Basketball legend Sheryl Swoopes joined Dawn Staley on the latest episode of NETLIFE, and the former teammates were eager to reminisce.
Twenty-six years after winning a gold medal with Team USA at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, Staley and Swoopes shared memories of the games and the training camp leading up to it, which they said was particularly grueling under head coach Tara VanDerveer.
“I probably wanted to quit every week,” Swoopes tells Staley.
Swoopes recounts a time she tried to skirt around one of VanDerveer’s workouts assigned to the team during the summer break. Players were instructed to send in a record of their mile times, which Swoopes decided to fib.
“There were times where I just was like, ‘You know what, I don’t want to do this workout today.’ In my mind, I was much younger, so I’m good. I’m just going to make something up and stick it in the mail,” Swoopes says.
“I should’ve known better because it was Tara.”
When Swoopes and the rest of the team showed up for camp in Colorado Springs, VanDerveer called her out. The mile time Swoopes had submitted was fast enough to rival mots elite track runners.
“Sheryl, I think you’re in the wrong sport,” Swoopes recalls VanDerveer saying.
VanDerveer went on to time the players at a Colorado Springs track throughout training camp, in all conditions.
“She was mentally testing us,” says Staley, now the head coach of the No. 1 South Carolina women’s basketball team. “I would not test our team mentally like that because we would not have a team if I did it that way.”
“The mental toughness that players have today is nowhere compared to what we had to have back in the day when we played,” adds Swoopes. “A coach like Tara, if she coached today the way she coached our team back then, she’d break everybody.
“If I wouldn’t have had y’all, I know I would’ve quit because Tara broke me so many times.”
The challenges of their Olympic preparation, while demanding, brought the team closer together.
“I have a special place in my heart for that squad because we held each other down, and we had each others’ back,” Swoopes says.
Staley, from where she sits now, says she sees how VanDerveer’s coaching style bonded the players.
“Looking back on it, Tara sacrificed herself,” she says. “She made us closer by being the sacrificial lamb. Like, we didn’t like her, and she forced us to like each other because of what she was doing to all of us.”
Listen to NETLIFE for more on Swoopes and Staley’s Olympic journey.