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Dawn Staley: from Philly’s streets to ‘basketball utopia’

For newly minted USA Women’s Basketball head coach Dawn Staley, being chosen to lead this team was “a surreal moment.”

NCAA Womens Basketball: SEC Basketball Tournament - South Carolina vs Mississippi State Logan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports

Three Olympic gold medals as a player, two as an assistant coach, and now...a chance to add one as the head coach.

For Dawn Staley, the newly named head coach of the USA Women’s Olympic basketball team, it doesn’t get any better than this.

“It’s a surreal moment, but one I like to reflect on my career,” Staley said. “Anytime I got the chance; I jumped at the opportunity to wear the red, white and blue.”

Consider the journey that Staley took to get to this point. After not being selected for the 1992 team, she made the 1996 team, and proceeded to win three straight gold medals. After retiring from her playing career, she became an assistant coach on the 2008 and 2016 teams, where she worked under current Connecticut head coach Geno Auriemma.

One would think that the promotion was automatic, but it was just as much a surprise to Staley as it is to the rest of the basketball world. When she received the call from USA Women’s national team director Carol Callan, she was scouting her possible opponents in the SEC Tournament.

“I wasn’t in a place where I could express my joy at the moment, but I was able to hear the call, and I recognized Carol’s voice immediately,” Staley said. “I can’t think of a better organization, with the culture they have. This is my basketball utopia.”

USA Basketball Board of Directors Chairman Martin E. Dempsey, when asked about choosing Staley, said it was a no-brainer.

“I can’t think of anyone more qualified,” Dempsey said. “Dawn is part of the USA basketball culture, from winning gold medals as a player and a coach; she knows how to win.”

For Staley, the feeling hasn’t completely set in, but she isn’t comparing herself to the elite company she has joined just yet.

“I really haven’t thought about it,” Staley said. “Unfortunately, I’m always stuck in the mindset of I need to move forward. The difference between me and coaches like Tara VanDerveer and Geno, they’ve won. I haven’t won yet, but I certainly look forward to adding more gold medals.”

When asked about the current dilemma facing the women’s team (Tamika Catchings retired after the 2016 WNBA season, and some players haven’t committed yet), Staley didn’t show much concern, stating that this is a process.

“We have an incredible pool of players, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get there,” Staley said. “Until we have to, we’re going to act as if we have the best players representing the USA.”

Staley, currently the head coach of the University of South Carolina women’s team, will maintain her position, as the schedule for both teams will not interfere with her duties.