South Carolina women's basketball coach Dawn Staley has created quite the culture.
In a recent article from The Athletic, staff writer Sabreena Merchant wondered what is it about the University of South Carolina women's basketball team (who won the 2022 NCAA Women's Basketball Championship) that makes their alumni so successful in the WNBA — proven by the Gamecocks having nine former players currently on WNBA rosters, which is third most after Notre Dame (10) and UConn (16).
One answer is a group chat.
However, this isn't just any group chat. It's exclusive to former Gamecocks who are currently in the WNBA, along with their former coach, Dawn Staley. It's also a group chat with one main focus: to talk trash.
This is shown by an anecdote from earlier this season included in The Athletic article, where Las Vegas Aces' A'ja Wilson (the WNBA's 2022 MVP and Gamecock alumni who went first overall in the 2018 WNBA Draft) was trailing Los Angeles Sparks' rookie Zia Cooke (Gamecock alumni, 10th pick in the 2023 WNBA Draft) down the court as Cooke headed to the basket. Unfortunately for the rookie, Wilson viciously swatted her layup attempt out of bounds.
SC on SC ??@_ajawilson22 gets the best of this one with the big time block ?
— WNBA (@WNBA) May 28, 2023
After the game, both Wilson and Cooke took to the group chat to discuss the block. While Wilson claimed that the rejection was a clean one, Cooke asserted that it should have been a foul — and asked for backup from Staley. Staley decided against picking sides, and instead let her two former players hash it out.
While this group chat exchange might seem trivial on the surface, it actually speaks to the broader culture Staley has created at South Carolina — one that emphasizes mental toughness. Since a group chat between friends and teammates can quickly turn into a roast session, thick skin must be developed in order to maximize camaraderie; a crucial facet to any college team's culture. This is the same thick skin that Dawn Staley tries to produce with every one of her South Carolina squads, since she considers mental toughness a must in order to achieve success at basketball's top levels.
In that way, this WNBA South Carolina alumni group chat is a natural byproduct Staley's coaching style. It also explains why she prefers her former players to hash on-court matters out between themselves instead of asking Staley to pick sides.
If the Las Vegas Aces match up with the Connecticut Sun in the ongoing 2023 WNBA playoffs, A'ja Wilson will square off against Tyasha Harris, another former Gamecock; which is guaranteed to get the group chat popping. Stay tuned.
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