Dawn Staley has built a pipeline to the WNBA at South Carolina, and that has been on full display during the 2023 WNBA season.
From rookies Aliyah Boston and Zia Cooke to MVP candidate A’ja Wilson, nine former Gamecocks currently grace WNBA rosters, The Athletic reported. That is the third-highest total in the league behind Notre Dame (10) and UConn (16).
“To see all of us achieving our goals and being able to play against each other, it’s special,” Cooke told The Athletic. The 22-year-old guard played in 39 games for the Los Angeles Sparks in her first professional season.
Players say that Staley’s coaching style helps to prepare them for the WNBA from the moment they step on campus as freshmen. She instills “pro habits,” including mental toughness and work ethic, to help her players flourish at the next level.
The formula has worked. On top of having nine players on rosters, three of the last seven Rookie of the Year winners will have come from South Carolina – Allisha Gray, Wilson and, soon, Boston. A shoo-in for the 2023 award, Boston averaged 14.5 points and 8.4 rebounds per game for the Indiana Fever.
“That South Carolina program really grooms these guys to compete,” Sparks coach Curt Miller said.
And former Gamecocks returning to campus and helping out the program helps too.
“When they come back, I try to get them to practice with us,” Staley said. “I try to get them to impart knowledge on how to play at the next level, the type of habits they’ve created to have staying power and to have dominating power once they’re in the league.”
Wilson sees the wisdom Staley has imparted on her as a “huge key” to her success with the reigning champion Las Vegas Aces. That includes twice being named WNBA MVP – with a potential third accolade coming. And she’s been happy seeing her fellow South Carolina alums find success in the WNBA as well.
“To see it all unfold and to see us all here being successful across the league, it’s truly something special,” Wilson said. “I’m always proud to say, I’m a product of Dawn Staley, and that’s the stamp. That’s a big stamp for me and I love it, and you can see it carries out throughout my college teammates. And it’s just a type of vibe that we give, the culture that we built there. It’s no surprise that we’re being very successful in this league.”