Skip to main content

Charleston Business

Women Basketball Coaches Score High in Terms of Success and as Role Models

Mar 07, 2023 04:05PM ● By David Dykes

March means Madness, and a great time to be a college basketball fan.

But the NCAA says fewer than 2 percent of NCAA student-athletes go on to be professional athletes. In reality, the organization says, most student-athletes depend on academics to prepare them for life after college. 

Watch and listen to Dawn Staley at South Carolina, Jackie Carson at Furman, and Muffet McGraw, Notre Dame’s former women’s basketball coach, and you will admire their success. More importantly, however, you should understand their work with young people. It’s essential – helping them understand life, its challenges and adversities, and how to rebound from failure.

In that, all three have succeeded.  

Staley and McGraw have been in Greenville to support Carson’s annual “Hoops & Heels” basketball fundraising and women’s empowerment event.

Catapulting South Carolina into the national spotlight, Staley has made the Gamecocks a mainstay in the battle for Southeastern Conference and national championships. Under her leadership, the Gamecocks have reached many firsts – National Championships, NCAA Final Fours, No. 1 rankings, SEC regular-season and tournament titles, SEC Players of the Year, National Players of the Year, WNBA No. 1 Draft pick and No. 1 recruiting classes – to name the most notable.

Also a force in USA Basketball, Staley was named the U.S. Women’s National Team head coach for 2017-‘21, leading the U.S. to 2018 FIBA World Cup gold to earn USAB National Coach of the Year honors that year, adding gold medals at the 2019 and 2021 FIBA AmeriCups and stretching the U.S. Olympic gold medal streak to seven straight at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, for which she again earned Coach of the Year honors. 

Staley has been named National Coach of the Year three times (2014, 2020, 2022) with her 2020 unanimous selection making her the first former Naismith Player of the Year to earn the Naismith Coach of the Year award. She is a five-time SEC Coach of the Year and was the 2012 Black Coaches and Administrators Female Coach of the Year. She is the program’s all-time winningest coach with a program-record 11 postseason appearances (and another this year), and is the only Black head coach in men’s or women’s basketball to win multiple national championships.

In addition to coaching two National Players of the Year and a National Freshman of the Year, Staley has helped eight Gamecocks collect 19 All-America selections, three to pick up six SEC Player of the Year honors, three to earn SEC Defensive Player of the Year recognition a total of six times, one to SEC 6th Player of the Year honors, and six to capture SEC Freshman of the Year. 

Prior to taking the helm of the Gamecocks on May 10, 2008, Staley made her coaching debut at Temple, helping the Owls reach the postseason seven times in her eight seasons, including six NCAA Tournament appearances. 

“A lot of people think that X’s and O’s are the biggest part of coaching, but it’s actually very little,” Staley says. “It’s about relationships and discipline. I truly believe that the disciplined person can do anything, so I try to set up a platform on which student-athletes can be disciplined. With that, I want to build a family atmosphere that includes both the staff and the student-athletes. Once those things are in place, the basketball part becomes very easy because everyone wants to win for each other. We want to work for one another; we want to prepare people to be successful.”

As a player, Staley’s success came early in her career, beginning with being named USA Today’s National High School Player of the year in 1988 as a senior at Dobbins Tech. She went on to a four-year career at the University of Virginia that featured three trips to the NCAA Final Four, including a championship game appearance in 1991 after which she was named Most Outstanding Player. 

In April 2008, she was inducted into the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame.

A member of the WNBA’s All-Decade Team, as selected by a panel of national and WNBA-market media as well as the league’s players and coaches, Staley twice earned the Kim Perrot Sportsmanship Award (1999, 2006) and won the WNBA Entrepreneurial Spirit Award in 1999. 

Following her retirement from the league, the WNBA began awarding the Dawn Staley Community Leadership Award in 2007, honoring the player who best exemplifies the characteristics of a leader in the community in which she works or lives.

Since her arrival at South Carolina, she has continually invested time with various projects in Columbia, but found that she craved one hallmark initiative that could provide sustained assistance and create lasting change in one of her favorite constituencies – children.

In July 2013, Staley found that in the creation of INNERSOLE, which aims to provide new sneakers to children who are homeless and children who are in need. Remembering the feeling of confidence and pride she felt as a child whenever she wore new sneakers, Staley initially launched the organization via social media, and her broad network of friends, fans and colleagues immediately leapt into action. Shoes poured in from all around the country, and a movement was born.

In 2013, then-South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley tabbed Staley to receive the Order of the Palmetto, the highest civilian honor from the governor bestowed on those who have displayed significant achievement and service to the state. 

Staley was honored by the University of Virginia Women’s Center in 2006 with the Center’s Distinguished Alumna Award, which honors a female graduate of the university who has demonstrated excellence, leadership, and extraordinary commitment to her field and who has used her talents as a positive force for change. 

Meanwhile, Furman Hall of Famer Carson last year completed her 12th year — and winningest campaign — as head coach of the Paladin women’s basketball.

Representing the program for which she once starred as a player, Carson directed Furman to a 20-win season in 2021-‘22, one that saw the Paladins ride a strong second half of the schedule to a Southern Conference Tournament runner-up finish and fifth post-season berth under her guidance. A 69-61 win over Northeastern in the Women’s Basketball Invitational (WBI) secured Furman’s first 20-win season in the Carson era and third such campaign in program history.

Over the past decade-plus, Carson has provided stability and success to a Furman program that had suffered through five consecutive losing seasons prior to her return to the fold in 2010.

As her official university bio notes, that Carson could quickly transform Furman’s basketball fortunes may have surprised many, but not those who know her and appreciate her talent and commitment to recruiting, on-the-floor coaching, preparation, intensity, execution, and passion for the game. It is those same qualities, underscored by a deep and abiding dedication to her players and to their athletic and intellectual development, that spells success for Paladin women’s basketball, and propels its players forward long after they leave the court.

In all at Furman, Carson has produced 19 All-SoCon performers, 12 All-Tournament players, three Freshmen of the Year, and 12 SoCon All-Freshman Team selections, and a player of the year.

In addition to her teams’ on-court performance, Carson has taken an active leadership role in a number of areas, serving on the NCAA Women’s Basketball Oversight Committee and WBCA Board of Directors. In addition, she serves on the Southern Conference Racial Equity Task Force and is president of the Women of Color Coaching Network.

A Woodbridge, Virginia, native, and 2000 Furman graduate who served as an assistant coach at James Madison for five seasons (2006-‘10), including the final two as associate head coach and last four as recruiting coordinator, Carson was named Furman’s ninth head coach in April of 2010.

In 2007, her second season on staff, James Madison posted a 27-6 slate and advanced to the NCAA Tournament after a regular season that featured wins over Clemson and Wake Forest.

That same year she was among a select number of coaches chosen to participate in the Black Coaches Association’s “Achieving Coaching Excellence” program. The program, for ethnic minority male and female basketball coaches, is a collaborative effort of the BCA, the NCAA Office of Diversity and Inclusion, the NCAA Minority Opportunities and Interests Committee, and the NCAA Committee on Women’s Athletics.

It was during her time at James Madison that Carson gained notoriety on the national level with a “Rising Star” Award, presented to five associate or assistant coaches by and ONS Performance in recognition of recruiting, player development, team development/scouting, leadership, and administration.

One of the finest players in Furman women’s basketball history, Carson led the Paladins in scoring and rebounding and earned First Team All-SoCon honors and team MVP accolades as a sophomore, junior, and senior. The standout forward was named SoCon Player of the Year in 1998 and 1999, and served as team captain her final two seasons. She also garnered three SoCon Academic Honor Roll tabs.

As a freshman, she helped Furman to a SoCon regular season championship and as a senior keyed the Paladins to a 20-11 season, SoCon Tournament championship, and the program’s second NCAA Tournament appearance.

Many of her statistics rank among the finest ever posted by a Paladin, including points (1,920/2nd), points per game (16.8/4th), rebounds (1,057/3rd), rebounds per game (9.3/7th) and blocks (99/4th). She scored a school record 37 points against Middle Tennessee State her junior year.

Honored as Furman’s 1999 Edna Hartness Female Athlete of the Year, she was inducted into the University’s Athletic Hall of Fame in 2005 in her first year of eligibility and in November of 2009 became only the third player in program history to have her jersey (No. 22) retired.

Following graduation in 2000 with a degree in health and exercise science, she played for professional teams in Belgium and Israel for two years before entering the coaching ranks.

“My why of coaching is to inspire other people, my players. If another little girl that looks like me, or doesn’t even look like me, wants to be a coach, then that’s my goal,” Carson said.

McGraw, in 33 seasons at Notre Dame, was 848-252 (.771). McGraw announced on April 22, 2020,  that she was stepping down as the head coach of Notre Dame.

As her Notre Dame bio notes, ask anyone familiar with women’s basketball about Muffet McGraw and her Notre Dame program and inevitably, you’ll hear the same two words — consistency and excellence. 

She was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in September of 2017. Also inducted into the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame (2014) and the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame (2011).

She won two national championships. The first came in 2001, when the Irish defeated Purdue, 68-66. The second came exactly 17 years later to the date (both on Easter Sundays), when the Irish emerged with the 61-58 victory on Arike Ogunbowale’s buzzer beater over Mississippi State.

She earned a perfect 100-percent NCAA Graduation Success Rate (GSR) score from 2004-2014. In that time, Notre Dame was one of four programs in the country to record a perfect GSR and go on to play for the national title later that same season (something the Fighting Irish did in 2010-11, 2011-12, 2013-14).

In Greenville in late 2021 to speak at Furman’s inaugural “Hoops & Heels” event, McGraw said in an interview, “We need more women leaders. We need to hire more women. We need more women role models. We need more women to start at a younger age so that when kids look up and they see coaches of their 5- and 6-year-old soccer team, it’s somebody’s mom. It’s always somebody’s dad right now.”

We should take note from these women – and thank them.