Staley best player or coach? Good question, she said

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Dawn Staley is already in the Hall of Fame as a fiery, feisty point guard. She could one day get there too, for her coaching career.

So, Staley was asked on Saturday if she was a better player or coach.

“That’s a good question,” said the thoughtful 14-year-old South Carolina coach.

Staley, who previously won the NCAA Tournament with the Gamecocks in 2017, can add to her coaching legacy on Sunday night when her top-ranked team takes on UConn for the national championship. She was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2013.

She became the first to win Naismith Player of the Year when she was a point guard at Virginia and as a coach at South Carolina two years ago. She added a second Naismith Trophy for her workout on Wednesday.


Staley said playing the point required skills similar to those of a coach. “I’ve always been able to see the big picture and I carried it,” she said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s basketball or if it’s just life.”

This vision, along with her ability to speak, listen and reach consensus with her teammates or players, has helped her succeed as a player and coach.

“I’m probably a better coach,” said Staley, 51, who spent eight years coaching Temple before coming to South Carolina 14 years ago.

His longevity as a coach is one of the reasons for his response, she said. “Secondly, I think my impact is far off,” Staley said. “I can have more impact as a coach than as a player.”

If Staley’s coaching success continues, she could join Lenny Wilkens and Tommy Heinsohn as Hall of Famers as players and coaches. Wilkens is a three-time Hall of Famer, also honored as a 1992 Olympic “Dream Team” assistant.

PHILLY FOR LIFE

Don’t be surprised if the Philadelphia cheesesteaks show up during the coaches’ pregame salute on Sunday night. That’s because UConn’s Geno Auriemma and South Carolina’s Dawn Staley are raised in Philadelphia.

Auriemma’s family moved from Italy to Norristown in Philadelphia when he was seven. Staley was born in the city and played at Murrell Dobbins Tech High.

“I think any time you’re in that position to compete for a national championship, that’s a big deal,” Staley said Saturday. “And if you have Philly ties, that’s more important.”

This is only the last meeting between Staley and Auriemma. UConn holds a 7-2 advantage in such matchups, but the Gamecocks have won two of the last three, including a 73-57 win earlier this season over the second-place Huskies in the Bahamas.

Staley served as Auriemma’s Olympic assistant on the gold medal-winning USA team in 2016.

Auriemma thinks the people of Philadelphia, perhaps because of its proximity to New York City, carry an inferiority complex that pushes them to great heights.

“We have to prove to everyone that we are smarter, tougher and better than everyone else,” he said. “I think all of us in this area wear that.”

ALTERNATE BROADCASTING

Two UConn big names, Diana Taurasi and Sue Bird, hosted a different kind of Women’s Final Four telecast on Friday night.

One of their former coaches, Geno Auriemma, has no intention of watching.

“I’m sure,” he said, “they were funny as hell.”

The show devolved into an irreverent, sometimes “crass” look at South Carolina’s win over Louisville and the Huskies’ loss to defending national champion Stanford.

Taurasi, the national, professional and Olympic champion, made an offbeat comment involving the shortened form of the South Carolina Gamecocks nickname.

Taurasi was talking about the healthy diet today’s athletes have compared to his time in school. “I was beating beers and cheeseburgers in college,” she said.

Auriemma did not record the program and said the chances of him seeing it “are less than zero”.

“When you’ve been with these two for as long as I have, I really have no interest in hearing what they have to say,” Auriemma said, continuing the gag. “On any subject, especially me.”

Bird and Taurasi will put on another show Sunday night for the championship game.

CONFIDENT COOK

South Carolina’s Zia Cooke has remained confident despite an inconsistent season.

The junior guard was the Gamecocks’ leading scorer in 2020-21 with 15.9 points per game. His total has fallen to 10.7 points this year while his shooting percentage has risen to 34.1% from 39.3% a year ago.

Cooke’s NCAA Tournament also had its ups and downs. She had 15 points, all in the first half against North Carolina in the Sweet 16 win, before going scoreless in the second half and all of the following game against Creighton in the Elite Eight.

Cooke bounced back into the Final Four with 10 points in the 72-59 win over Louisville here Friday night.

“We always have to turn the page to play well,” Cooke said. “Coach (Dawn Staley) always taught me that I have to move on. If I don’t play well in one game, I have to move on to the next game.

OPEN PRACTICE

South Carolina and UConn had a happy, lighthearted practice in front of adoring fans ahead of their NCAA Tournament title game.

The NCAA opened the Target Center to spectators for one hour per team on Saturday as the Gamecocks and Huskies wrapped up preparations for the national championship.

Staley has danced to songs like The Sugar Hill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” and Boyz II Men’s “MotownPhilly.”

Fans waved and sang from the stands as the team performed passing and lay-up drills.

The Huskies followed South Carolina, their cheerleaders and mascot lined up at the entrance to the field as UConn players took the floor.

The NCAA Tournament was canceled in 2020 due to COVID-19. Open practices weren’t allowed last year because the tournament was held in a tightly controlled environment in San Antonio.

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More AP coverage from March Madness: https://apnews.com/hub/march-madness and https://apnews.com/hub/womens-college-basketball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25

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