South Carolina, Dawn Staley looking to learn from setback
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) Coming up short of the Final Four was a setback Dawn Staley did not expect for her South Carolina program. She hopes it was a lasting lesson for the Gamecocks.
''It's obvious we had expectations of going further,'' Staley said of her team's stunning Sweet 16 loss to national runner-up Syracuse last month. ''I think at points throughout our journey, we've always had to take a step back.
''We don't want to,'' she added, ''but you take a step back to move yourself forward.''
Staley and the Gamecocks are not the first to cope with disappointment, but the coach is focused on making South Carolina the next to come out the other side as champions.
Quarterback Payton Manning, with both Indianapolis and Denver, struggled to reach the Super Bowl before winning it all with the Colts and Broncos, respectively.
Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls were waylaid by the Detroit Pistons in the NBA playoffs before starting their run to six league championships.
Notre Dame had reached the women's Final Four in 1997, then struggled on its way back until winning it all four years later.
''You've got to get everyone in your program to buy into being a champion all the time,'' said ESPN analyst Carolyn Peck, who won a national title with Purdue in 1999.
Peck's team made it to the NCAA Tournament's Elite Eight in 1998, falling to Louisiana Tech one step away from the semifinals.
After a couple of week of brooding about the loss, Peck infused everyone from secretaries to student managers to trainers with title aspirations.
''You have to make sure they all understand and feel part of it,'' she said.
The result was Purdue's 34-1 season that ended by cutting down the nets at the Final Four.
Staley didn't spend much time brooding. In addition to restocking her already talented roster, she is also enhancing her coaching skills. She's already attended WNBA training camps at Minnesota and Atlanta, not just renewing friendships but picking up coaching tidbits and techniques that can help the Gamecocks.
Staley gets a huge dose of that this summer as an Olympic assistant to head coach Geno Auriemma with the women's U.S. team, that was announced Wednesday.
''Each time around him, she picks up a little bit more of what she'll need to win when they play again,'' said women's basketball analyst Debbie Antonelli.
Staley will also need improvements from her two top returning players in 6-foot-5 A'ja Wilson, who was on the brink of national breakout season, and 6-4 Alaina Coates.
Wilson needs to rediscover the mid-range game. Coates led the Southeastern Conference in field goal percentage last season at 63.4 percent, but missed plenty of short shots near the basket.
It's all a process to a championship, a path that does not always take a direct, straight route to the top.
''How we move forward will be on us as a coaching staff and us as players to commit ourselves,'' Staley said. ''And when we get to that point again, to not be denied.''