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South Carolina’s Dawn Staley wants to be ‘a beacon of hope for other Black coaches’

Staley became the first Black coach to win two Division I national titles in women's basketball thanks to a victory over perennial power UConn.
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University of South Carolina women's basketball coach Dawn Staley is hoping her team's second national championship in five years reverberates beyond just Gamecocks fans.

Staley, 51, who already was an icon to a generation of players as a Naismith Hall of Fame player herself, reflected on the 3rd hour of TODAY Monday about what she hopes her team's latest national championship means to other Black coaches coming up in the profession.

She became the first Black coach to win two Division I national championships when South Carolina took down the University of Connecticut with a 64-49 win over the perennial power on Sunday night.

"There aren’t a lot of Black coaches that experience this type of success because we don’t really see it very often," Staley told proud South Carolina native Craig Melvin on TODAY.

Image: UConn v South Carolina
Dawn Staley helped lead South Carolina to its second national championship in five years by defeating the University of Connecticut. Andy Lyons / Getty Images

Staley noted that Carolyn Peck became the first Black woman to lead a team to the women's basketball national title in 1999 with Purdue University. It wasn't until Staley led South Carolina to the title in 2017 that another Black woman achieved the feat.

"And now we have done it again in 2022, so it’s happening a little bit more frequently for us," Staley said. "And I hope I just am a beacon of hope for other Black coaches just to keep on keeping on, because you can have success at this level when given an opportunity and when you work hard."

She hopes her success opens more doors for Black coaches in a sport where 40.7% of the players are Black, while only 23.1% of the coaches are Black and 82.3% of the athletic directors doing the hiring at the Division I level are white, according to the 2021 College Sport Racial and Gender Report Card, published by The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES) at the University of Central Florida.

Staley also remarked that it also makes it easier to have success when you have a point guard like Destanni Henderson. The senior guard, who joined Staley on the 3rd hour of TODAY Monday, erupted for a career-high 26 points in her final collegiate game and helped hold 2021 national player of the year Paige Bueckers to 14 points to lead South Carolina to the victory.

"Just happy to be in this moment," Henderson said. "Just living the dream."

Dawn Staley
Staley is the first Black coach to win two Division I national titles in women's basketball.Kirby Lee / USA TODAY Sports via Reuters

UConn had been 11-0 in national championship games under legendary coach Geno Auriemma before the top-ranked Gamecocks put the first blemish on that record. South Carolina started the season ranked No. 1 in the country and finished it that way.

"I’m just super proud of our players because it’s not often that you can be the No. 1 team at the start of the season, through the entire season and the end of the season, and then come into the tournament with so much pressure and actually deliver," Staley said.

UConn v South Carolina
South Carolina started the year ranked No. 1 and validated that ranking with a national championship. Andy Lyons / Getty Images

The Gamecocks also had some unfinished business after losing a one-point heartbreaker to eventual champion Stanford in last year's Final Four.

"We had some players that there's just a memory etched in their minds when we had two opportunities to win the game against Stanford in the last Final Four," Staley said. "To have it come full circle with the opposite result, with us winning the national championship, and turning that frown and those tears upside down — smiling, happy tears."