STORRS, Conn. — Dawn Staley is no stranger to the Olympics, having won three gold medals as a player and carried the flag for the United States at the 2004 opening ceremony. Now the South Carolina women’s basketball coach is heading to the 2016 games in Rio de Janeiro — as an assistant to Geno Auriemma, whose second-ranked Connecticut team her No. 1 Gamecocks play Monday night.
Hours before their showdown at Gampel Pavilion, Staley and Auriemma sat on the same stage Monday afternoon at Connecticut’s practice facility as the staff for the 2016 women’s basketball team was officially announced. Staley will join Auriemma, DePaul’s Doug Bruno, and Cheryl Reeve of the WNBA’s Minnesota Lynx in a reunion of the staff which won gold at the 2014 world championships in Turkey.
“It’s not like we’re bringing somebody on board that just kind of got good because South Carolina is No. 1 in the country,” said Auriemma, who was also U.S. head coach at the 2012 games in London. “There’s so much more to that.”
Staley, who was also an assistant under Anne Donovan at the 2008 games in Beijing, said she received the call for Rio about a month ago.
“I think in past history when a staff has been successful, usually they move on to becoming the Olympic staff,” she said. “But I really didn’t give it any thought. I love USA Basketball, and if I was chosen in this position or not, I’ve enjoyed it. I’ve enjoyed any time USA basketball has asked me to serve in any capacity.”
Which has been quite often. Staley as a player won 10 gold medals, including at the Olympics in Atlanta, Sydney and Athens, and in two world championships. She was also head coach of a gold-winning U.S. squad at the Pan-American Games in 2007.
“It’s good to have a former player on your staff,” Auriemma said. “Just like we have here (at Connecticut), they bring a new perspective. They see things maybe you don’t see as a coach. They feel things happening because they were on the court, they can talk to the players, and they understand what it’s like to be in that situation, what the pressures are like. So it is really good to be in that situation. We haven’t been together long, but in the short time we have been together, it’s been real beneficial to me.”
The U.S. women will carry a 41-game winning streak into Rio. Their last loss was in the semifinals of the 1992 games in Barcelona. “You can’t say we’re going to Rio and we hope to win a gold medal. We’re going to Rio and we’re going to win a gold medal,” Auriemma said. “That’s how we operate.”
And given Staley’s long history with the national team, might she be positioning herself for the head-coaching position at the 2020 games in Tokyo? “First things first,” she said. “... This is a great opportunity to keep learning, a training ground to becoming a better coach.”