Dawn Staley is ready to coach the game’s best, just not yet.
Staley, the U.S. national women’s coach and head coach at South Carolina, will leave Monday for Miami for a quick mini-cap before the Americans head to Puerto Rico for the FIBA AmeriCup. It’s a 10-team, weeklong event among countries in Central, North and South America that starts Sept. 22.
Given the continuing WNBA playoffs, Staley’s certain most of the expected Olympians she’ll guide in Tokyo next summer like Elena Della Donne of the Washington Mystics and A’ja Wilson of the Las Vegas Aces will be tied up with their pro teams and unavailable to play in Puerto Rico. Still, she’s got commitments from at least eight gold medal winners from 2016 for the 2020 games.
“They’re used to working with each other and coming together for a common goal,” said Staley, a three-time gold medalist as a player making her Olympic debut as head coach. “The USA Basketball culture is a coach’s dream because they just want to win. And when you have that element, you’re not dealing with anything besides winning and preparation to win.”
Staley followed the men’s national team at the ongoing FIBA World Cup in China, both as a basketball fan and a cautionary tale of what can happen when players are not as familiar with each other as the women’s teams have been much of the past 25 years .
“We make it look like it’s easy” competing against the rest of the world, Staley said. “But we (coaches) stay up at night figuring out how we’re going to play.”
Having the best players available helps.
Even then, Staley said while scoring is never an issue but defense is where the U.S. women will need to come together if they hope for a seventh consecutive Olympic title.
“It’s hard to get them out of their habits and get them into one habit with not a lot of playing time,” Staley said.
That’s part of why USA Basketball announced an expanded training program , including $2,000 a day for participating in camps and tournaments, with players like Della Donne, Wilson, Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi committed to extra team training sessions between November and April. WNBA All-Star Skylar Diggins-Smith, who missed the league season because she became a first-time mom, is joining Staley in Miami. While Diggins-Smith won’t scrimmage or go to Puerto Rico, she’ll learn Staley’s system point guard to point guard.
Staley is not worried about falling short, as the U.S. men did in losing in the World Cup quarterfinals.
The American women appear as stacked as ever heading into the next year.
“What I will do is get on my knees and pray that they’re healthy” for the Olympics, Staley said. “They’ve already committed and they need to be out on the floor playing to ensure that we’re able to compete and win another gold medal.”
Staley is heading out Monday after finishing up with her day job as Gamecocks coach . She worked out the team Friday and has a weekend of recruiting ahead — South Carolina football hosts No. 2 Alabama in a sold-out game — before turning her attention to the U.S. team.
“You have to take one day at a time or it will overwhelm you,” said Staley, smiling. “I’m good at compartmentalizing my life.”
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