Women’s pregame: Staley takes aim at century mark

Coach still building on tough first season

dcloninger@thestate.comDecember 1, 2013 

Dawn Staley

KIM KIM FOSTER-TOBIN — kkfoster@thestate.com

  • N.C. CENTRAL (4-2) AT NO. 17 USC (7-0)

    WHEN: 7 p.m. Monday

    WHERE: Colonial Life Arena

    TV: FSC

    N.C. Central’s probable starters: G Jessica Freeman 5-4 Sr. (17.0 ppg, 2.6 rpg); G Rachel Williams 5-5 Jr. (0.6 ppg, 1.2 rpg); G Khyra Conerly 5-8 Jr. (11.4 ppg, 4.4 rpg); F/C Racquel Davis 6-0 Jr. (12.2 ppg, 10.2 rpg); F/C Tiffany Gary 6-1 Sr. (6.6 ppg, 9.0 rpg)

    USC’s probable starters: G Khadijah Sessions 5-8 So. (9.3 ppg, 1.6 rpg); G Asia Dozier 6-0 So. (8.1 ppg, 3.4 rpg); G Tiffany Mitchell 5-9 So. (14.4 ppg, 4.4 rpg); F Aleighsa Welch 6-0 Jr. (13.6 ppg, 9.0 rpg); C Elem Ibiam 6-4 Jr. (11.0 ppg, 6.1 rpg)

    NEXT GAME: USC faces Charlotte at 2 p.m. on Dec. 8.

Dawn Staley didn’t know.

Now that she does, it’s a reflection of where she’s been and where she hopes to be.

“I don’t really keep up with it,” Staley said last week. “I did read about Tara’s 900th and knew I wasn’t close.”

Staley enters Monday’s game hosting N.C. Central with 99 wins at South Carolina. Should the No. 17 Gamecocks win, Staley will have 100 wins in her second stop, which eight games into her sixth season, is comparable to reaching 100 wins at Temple late in her fifth season.

Staley won’t be patting herself on the back too hard, because there is a lot of basketball to be played, this season and in future seasons. As she pointed out, longtime Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer recently won her 900th career game.

If USC wins Monday, Staley will have 100 at USC and 272 for her career. She’s not pooh-poohing the accomplishment, but realizes that 100 is just the start.

“It does make you reflect on where we’ve come,” Staley said. “I still vividly remember, it’s just so much a part of me, my first year here. It drives me. It drives me to get milestones like this because five years ago, it was hard to see what you were dealing with then.”

The 2008-09 season, Staley’s first at USC, resulted in a 10-18 mark. She was dealing with the fallout of the Susan Walvius era, where back-to-back NCAA tournament appearances had devolved into a WNIT staple.

Any midseason progress Staley hoped to make was derailed when her two best players, Brionna Dickerson and Demetress Adams, suffered season-ending knee injuries within a month of each other. Still, the program was beginning to turn — 14 wins the next year became 18, then 25, then 25 again.

Staley’s program is in a good place. The Gamecocks have become a national power and are expected to make their third straight NCAA tournament this year. With a stellar recruiting class signed for next season, the program is hoping to replace the NCAA tournament banners with Sweet 16 and Elite Eight banners.

But it all goes back to that first year. It won’t go away. It was a time where Staley, for the first time in her playing or coaching career, couldn’t will a team to be great.

“I don’t like to dwell on the past, but you also have to use it to motivate yourself,” she said. “You put everything in perspective. You’ve just got to find a place in which you can maintain.

“We’ve had lows and we’ve had highs here with our program. You find a way to maintain, you can find some success in everything you’re doing. Now I can enjoy the journey a little bit better.”

The journey isn’t nearly complete, though. The Gamecocks are soaring, blowing their first seven opponents away, including the past three on the road. USC returned from a two-game California swing with an unblemished record, and an improvement — the Gamecocks went into road atmospheres where the game was going to get called differently than in the SEC and emerged with comfortable wins.

It won’t be this easy all season, and Staley knows it. She thinks that the Gamecocks’ 70-point drubbing of Charleston Southern to open the season has had some residual effect.

“I didn’t anticipate us coming into the season with this kind of burst of offense,” Staley said. “We haven’t really been a team that’s scored a whole lot of points throughout. The games have gotten a lot closer. We just have to continue doing what we’re doing.”

USC is firing away right now. If there’s a complaint, it’s that there should be more points — the Gamecocks are still missing a lot of gimme baskets a foot or two from the hole. But that’s all fine-tuning.

The Gamecocks will be tested, going back on the road to play Charlotte on Dec. 8 and taking a trip to Myrtle Beach to play No. 11 North Carolina on Dec. 18. Then there’s the SEC slate.

USC is confident and ready to take on all comers and keep the program rolling.

Something that started six years ago.

“I’ll never forget it,” Staley said. “No matter how much we win, I’ll never forget that one year.”

Follow on Twitter at @DCTheState

Go Gamecocks is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service