COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - USC women's basketball coach Dawn Staley is no stranger to the Summer Olympics.
The Hall of Famer has brought home three gold medals as a player and one as a coach with Team USA. And even though she's familiar with what to expect during the Summer Games, simply being a part of it is always a thrill to her.
"It doesn't get old," Staley said. "It gets better because the competition gets stiffer. There are different coaching staffs that you can learn from. The players are different. The era is different. So I'm just excited that I get the opportunity to see it first hand."
Many athletes in other sports, however, do not share that same excitement to make the trip to Rio because of the Zika virus. While Staley admits that the virus is "of concern," she also believes it's not going to stop her or any of the players on the USA roster from going for the gold.
"As far as I know, the 12 that the Olympic committee selected, they're all a go," Staley said. "We'll knock on wood that they're not injured in any way. I think we've got a good basketball team that we're going to Rio to collect gold."
Staley joins UConn head coach Geno Auriemma, DePaul head coach Doug Bruno, and Minnesota Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve in coaching this year's team. Even though each of these coaches have left their own impressions on women's basketball, Staley said the late Pat Summitt, who won an Olympic gold medal in 1984 as a head coach, left an indelible mark on the game during her career.
"Women's basketball would not be the same without what Pat Summitt did at Tennessee," Staley said. "The platform that she used to create just eye-opening experiences, I don't think people saw women play and be as successful as they were at Tennessee. We wouldn't have gotten the opportunity. I wouldn't have gotten the opportunity to play collegiate basketball in that way. I look at the A'ja Wilsons and the Biancas (Cuevas) and the Kaela Davises. They would not have this platform had it not been for the success that Pat had [in women's basketball]."
One could easily argue that what Summitt did for the game paved the way for coaches like Staley and others across the country. And Staley has made the most of that opportunity as a player and as a coach both at the college and Olympic levels. Now, it's her hope that she can help her players go for gold at some point in their careers as well.
"I look at it as an opportunity just being part of the Olympics," Staley said. "Yes, it is something that takes you away from your priorities. But if you look at it as an opportunity to enhance you professionally, that's what I look at.
"On our roster, we have players that are going to play in Olympic Games. They're going to participate in the WNBA. I, myself, have to prepare me first and then them so they will have an opportunity to sustain it because they will go. I believe A'ja Wilson, Kaela Davis, Allisha Gray, Bianca, Alaina Coates, they're all going to really get an opportunity to play at the next level. Can they get to that other level of Olympic basketball? If I'm not prepared to share with them what I'm going to get from this experience, then it decreases their chances no matter how good they are because it's all about preparation."