Staley switches from US team to college mode with Gamecocks

(AP Photo/Andres Gutierrez, FIle)

By PETE IACOBELLI

AP Sports Writer

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) South Carolina coach Dawn Staley began fall practice Thursday, hoping her experience leading some of the world's best players to a FIBA World Cup crown can help mold the young Gamecocks into a championship group.

Staley was leading practice on campus, just four days after guiding the U.S. national women's basketball team to its third consecutive World Cup title in the Canary Islands in Spain.

Staley knows she won't have U.S. stars Sue Bird, Breanna Stewart or even former Gamecocks national player of the year A'ja Wilson at South Carolina, but believes some of the lessons learned can impact her college season.

"I think for me, it's putting me in a basketball mode a lot sooner," Staley said of her time with the U.S. squad. "Just playing at that level and seeing how they operate, some of that stuff will translate."

The Gamecocks will need every bit of what Staley learned overseas this upcoming season. It's their first without Wilson, the 6-foot-5 All-American who helped South Carolina win four consecutive Southeastern Conference tournament crowns and the 2017 NCAA national championship.

Staley said many times with the World Cup team, she went to "position-less basketball," more concerned with taking advantage of mismatches than going with the traditional two guards, two forwards and center lineup.

South Carolina will be guard heavy with 10 of its 13 players 6-1 or shorter. So expect Staley using many of them in the lineup at the same time this winter.

"We're working toward position-less basketball where we work in concepts, pro concepts," Staley said.

Staley, named the national team coach in March 2017, let the savvy, leadership and experience of longtime members like Bird and Diana Taurasi take charge on and off the floor during the tournament. Staley does not have that luxury with the Gamecocks and had to snap back in college coaching mode when she took the floor.

Staley said her players are proud of her role as America's women's basketball coach and used it as motivation to work harder and to make her transition easier.

"They're energized," Staley said. "They're probably playing above where I thought they would play, so it's a good thing."

Starting point guard Tyasha Harris said the Gamecocks' approach will change this season to a more up-tempo offense than it has been in the past when Wilson and Alaina Coates ruled the post.

"It's going to be different, but it's going to be a good different," said Harris, a junior who was among several college players picked for the U.S. team training camp in early September with so many members in the WNBA playoffs.

Staley was excited and relieved when the Americans finished a 6-0 mark at the World Cup with a 73-56 victory over Australia in the championship game last Sunday.

Staley's earned her share of Olympic and international gold medals as a player and assistant coach for the United States. But she said this was different.

"It's a lot of pressure, moving over those 12 inches (from assistant to head coach) is a lot of pressure," Staley said. "But when the core of your group from the Olympic Games in Rio come together, you feel real good about it."

Updated October 4, 2018