South Carolina's loss to Stanford in the semifinals of the NCAA Women's Tournament was painful because anything less than a national title is not success for the Gamecocks, head coach Dawn Staley said Tuesday in reviewing the 2020-21 season.
Reflected on the loss, Staley said, “It wasn’t meant to be. We came as close as you can come to getting to that elusive national championship game. It gives us a starting point for who we want to be next year and creating that margin for error.”
Later she said, “Anything less than a national championship is failure. That’s our expectation now, is to win a national championship. Those are our goals, and when we don’t accomplish it, we feel bad, and we hurt just as much as everybody else.”
Staley talked about using the pain of losing to become better.
“It’s got to hurt. When it hurts, it means a lot to you. I don’t like for young people to hurt that way, but it certainly makes you stronger,” Staley said. “We don’t always get what we deserve. You don’t. In life, you don’t get what you deserve. You don’t always get what you work for.
“That’s the great thing about sports. You can get better. You can figure out ways to work on it, to replace those memories with great memories.”
Staley joked that for much of the season she didn’t like trainer Craig Oates, who was responsible for maintaining COVID protocol.
“He did get on my nerves a few times with the strictness of it,” she said. “Look at us. We had one setback with a false positive throughout the year. We moved through it in a way that was swift and it put us in a position to play for a national championship. We couldn’t have asked for it to go better.”
When it comes to the incoming recruits and playing time, Staley said communication is the key, and it started before the players ever signed.
“They all knew what they were signing up for. They knew we were talented. They knew we were on the brink of winning a national championship. What we’ll have to do is make sure that’s always at the forefront. This is what we signed up for,” Staley said. “We’ll definitely have to do a lot of talking. We’ll have to make sure everybody’s happy and create an atmosphere of communication so they’re not left assuming. We’ll nag you before we assume.”
Staley emphasized that none of the incoming recruits has been promised playing time. She isn’t worried about having 10 McDonald’s All-Americans on the roster next season.
“You can’t bring those titles into practice. They don’t help you,” Staley said. “They are people, they are young people. Young people you have to talk to, young people you have to keep engaged. You have to tell them the truth and be honest with them.”
“I don’t promise any prospect they’re going to start. I can’t do that, for the life of me, I can’t do that. It’s a disservice to the players that you have here. The prospects that are coming here are coming here on that strength of truthfulness, directness, and that’s probably the very thing why we don’t get some recruits. That’s how we are.”
Staley will be busy with Team USA duties for most of the summer. First she has the AmeriCup tournament, and then the Olympics. She’s not worried about the Gamecocks missing any steps while she is away. “Our staff has been together for a long time. We’re like a fine-oiled machine.”
A couple of times Staley was asked about grander stages. She was asked about the WNBA early entry rule and her own interest in coaching in the WNBA or coaching a men’s team. Staley said she is opposed to changing the early entry rule (Geno Auriemma has previously said Paige Bueckers and Caitlin Clark should be allowed to go pro).
She argued that with limited roster spots in the WNBA, players need to be fully prepared to turn pro. Then she went into pitch mode.
“I think South Carolina creates what is very similar to a pro team in how you need to compete every single day and how you compete with people who are as talented as you are, and people who are trying to go where you are.”
She continued, “If you can play for us, you can play in the league, because I think that 80-90% of our players are going to end up in the league. I think they are just that good.”
Staley said she is not interested in coaching in the WNBA or coaching men’s basketball. As a former WNBA player, she believes in her role developing talent to play professionally.