After Carolyn Peck became the first Black woman to coach a basketball team to the women's national championship, she passed along a piece of the moment to South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley.
Staley went on to become the second Black woman to take a team to the title. And now she's passing the net to Arizona's Adia Barnes.
Start of a net passing tradition
C. Vivian Stringer was the first Black woman to take a team to the women's Final Four, but her 1982 Cheyney and 1993 Iowa teams didn't win the national title. Peck became the first to cut down the national championship net with Purdue's win over Duke in 1999.
In 2015, Peck handed a part of that net to Staley. The Gamecocks won their first SEC tournament championship in the 2014-15 season and reached the Final Four for the first time in program history.
Staley said in a first-person piece for The Undefeated that she carried the piece of net in her wallet until she cut down her own piece. South Carolina won its first national title, and Staley's first as a coach, in 2017.
Staley will pass torch to Barnes
Now, she said she'll do the same for Barnes after the Wildcats made their first program appearance in the Final Four last week. Staley wrote for The Undefeated:
I get to coach with Adia for the upcoming FIBA AmeriCup. I told her when she gets to South Carolina that I’m giving her a piece of my net. She deserves it.
I had the 2017 net in the rearview mirror of the car that I drive. I kept it there as a constant reminder. But I may just have to cut that up and spread it out amongst all of the Black head coaches in the country, so we all have something tangible to hold on to. And we’ve even got a couple more that got some jobs out here. It could act as a welcoming of our line. So, yeah, that’s what I’ll do.
The FIBA AmeriCup will be held June 20. Staley is the national team coach and will be with the team at the Tokyo Olympics this summer. She and Barnes made history this month coaching in the women's Final Four as it was the first time in NCAA history that two Black female coaches reached the final weekend. The women's tournament dates back to 1982.
She said Barnes texted her before the national championship and said she was nervous. After the game, a 54-53 loss to Stanford, Staley texted her to say she was proud of Barnes and it "won't be her last time experiencing this and that she represents us well."
Staley on Final Four loss
Staley opened her piece by saying "it wasn't meant to be" for South Carolina this year. The Gamecocks lost to No. 1 overall seed Stanford in the Final Four and it came down to a heartbreaking final few seconds for star center Aliyah Boston. Her put-back was too deep at the buzzer after South Carolina came up with a turnover.
After the game, I texted Aliyah Boston. I told her, ‘Don’t let these moments define who you are. As much as you want to feel bad right now, Aliyah, they don’t define who you are. It’s time to turn the page and make this a distant memory with all the other things that you’re going to accomplish.’ I told her I love her.
Players are going to be players, and players are going to hold onto things. That’s the very thing that’s going to motivate them. I know, before all is said and done, she’ll have a lot more instances where she’s cutting down nets and crying tears of joy than the opposite.
Stanford's Haley Jones, named Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four, had the game winning shot with a jumper after the ball ended up in her hands during some frantic rebounding attempts.
She just had the sense to shoot it. It was an unexpected shot. I look back on it, sometimes it’s just not in the cards. This season, it wasn’t meant to be.
Staley will now shift her attention to the national team and Tokyo Olympics. Team USA is going for its seventh consecutive gold medal, and Staley has been a part of six of them either as a player or coach. She said she's more scared of COVID-19 than of playing the game, but is excited and hopes to have some first-timers — including alumna A'ja Wilson — on the squad.
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