Ready to rebound

  • Follow USC

COLUMBIA --- South Carolina's Dawn Staley sits at her desk surrounded by success, the three-time Olympian's framed USA jersey on the wall among other mementos of a life excelling in basketball. On the court, though, the Gamecocks' first-year coach struggles through one of the most difficult seasons of her career.

South Carolina coach Dawn Staley, giving directions to Lakeisha Sutton during a recent game, has struggled in her first season coaching the Lady Gamecocks after a successful run at Temple.  Associated Press
Associated Press
South Carolina coach Dawn Staley, giving directions to Lakeisha Sutton during a recent game, has struggled in her first season coaching the Lady Gamecocks after a successful run at Temple.

With six games left, the injury plagued Gamecocks (9-12) are 1-7 in the Southeastern Conference and vying for their worst league mark in five seasons. It's not the debut Staley envisioned when she left Temple and her Philadelphia hometown last spring to rebuild South Carolina.

"I don't like losing," Staley said Friday. "It's not something I can get used to. It's not something someone can make me like."

Still, it's something Staley's seen more of this winter than most other times in her ultra-successful career.

Everything Staley has touched since high school has turned gold -- from her three Olympic triumphs as a U.S. point guard, to her all-star pro career to her restoration of Temple's program the previous eight years.

Staley took the South Carolina job to great fanfare and a $650,000-a-year contract. She said her timetable for a turnaround would be faster than some figured.

"I'm patient, but I'm not that patient," she said at her May introduction.

Staley's patience has been tested.

Leading scorer Jordan Jones transferred to Florida. One of the Gamecocks' top recruits, Becky Burke of Clarks Summitt, Pa., also asked to leave.

Last month, South Carolina lost its two most experienced leaders to knee injuries in seniors Demetress Adams and Brionna Dickerson.

"It's just been a struggle as far as having to coach effort," she said.

South Carolina, picked 10th in the 12 team SEC when the season began, can't match up talent-wise with several league opponents, Staley said, so you make up for that with how hard you play.

"I don't think our team -- they don't quite get that part of it," Staley said.

Without Adams and Dickerson, Staley has had to call on younger players who don't always rise to the moment -- something Staley specialized in.

"She's fitting in very well and it won't take her long at all," said Virginia's Debbie Ryan, Staley's college coach. "I'm not concerned about Dawn at all. She can't control injuries. She's just going to get her team prepared and she'll win her share, there's no question."

Staley hasn't lost hope. She's been hard at work recruiting and her program has been well received by prospects, Staley says.

Plus, some of the Gamecock returnees will have to decide, Staley says, how important winning basketball is to them.

"You have to love basketball to be around our staff and if you don't, you're going to have a hard time," she said. "It's that simple."

Staley hasn't given up on this year's team. She wants the Gamecocks, 11th in the league right now, to push past their preseason projection and perhaps surprise a team or two in the SEC Tournament.

"Bottom line, you need players. You can't do it without players, and if you don't have the talent, you need players who'll be able to work hard, listen, retain and apply," she said. "That's a work in progress."


Top headlines

Turkeys taste own medicine

I got up and out of my sickbed so I could write this column because it’s time for the annual Turkey of the Year awards, the highlight of the holiday season.
Search Augusta jobs