TAMPA, Fla. – Dawn Staley appeared in the women’s national semifinals three times as a player. Now, she’s back for the first time as a coach, guiding Final Four newcomer South Carolina.
And, the former Virginia star, whose Southeastern Conference champions square off against Notre Dame today is paying tribute to an old and dear mentor during the Gamecocks debut on college basketball’s biggest stage.
John Chaney won 741 games during a long career at Cheney State and Temple, where Staley made the transition from WNBA standout to coaching. He reached the Elite Eight of the men’s NCAA tournament five times – and lost.
“He did not get to the point of the Final Four, but certainly I dedicate our time being at the Final Four to him, and all the other players that have affected my life as a coach,” Staley said Saturday.
Staley spent eight years at Temple before taking over a struggling South Carolina program and transforming the Gamecocks (34-2) into a national power over the past seven seasons.
Chaney, 83, helped her changed the culture of Temple’s women’s program, too. And, Staley hasn’t forgotten.
“A lot of times our male counterpart at different universities, they’re not as open to someone like Coach Chaney. He would come to our practices, he would allow us to come into his practice and learn,” she said.
“He is a perfectionist. He put his team into positions to win basketball games that no one else thought they should have been in,” Staley added. “For that reason, he’ll always be one of the best mentors that I’ve ever had.”
Perennial national championship contender Notre Dame (35-2) is appearing in its fifth consecutive Final Four. The Irish took a perfect record into last year’s title game, where they lost to unbeaten Connecticut.
Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw has her team back in the national semifinals, despite losing three starters – two of them first-round draft picks.
“Out of all those five, this team has improved the most,” McGraw said. “I think this is the youngest team we’ve ever taken. Not a senior in the starting lineup.
“For them to get it together and just keep getting better, it’s been really fun to watch.”
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