool. Title IX provided opportunities for girls and women to have an opportunity to -- the same opportunities as our male counterparts. We're here 50 years later, but we still are not treated in the same manner.

I hope that -- 50 years and its impact has been pretty good. I think we've got room to grow, so hopefully 50 years later, we will be celebrating a more equitable impact on our sports.

Q. I wanted to ask you about your assistant coaches and what they've brought to the table this season and throughout this tournament run.

DAWN STALEY: Great question. I mean, everything. They're the ones that really make our program go. They prepare us. They're super competitive. They help each other out.

I guess Friday night when we played our game and then we had to watch Iowa State and Creighton play, we get back to the hotel around midnight, and there's Coach Boyer's scout of Creighton. She's like, where do I start? How can we get our great team in a place where we can actually just kind of simulate it a little bit, their movements and their actions? Then we were all in my room and we were discussing it, and Chimel -- actually Boyer asked Fred, could you just look at their motion and I'll get the rest of the stuff.

He took it on, and we hammered it out. Three hours later they left my room.

I thought we had one of the best practices, just having one day to prepare for a team like Creighton, like one of the best, one of the most organized, and it came from a team effort standpoint.

You try to come up with a game plan to play a team like Creighton, and you've got so many ideas. They throw so much stuff at me to say, hey, we need to do this, we need to do that. Then when it boils down to it, it was just do what we've been doing. But it was great to hear their thought process, their ideas and how to get us over the hump, because we know the Elite 8 game is a really hard game, and it's real nerve-racking, but they give me great peace, knowing that whatever anyone throws at us, one of them is going to catch it. If it ain't -- catch what they're doing, and it won't be from a place of silence, because they're always giving information as to what's happening throughout the game and outside the game.

It's been pretty cool having a tight-knit staff like we do.

Q. I wanted to follow up on the earlier question about the role that you've played in opening doors for other people in the sport, not just players but other coaches. You've talked about the importance of you all doing it for yourselves, but the fact that you've made a particular emphasis or particular point of opening doors and helping young Black women coaches in the game, why is that so important? Sounds like an obvious question, I know, but what did you take from earlier in your career that you wished you had seen, or how much does that influence what you're doing or that maybe you didn't see when you were a young coach?

DAWN STALEY: I mean, here's the thing. When I first got into coaching, or actually just before -- beyond that, I've been one that I've grown up in our game, and I played the game just for the pure just innocence. Just did it because I really loved to compete. I loved to get better. I loved -- I wanted to be the best.

To me, that was just my normal train of thinking. Then as you grow in the sport, you see things. Then when you become a coach, you see more things.

Like I was probably blinded to the fact that I'm a Black coach. Like blinded. I'm just coaching because I want to help other people. I want to be a dream merchant for young people because my basketball career as a player was -- my cup runneth over, and I wanted other people to feel that.

Then you get into coaching, and I truly believe other people make you look at the color of your skin, by how they treat you, by how you aren't top-tier when it comes to opportunities to coach. Somebody has really failed for Black women to get an opportunity, and then when they get an opportunity, if they fail, you're reduced to being an assistant coach. You don't get recycled to another head coaching position.

Now we're back. I think -- I don't know, maybe 10 years ago, there was an influx of hiring -- the thing was to hire Black women. I think we're back at that place now where Black women are on the top tier of ADs wanting a Black coach to head their -- a female Black coach. Male Black coaches, they don't have a shot. So that's my next thing. But now it's more popular right now to hire a Black coach.

I look at our league, the SEC. I think we have five. Nowhere in the country that mirrors that look. We talk about it. The five of us, we talk about it. We lift each other up. We've got a group thread, and when anybody gets a big win, we're texting, because we know that if we don't -- if we aren't successful, we go back. We go back down -- got to wait another 10 years to get another go at it.

I just feel like Black female coaches have been the voiceless, the ones that don't really get the opportunity to fail. We don't get the opportunity to fail. It is win at all costs, and if you don't, don't seek another opportunity.

We've got one of them, Jolette Law. She was one of those coaches 10 years ago that got the opportunity. I think she got about four years to succeed and it didn't happen. She's been an assistant coach, a top assistant coach in our game for these past 10 years, and maybe she's a little more selective in the jobs that she goes after because she's been scarred. She's been scarred.

But it's popular to hire a Black coach now, so maybe she'll get some decent looks to where it is somewhere that will give her a chance to be successful. I know it was a long-winded answer. I apologize for that. But there's a little bit of history behind it.

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