A postseason concept such as the Women's Basketball Invitational doesn't mean much - with the following exception: A participating program hasn't celebrated anything worthwhile in decades.

Thus the enthusiasm for the College of Charleston's WBI home semifinal game Thursday night against the Stephen F. Austin Ladyjacks.

On a grander scale, women's basketball isn't a big deal at South Carolina. Except when the Gamecocks might win the national title and head coach Dawn Staley has become the most important woman in the school's athletic department history, currently compared to Gregg Popovich and Mike Krzyzewski.

Oh, and to the Dalai Lama himself.

Then mere basketball games become transcendent. Suddenly, women's basketball teams are important in a state still infamous for not empowering women politically and in other ways.

Obesity numbers up?

College enrollment figures a concern?

Looking for examples of leadership and achievement?

How about showing kids highlights of former Lowcountry high school players Aleighsa Welch (Goose Creek) and LeAnna Morrison (Berkeley) helping the Gamecocks snag a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, or Alyssa Frye and Afreyea Tolbert carrying the Cougars at crunch time?

"These games are huge for us, for so many reasons, College of Charleston's second-year head coach Natasha Adair said Wednesday.

"You play this sport to have success and win a championship, and it would mean a lot for the College and for the community and for the program. To take a team that hasn't been to the postseason as frequently as they would have liked to and go to postseason tournaments back-to-back for the first time in program history, it builds a culture of winning."

Hardwood construction projects start at the top. Adair, as high school All-American Natasha Barnes, was recruited by Connecticut head coach Geno Auriemma before opting for the University of South Florida.

Staley as South Carolina's head coach hopes to dethrone UConn as NCAA champion. But first comes a high profile Sweet 16 game against North Carolina on Sunday followed by a higher profile game against Stanford with a Final Four ticket to Nashville at stake.

"It's just great to have Dawn in the same state as a role model and as a pioneer for women's athletics," said Adair, 41.

What $850,000 buys

Is Staley worth her total salary package of $850,000 per year? Certainly not compared to what good firefighters, teachers and Department of Social Services case workers get. It's silly money.

But in the zany world of major college athletics, South Carolina is getting a lot more for its money than sideline strategy.

Staley, 43, is a uniting figure.

Last March, when Staley was on the other end of recruiting and listening to a strong push from Ohio State, she received a phone call from South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley.

"She just expressed how much I mean to the state of South Carolina," Staley told The State newspaper. "When you have that outpouring of support and wanting you to stay and be a part of this community, it made it a very easy choice."

It also helped that athletic director Ray Tanner promised Staley a raise; a $125,000 per year bump was approved by the Board of Trustees last April.

What price on the publicity value of South Carolina's first SEC women's basketball regular season title?

A No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament?

Fresh inclusion on a list of "world's greatest leaders" compiled by Fortune? True, it's ridiculous to compare top world religion figures with basketball coaches; Pope Francis is No. 1 in the magazine's ranking, the Dalai Lama is No. 10. But the realistically impressive part of the Fortune list is Staley tied at No. 20 with Popovich, the San Antonio Spurs' four-time NBA championship winning head coach, and Krzyzewski, Duke's four-time NCAA championship winning head coach.

'Surge into it'

Adair, a longtime top assistant and recruiting coordinator at Wake Forest, inherited a College of Charleston program that finished 7-23 in 2012. The Cougars were 16-16 last year and are 19-14 now.

They were 11-9 in the Southern Conference in 2013 and 9-7 in the Colonial Athletic Association in 2014, even with the CAA at least 10 spots above the SoCon in Ratings Percentage Index league rankings.

"Our student-athletes determined that they were going to make an immediate impact in the conference," Adair said. "Our motto was to 'surge into it' and I think they did that in great fashion."

The Cougars were the AIAW national championship runner-up three times in a row from 1980-1982, in Nancy Wilson's first tenure as head coach. In Wilson's second tour at the College of Charleston, the Cougars reached the 2009 SoCon tournament championship game, thanks in big part to the well-rounded efforts of Deidra Jones, Jade Hughes and Tonia Gerty. But they lost to Western Carolina in triple-overtime.

So WBI national title hardware would look really good in the trophy case.

And shine beyond.

Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff