Fountain and fireplace hose: An inside take a look at the Daybreak Staley method

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DAWN STALEY STARTS the sport in opposition to Stanford on the bench. Clad in a Burberry hoodie, the South Carolina girls’s basketball coach claps and encourages the Gamecocks from her seated place, sometimes getting as much as relay directions or give a referee an earful. You recognize, as she does.

It is a brisk December evening in Columbia, only a few days earlier than Christmas, and No. 1 South Carolina is internet hosting No. 2 and reigning nationwide champion Stanford in a rematch of the 2021 nationwide semifinals. The vacation cheer rapidly dissipates in Colonial Life Enviornment because the Cardinal bury South Carolina beneath an 18-point deficit within the second quarter. Clutching a rolled-up piece of paper, Staley furiously factors to the spots on the ground the place she desires her gamers to go. Doubling as a stress ball and working as an extension of her hand, this poor rolled-up tube is getting crushed beneath the strain of Staley’s palm. South Carolina’s scars from the match loss a season in the past may by no means heal, however a win on this evening would definitely assist. Although the scoreboard is more and more making even that look unlikely.

As South Carolina begins to chip away at Stanford’s lead within the third quarter, Staley rises to her toes. She stomps, clenches her arms and shakes the paper in her hand. For good measure, she pulls her masks down simply to verify her group can hear what she’s saying. You recognize, so there ain’t no misunderstanding. She calls for extra from her group, and she or he’s matching their vitality.

Staley occupies a novel place in girls’s basketball. The star player-turned-star coach constructed South Carolina from an SEC afterthought to a perennial championship contender that has led the nation in attendance each season since 2015. As a Black girl with a youthful spirit who has achieved every little thing her gamers hope to perform for themselves, Staley displays chance. She’s a champion, a four-time Olympic gold medalist, an advocate for fellow Black coaches. She’s been known as “America’s level guard” by the one different Black girl to educate a Division I girls’s basketball nationwide champion, Carolyn Peck.

Staley displays chance, however she now wants her gamers to soak up it. 5 years after successful their first nationwide title, South Carolina and Staley are nonetheless in search of a second. There have been deep runs, heartbreaks and a COVID-19-canceled match, however a coach with Staley’s substance — and magnificence — definitely requires an encore or two (or three or 4). This group, this group of gamers, has the products to do it. She displays. They have to take in. On this evening, ultimately, they do. South Carolina rallies from 18 factors down, the most important comeback in program historical past, and preserves its excellent season with a 65-61 victory. Staley bows to the gang, walks onto the court docket and delivers just a few pats on the again to her gamers.

Staley’s time within the sport has created an infinite stream of knowledge. Generally that stream takes the type of a tranquil fountain for her gamers to absorb, and typically it sprays upon her gamers like a fireplace hose.

“She loves on them exhausting,” affiliate head coach and longtime confidante Lisa Boyer says. “She’s playful with them, she’s hugging them, she’s there for them. I feel they sense the equity. I feel they sense the genuineness of her. She speaks to them — it is not some fairy story. She’s telling them the deal.”

It is the hug she provides a struggling Zia Cooke forward of a convention sport; the crashing of Destanni Henderson’s postgame interview following a win; the legendary burgers off her house grill (says Aliyah Boston, “I am not in her enterprise and I do not need to be in her enterprise, however I’ll eat these burgers”). Nevertheless it’s additionally the insistence on accountability after an surprising loss; the demand for self-discipline after a detailed win; the benching of a budding star for the larger good of the group. Fountain and fireplace hose; swim upstream and drift. It is what she expects of them, and it is what the sport, she says, expects of her.

“I owe basketball,” Staley says. “I am endlessly indebted to it. It engulfed my life for the constructive. The sport has gotten extra of my time than my pals and my household. I really feel like on a smaller or bigger scale, it will probably impression my gamers’ lives in some type of method.”


STALEY GREW UP in North Philadelphia because the youngest of 5 youngsters to her dad and mom, Clarence and Estelle. Staley reduce her hoop-head tooth on the legendary Philly asphalt, typically enjoying with boys. She’d carry her ball to the court docket and withhold it except they let her play too.

As a guard at Dobbins Technical Excessive College, Staley rose to nationwide prominence. She was named the nationwide participant of the yr by USA As we speak in 1988. She embodied the self-discipline she discovered from her dad and mom by placing a rubber band on one wrist. She’d snap it every time she dedicated a turnover.

“She’d have welts on her wrists,” says former College of Virginia teammate Tammi Reiss.

Reiss, who nonetheless likes to seek advice from Staley as “Dawnie,” now coaches on the College of Rhode Island. She met Staley once they have been excessive schoolers. They each attended Mike Flynn’s Blue Star Invitational Camp, which was nonetheless in its infancy within the mid-Eighties. “She was a little bit of a star,” Reiss remembers.

After the day camp, the highest gamers scrimmaged at evening in entrance of school coaches. It was throughout these video games that Reiss obtained to know Staley, each the participant and the particular person. Throughout the day, regardless of the stream of individuals all the time approaching her to say hello, Staley would not say a lot. “She was very shy,” Reiss says.

Reiss and Staley ended up on the College of Virginia, first in the identical suite with completely different roommates. They finally traded their roommates in for one another. Staley and Reiss have been each evening owls and mischievous. And, properly, their authentic roommates weren’t. “They have been like outdated girls,” Reiss says. “They have been in mattress by 10 p.m.”

As a scholar at Virginia, Staley began off as the identical shy participant Reiss met at camp. She hated doing information conferences and interviews; she did not search the highlight. However on the court docket, she dazzled. Staley led Virginia to 3 straight Ultimate 4 appearances. Every time, nonetheless, she got here up brief. All of these losses have been painful, however the 1991 championship loss in opposition to Tennessee in additional time was the worst. Since 1982, it’s one in every of simply two championship video games to enter additional time. Three many years later, former Virginia head coach Debbie Ryan nonetheless would not like speaking about it. “We had that sport taken away from us,” Ryan says. “It was gut-wrenching.”

Staley was named the Ultimate 4’s Most Excellent Participant, however she fixated on the consequence. Reiss would typically discover Staley reviewing that sport in her condominium, pouring over the grainy VHS. “It was again and again,” Reiss says.

That championship proved elusive for Staley, however finally she felt what it was like to chop down the online. It simply wasn’t the place she anticipated. Or within the function she anticipated.


STALEY PULLS HER jacket shut as she hurries to get out of the rain. It is Jan. 3, and though she has flipped the calendar to 2022, she’s not but prepared to shut the e book on 2021. Champ, her 4-year-old Havanese, scurries in entrance of her towards the door. She brushes off the raindrops as she enters the South Carolina girls’s basketball places of work alongside Boyer.

Boyer was the top coach of the American Basketball League’s Richmond Rage when Staley was assigned to the group in 1996, a transfer designed to capitalize on Staley’s title recognition in Virginia due to her profession in Charlottesville. Boyer coached Staley till the ABL folded in 1998. Staley went on to be drafted ninth total by the Charlotte Sting within the 1999 WNBA draft. Boyer landed in Cleveland as a Rockers assistant coach. That is the place she was in 2000 when Staley, 29 on the time, known as her to speak store. Temple, Staley stated, wished her to educate the ladies’s basketball group there.

“I am like, ‘Hell, no, you are not doing that,'” Boyer says. When Staley informed her that Temple wished her to go in and speak throughout the 2000 girls’s Ultimate 4, which was in Philadelphia, Boyer was adamant. “I stated, ‘Don’t take it,'” Boyer says now, virtually laughing as she tells the story. As a result of she is aware of, as all of us do, the way it ended.

Staley took the job at Temple — whereas nonetheless enjoying within the WNBA. And he or she actually wished Boyer to go together with her, however Boyer had no intentions of leaving her job with Cleveland. Staley, nonetheless, was insistent. She tried in the summertime of 2000 to get Boyer. No cube. She tried once more in 2001. Boyer declined once more. Within the spring and summer time of 2002, she known as virtually each day. “Would not even say hi there,” Boyer says. “‘You comin’ to Temple? You comin’ to Temple?'”

Boyer relented simply in time for the 2002-03 season, however on one situation. “I am going to come, however we obtained to attempt to win a nationwide championship,'” Boyer stated.

“Boyer,” Staley responded, “that is what we will do.”

It took just a few seasons — 14 to be actual — and a relocation, however now at any time when Boyer and Staley enter their places of work, as they do on this Jan. 3 morning, they cross South Carolina’s 2017 nationwide championship trophy sitting encased in a cylindrical tower of glass simply outdoors the doorway to the ladies’s basketball workplace. And simply as Staley despatched a chunk of the online to each Black girl coach in Division I, she despatched a duplicate nationwide trophy to all of her former gamers at South Carolina and Temple, alongside together with her College of Virginia teammates, at her personal expense. Each has a plaque inscribed with the phrases “Due to you.”

Shuffling papers in her workplace, Staley takes a seat behind her desk. Champ laps on the water and chows down the meals Staley put in his bowls resting in the midst of the workplace ground. The espresso desk in a single nook of the oblong room is cluttered with books. A tote with the phrases “My vp is a lady” rests on a chair. Every of Staley’s three Olympic No. 5 jerseys hangs framed on the wall — a reminder of the place she’s been and the place she desires her gamers to go. A photograph of her with former President Barack Obama sits by her printer, simply out of view for everybody however her.

She combs her hair into a decent ponytail earlier than sipping on a thin vanilla latte, a current change from a thin caramel macchiato. Her hair is jet black aside from the few hints of grey seen solely from just a few toes away. As we speak is an efficient day. The evening earlier than, South Carolina rebounded from its lone lack of the season — a shocking 70-69 defeat to unranked Missouri on Dec. 30 — with an 80-68 victory over Mississippi State. And there is excellent news out of Philly, too:

“The Eagles are within the playoffs,” Staley says.

Because the teaching workers recordsdata into her workplace for a debrief of the earlier evening’s win, Staley asks for just a few completely different shot charts. Staley is joined in her workplace by Boyer, Fred Chmiel and Jolette Legislation. Chmiel met Staley whereas he was an assistant for the Charlotte Sting in 2005, Staley’s penultimate season enjoying within the WNBA. He joined Staley’s workers at Temple from 2006 to ’08 after which rejoined her in Columbia in 2015. Legislation, a South Carolina native and former Iowa star who began her teaching profession in 1994, joined Staley’s workers in 2017 after serving as an assistant at Tennessee.

Though South Carolina wound up with a win in opposition to Mississippi State, Staley will not be coming into this assembly glad. “I would change some stuff up,” she says.

Staley has an concept, and it is a bit completely different. She’s unsure if it will work. However because the movie session goes on, it turns into clear to Staley that there’s a downside. Properly, a few issues. The primary is that Boston, a 6-foot-5 ahead, is not getting as many purposeful touches early sufficient within the sport for Staley’s liking. Boston, the favourite to win nationwide participant of the yr, took solely two photographs within the first half in opposition to Mississippi State. After which there’s additionally the issue of Boston’s defender routinely sagging off of her throughout quick breaks and clogging the lane. Staley desires to maneuver that defender out of there and make the opposing group guard Boston in every single place.

Her resolution is to place in a brand new set. Excuse me, a break, not a set in South Carolina parlance. The back-and-forth between Staley and her admittedly skeptical teaching workers underscores the technical precision in how all of them strategy teaching. When Staley says the sport has gotten extra from her than her household, that is the stuff she means. Staley is obsessive about basketball. Her thoughts is all the time going. If she did not put the TV on true crime documentaries earlier than mattress, she’d by no means go to sleep; she’d nonetheless be up fascinated about this new set. Excuse me, break. It would not matter to Staley that she’s typically highlighted for her top-notch recruiting courses and skill to attach with and encourage gamers, slightly than being praised from a basketball perspective. She is aware of her dedication to basketball and the debt she’s making an attempt to pay.

“I do not actually care,” Staley says. “For individuals to even say that’s disregarding me as a participant. And I feel it is developing extra now as a result of we’re successful on a much bigger stage. You’ll be able to’t have the identical success with out realizing the sport and X-ing and O-ing. It is flattering when you can also make the sport look as straightforward that anyone can do it. That is whenever you’ve arrived.”

Her gamers know that reality. It is why they signed as much as come to South Carolina. All that have and information lives inside Staley and it lives on the partitions of her workplace. “She is aware of precisely what we’re going by means of as a result of she’s already been by means of it,” Boston says. “And having anyone with that a lot expertise, it will probably solely profit you. She is aware of what she’s speaking about.”

Typically, Staley appears like she makes the best adjustment, however in opposition to Missouri only a few days in the past, that wasn’t the case. She thought that possibly the Gamecocks ought to check out the zone they’d been engaged on, simply to do one thing completely different. She introduced it up in a huddle together with her workers however in the end determined in opposition to it. The zone wasn’t prepared. “I didn’t regulate, as a result of I believed within the issues that we did properly — our man-to-man protection,” Staley says. “And it wasn’t working that evening, nevertheless it’s extra of a satisfaction factor too. I am similar to, ‘That is what we do — do not falter.'”

Missouri. That sport, that loss, is omnipresent within the days after. Staley approaches her teaching by means of three easy phrases: look, sound, really feel. And Missouri did not really feel good. It nonetheless would not. Dropping is one thing Staley can’t abide. “I am a sore loser,” she says. It eats her up. And the Missouri loss, the one one thus far for South Carolina this season, is staying together with her. “We appear to lose at Missouri so much over the previous couple of years.”

There’s historical past with Missouri, each on the court docket and off. There are the 4 losses in Columbia, Missouri, a 2018 on-court brawl, Staley getting ejected, a war of words, a lawsuit that resulted in a $50,000 settlement for Staley, half of which went to her attorneys and half to her Innersole basis. South Carolina and Missouri have been drama metropolis. So the truth that South Carolina has solely misplaced one sport this season and it got here in opposition to a short-handed Missouri squad within the different Columbia is directly unsurprising, and, for Staley, deeply annoying.

“I all the time thank God for the wins and losses,” Staley says. “I used to be so mad after the Missouri sport that after just a few days I am similar to, ‘Actually, I ain’t even take into consideration God.’ I did not as a result of I wished that one. As a lot as I pray and as a lot as I do know who’s the main drive in my life, for a second, I simply blacked out and I could not snap out of it as a result of it was simply all me. And if I considered my larger energy, I might have snapped out of it a bit bit faster.”

Sitting behind her desk, she talks as if she’s gotten over the Missouri loss. She hasn’t, although. Tomorrow goes to be a fireplace hose type of a day.


A GREEN STARBUCKS stirrer clenched between her tooth, Staley sits in a cushioned, black folding chair together with her legs crossed, and the scouting report for the Jan. 6 sport at LSU rests in her lap. Champ curls up on the ground subsequent to her. Workforce members are scattered in entrance of her in their very own chairs dealing with the 2 giant tv screens anchored to a wall within the movie space of South Carolina’s apply facility on the Carolina Coliseum. Earlier than diving into LSU, nonetheless, Staley and the teaching workers first need to confront the errors — and exhibit the great things too — made throughout the Mississippi State sport two nights earlier than.

As Chmiel strikes by means of the clips, Staley calls out commentary, bringing consideration to what she sees as most necessary. When junior guard Brea Beal cuts to the basket and scores due to a seal from sophomore switch Kamilla Cardoso, Staley is elated. “It is the little issues,” she says.

She praises good execution, and needles when it is missing. As Chmiel rolls the tape on the sport’s turnovers, a steady supply of frustration for the teaching workers, Staley waits for her gamers to say one thing. Something.

“How can we get higher?” she asks.

“I would like a solution,” she calls for when nobody solutions. “I am not simply asking.”

Senior guard Destiny Littleton speaks up. “Cannot simply undergo the motions.”

Staley nods her approval, and Chmiel resumes the movie. Not 5 minutes later, in the midst of a piece highlighting offensive execution from South Carolina, Staley chews sooner on the stirrer nonetheless resting in a nook of her mouth. She’s stewing. One thing would not really feel proper.

“Y’all flip the web page too quick,” she says. The group is quiet. The remark would not apply to the particular second on movie. They don’t seem to be speaking about turnovers anymore, and it is not instantly clear what Staley is speaking about. Then it turns into very clear. Staley is speaking about Missouri — the loss Staley stated she was over yesterday — and the way the Gamecocks responded instantly after that loss.

“We lose to Missouri and we’re nervous about sandwiches?!” she says. “If dropping would not take your f—in’ urge for food away, you are enjoying the improper sport and your objectives won’t be met.”

Your objectives won’t be met. That is what that is about — a championship, however greater than that. It isn’t simply in regards to the objectives every participant has for the season; it is in regards to the objectives every participant has for herself. Objectives Staley desperately desires them to attain. However she wants them to speculate now, on this season, and that is what is missing on this second.

She calls out senior ahead Victaria Saxton for the development she has made. She praises Boston for her exhausting work and dedication. And he or she tells the story of how when Henderson, Henny for brief, was a sophomore, Staley informed her she’d be coming off the bench, even when she was adequate to begin.

“What you say, Henny?” Staley asks. Henderson would not reply loudly. Staley chuckles. “She do not say a lot.”

Staley continues to the lesson of the day. “Discover out who your favourite is on this group and ask your self why,” she says. “After which begin doing these issues. Folks in right here obtained tales and testimonies. Time to faucet in.”

On this second, getting essentially the most out of all of her gamers is a problem for Staley. They don’t seem to be fairly responding the best way she desires them to, not executing on the stage she expects them to. And never everyone seems to be getting it. That is what she was speaking about throughout the movie session.

“They need you to play them with out the work, with out the self-discipline, with out the success, with out the info that backs up why you play,” Staley says. “It is bizarre. I am unable to get them to know. I am unable to get that a part of it. I could make them come to [my office]; I do not need to, although. I would like it to be them, to allow them to know in a while in life, whether or not they’re enjoying professionally or in a unique occupation, that whenever you take the initiative, you are displaying anyone you need extra.”

Demanding the hassle, the dedication and the self-discipline is the hallmark of Staley’s teaching fashion. “She would not chill out, she desires the perfect for us,” Henderson says. “So something she feels, she’s going to get off her chest. I really feel like these challenges assist mould us, and assist mentally and bodily make us stronger.”

The expectations, nonetheless, are additionally clear. Staley supplies a blueprint. She tells you the place she desires you to go, and what she desires you to do. “Coach Staley’s quite simple,” Boston says. “Do what she says. If she says set a display and roll, I am setting a display and roll. I do not even care who’s in my method. I am getting down there.”

Easy. Boston reiterates that phrase just a few instances, and it is one in every of Staley’s favorites. It calls again to a second in apply, the place South Carolina was operating by means of a set — an precise set, not a break — however the guards saved throwing up photographs when Staley wished them to cross into the excessive put up.

“On this play,” she stated. “I need a put up contact. It is easy.”

After they executed it correctly, she allow them to know she was blissful. Easy.

“These younger individuals, that is how they function now. However when you add a bit old-fashioned to it, it really works out,” Staley smirks, a barely perceptible twinkle in her eye. “A little bit old-fashioned would not damage anyone.”


HOURS BEFORE STALEY and the Gamecocks depart for his or her sport at LSU — a sport during which they might squeak out a six-point win after trailing all through the primary half — freshman Sania Feagin walks into the movie space for a ultimate session to organize for Kim Mulkey’s Tigers. As Feagin begins to settle in, Staley calls out.

“Ankle works right now!” Staley says, chuckling at her personal joke. “Thought we might need to get you a wheelchair yesterday.”

Feagin rolled the ankle in the day before today’s apply. The entire apply stopped and she or he was supported as she limped off the court docket. Staley led the group in a refrain of “Stroll It Out,” as Feagin was in a position to stroll.

Feagin appears to be like over to Littleton for assist. “It was fairly dramatic,” Littleton says.

There’s extra drama when the gamers transfer to the court docket for drills. Staley tries to pry increasingly more out of them. Extra effort. Extra focus. A second nationwide championship, Staley is aware of, will not come working towards like this. She wants extra. Extra from everybody.

Throughout a timed three-player weave drill, every group of three should make 5 layups throughout the time allotted. In the event that they miss a layup, they’ve to begin over from zero. The final group — Bree Hall, Eniya Russell and Cooke — struggles. They need to restart as soon as.

“You have obtained loads of time,” Staley says. The identical group has to restart once more. “Now you do not.”

As time runs out, the group pulls up, exhausted from operating up and down the ground. Staley walks over and provides Cooke directions for operating within the center. She must get out forward as a substitute of trailing behind. The pep speak each supplies assist and provides the group some respite. They end the drill in 5 consecutive journeys. No restart required.

Staley scoots onto the scorer’s desk on the sideline, Starbucks stirrer hanging out of a nook of her mouth. Champ runs by her toes. She nods as apply continues. “I am good,” she says.

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