South Carolina women’s basketball head coach Dawn Staley said her experience as head coach for the U.S. women's basketball team in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics was the most stressful, but most rewarding, Olympics she's been part of.
"It's the greatest as a coach — and I've done it two times as an assistant coach and this time as the head coach — because of just, the relief I feel from being able to accomplish it," Staley said during a press conference on Aug. 17.
Staley has been part of six gold medal winning teams, including three as a player in 1996, 2000 and 2004, and two as an assistant head coach in 2008 and 2016. This is her first gold medal win as a head coach.
Staley also discussed the difference between coaching South Carolina and being an Olympic coach. She said coaching the U.S. team takes a lot of balance to keep the players confident while keeping them diligent.
"It's a delicate balance in coaching an Olympic team. I don't think any coach can coach an Olympic team; I don't," Staley said. "That balance has to be struck in a way that the players know that you know what you're doing."
Staley compared her experiences of winning a National Championship at South Carolina and a U.S. gold medal as head coach.
“I mean the pressure is still the same, but letting down a fanbase is a little bit less hard than letting down your entire country," Staley said. "But the gratification and the relief is all the same when you’re able to accomplish it.”
The players helped relieve a lot of the pressure Staley felt during the Olympics by elevating themselves to the challenge when they needed to, she said.
“The point that I knew that we were going to win [gold] was the game against Australia, like, quarterfinals,” Staley said. “That is when everything went to another level.”
Staley said having former South Carolina women's basketball player A'ja Wilson on the team, and seeing her win a gold medal, had a strong effect on her.
“I mean, super proud, but not surprised,” Staley said. “A’ja Wilson told me throughout the Olympic Games that she wasn’t going to let me, in particular, lose.”
Wilson was a part of the 2017 National Championship women's basketball team for the Gamecocks and was drafted first overall by the Las Vegas Aces in the 2018 WNBA draft. She is also the current 2020 WNBA MVP.
Staley said Wilson's aura gave her comfort in regards to the end results of the games.
Since coming back to Columbia on Monday, Staley said she was right back at the gym with the Gamecocks running practices. She said she feels like that's where she belongs.
“It was just beautiful to be back in the gym in this way,” Staley said. “They've helped me rejuvenate and get to a place where I’m happy — it’s my happy place.”