Everything Dawn Staley said after the Iowa game

Gamecock Centralby:Gamecock Central04/07/24


South Carolina basketball national championship postgame press Conference following win against Iowa

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South Carolina defeated Iowa, 87-75, on Sunday to win the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament. Following the game, Gamecocks coach Dawn Staley spoke with the media at a press conference. Here is everything she had to say.

Opening Statement

DAWN STALEY: Just really wanted to say congratulations to Iowa and Caitlin for making it back to the national championship game. Obviously, they’re a formidable opponent that took everything that we had to win the basketball game.

But just don’t want to not utilize this opportunity to thank Caitlin for what she’s done for women’s basketball. Her shoulders were heavy and getting a lot of eyeballs on our game. And sometimes as a young person, it can be a bit much, but I thought she handled it with class. I hope that every step of the ladder of success that she goes, she’s able to elevate whatever room she’s in.

I’m super excited to share this moment with our team. They are incredible human beings and young people who trusted, believed and figured out a way to help each other, learn and grow, and ultimately become champions.

Q. Dawn, it felt like this championship was more emotional for you than the other two. Early in the game, you looked really emotional. And then at the end, you obviously broke down when they presented you with the trophy. Was it more emotional? If so, why?

DAWN STALEY: Well, it was emotional for me because of how it ended last year. I’ll leave that there.

And I was emotional at the beginning of the game because I didn’t want what happened last year to happen this year. So I was handling things in real time, not afterwards.

I’m going to move to handling things in real time and not having to wait until there’s an ending that shouldn’t be. I was like that throughout the entire season, but for this one I wasn’t going to allow what I felt happened to us last year to happen this year.

So I had a little bit of PTSD, and I addressed it in real time.

I mean, it’s heavy, it’s heavy. You carry the burden of every single one of your players, all the coaches and staff members that put so much into our team. And it’s a heavy load to be undefeated, to finish the job.

And you get emotional because you just want that for them, and you’re happy that you’re able to — because only one team wins the national championship. And when you win a national championship, there’s more trust that’s built that you can take into the summer workouts and the postseason workouts and in the fall and into another season.

There are so many conversations you have with parents, with any significant person in our players’ lives, that the rigors of the season, you just have to face that music with them. Sometimes it’s good. Sometimes it’s challenging. Sometimes it’s just a really hard conversation.

Then once you win, this is the reason why. It builds trust amongst everybody that’s involved in our players’ lives.

And I’m just super happy for our staff. They work really hard. They are incredible basketball — like, I think they’re savants. I think they are always looking for ways in which to get our players better in a way that they can handle it, not in the way we see it, because the way we see it is probably — the way we would handle it would be difficult for them to actually learn and apply and execute in a basketball sense.

So we’re able to just kind of speak their vernacular and them actually deliver. So all of that makes it emotional for me.

Q. You said last Sunday when we were in Albany you were okay with no one really talking about you guys in other stories. You’d wait until this Sunday to talk about it, hopefully with the championship. You got the 10th undefeated team in the history of the game. You’re the fifth coach to win three titles or more. You’ve won two out of the last three. What does it mean to this program for you to have done all you guys have accomplished this year with a perfect team and the last couple years with the dynasty you’ve built in South Carolina?

DAWN STALEY: Well, it means that we have quietly done things, in my opinion, the right way. We find the right pieces to help us. We really do things the right way. We’re very disciplined in how we approach basketball.

I am one that, I’m forever indebted to basketball, so I’m always going to take care of it. I’m always going to make sure that our players are respectful. I’m always going to make sure that they know the history of our game. I want to make sure they are always respectful to our opponents.

And when you do it that way, in return, you have success. You have success in the wins column and very little disappointment in the loss column.

I don’t think that’s talked about enough, what we’ve been able to do, and I don’t know why. And I really don’t care why. We’re going to keep doing what we’re doing the right way, whether we are the popular or unpopular successful programs in the country. We’re going to keep doing it that way.

Q. Someone mentioned earlier the depth, 37-0 bench points. Obviously you hope at the beginning of the season, but what’s it like seeing the way you built this team, this roster panning out in the way that you’d hoped and having success in that way?

DAWN STALEY: To have a roster that goes nine, 10 deep is — it’s a privilege, it really is. But it has to be developed slowly and the right way. Like, there’s a lot of trust that has to be built because there’s some games that some of them won’t play a whole lot, especially the people that’s coming off the bench.

Chloe Kitts went up and down and all around, and then finally she settled in today to have a really good game. But she had to come off the bench at times because of — not what she wasn’t doing, but it was more about what somebody was doing and doing well. And that can shake your confidence.

But at the same time, you have to let her know the way you build trust in our coaching staff, it’s the same way your competitor is building trust.

I think MiLaysia Fulwiley has been very patient with us to be able to have a household name coming off the bench, playing maybe, probably less than 20 minutes a game, where she could have gone anywhere else in the country and they’d have given her the ball time and time again.

But winning a national championship will allow us and that relationship to continue to grow because I know she really wanted this.

And I would imagine that, come as early as next year, she’s going to want to be a starter, she’s going to want to play more minutes, she’s going to want a lot of different things because she got the big one. So now she’ll maybe want to concentrate on some individual awards. And I appreciate her sacrifice.

So it’s everybody. It’s just Sania Feagin who, she’s a junior, and she’s probably started less than 10 times, but she came up crucial this game, like really.

I know she’s probably wanted to play a lot more throughout the season. But I hold her to her standard, I hold her to her personal and individual standard to sometimes that equates to six minutes, or five minutes or less.

And it doesn’t feel good, but in order for us to do what we do today means she’s got to meet her standard. And we don’t sacrifice that.

So it’s built through trusting the process. It’s built through really high-level communication, some that they may not like all the time, but it’s truth. We also want them to talk to us about what they’re feeling and seeing so we can understand them and how they operate in that space. So we don’t want to mess anything up, but we also want to give them an opportunity to tell us what they’re thinking and how they’re processing information or if we’re giving them the right information.

That’s a long winded answer. Sorry.

Q. You made a point after the game of recognizing Caitlin Clark for helping to elevate the game. South Carolina was also a part of that, too, as well as other clubs. And I wonder if not in this moment, later, if you will look back and take particular pride in saying that you all were part of this transformation that we all are talking about today?

DAWN STALEY: Well, I know we do our part. I know we do our part. I know we do our part in making sure we try to, as much as possible, shout it to the top of our lungs what our game is all about, and all of the story lines and all the talent and all the coaches and all the talent that’s actually telling the stories.

I have to continue to shout out Elle Duncan and Draya Carter and Chiney and Leah and Carolyn Peck, they’ve done a tremendous job. We have to find a way for them to tell our stories during the off-season because you have to continue to build on what we’ve captured.

Do I think South Carolina is a part of it? Yeah, we’re a part of it. I don’t know what part, but you can see the numbers that, when Caitlin plays in a game, you see the numbers. They’re real numbers, and a lot of people like to deal in those real numbers.

I hope we were able to attract some more people by the amount of eyeballs that probably watched our game just because Caitlin was appearing in it.

Q. What does it mean?

DAWN STALEY: What does it mean to me? I just want our game to grow. I don’t care if it’s us. I don’t care if it’s Caitlin. I don’t care if it’s JuJu or Hannah. I just want our game to grow, no matter who it is.

Because there’s a lot of people that are out there growing our game, a lot of programs out there growing our game. We need to continue to uplift them as well as we take our game to the next level.

Q. How critical was Raven’s defense on Caitlin, especially the way Caitlin came out shooting the ball?

DAWN STALEY: For Raven, I think it was psychologically helpful to be able to play Iowa and Caitlin, to just release. As a player, you want to release certain things that have held you captive. And I do think the waving off in the Final Four last year held her captive, to where usually you just quietly do things and go about your business. Raven’s got the bullhorn saying this is revenge tour, this is this, this is that.

Then for her to actually lock in and play Caitlin the way we needed her to play her — we knew she was going to get her points. We wanted her to get her points in an inefficient way. Like I look at the stat sheet, it’s beautiful. It’s like, if she scores — if she’s shooting 50 percent, we lose the basketball game.

So I think it’s pretty cool that she was able to just kind of check off a goal and move forward. And hopefully there will be another test to challenge her in a way that will continue to elevate her.

Q. As you’ve built this program, this dynasty, what do you look for in a player? Beyond just basketball, is there a single thing, a trait that you look for where you say, that’s what I want in a South Carolina player?

DAWN STALEY: Aside from their talent, a prerequisite of us actually recruiting a young lady is their relationship with their parents because if they respect their parents, they’re going to respect us. If they don’t respect their parents, we don’t have a shot. So that’s what we look at a lot.

Fortunately, we have some really great parents who are — they’re in their daughter’s lives every single day, so they’re in our lives every single day. And we don’t mind because all of us want the same thing. We want them to be incredibly successful. I’m fortunate as a coach to have that relationship with our parents.

Q. Last 4:13 of the game, they cut it to five, and they don’t score again. For a coach who preaches toughness and those kinds of things, how satisfying is it to close a game with that defense?

DAWN STALEY: I mean, it’s incredibly satisfying. You have a team full of players who probably felt the lead dwindle to a point where someone like Caitlin, like a five-point lead versus Iowa is nothing. Like, they don’t flinch when it comes to getting the lead into a — come on, you’re all writers, help me out — that’s dwindled to the point that it’s a one- or two-possession game.

When there was a timeout called, you could hear all of the players, all of them, just talk about how we needed to have stops. And it wasn’t just the players that were in the game; it was the players that were sitting on the bench.

Hey, we can’t give up a 3. Hey, you’ve got to show — I hear Ashlyn Watkins tell Chloe Kitts, way to stunt. Like, way to stunt, Chloe.

And Ashlyn could have been really upset because she didn’t get the minutes she usually gets because of foul trouble, but they’re that locked in.

When you have — your peers are saying things to you that want you to be great, I mean, it’s half the battle for us. Like we don’t have to say those things, although we reiterate what they’re saying. It’s pretty cool when they can hold each other accountable, and they can also best each other with encouragement.

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