Dawn Staley’s secret to success lies within the connection to her players.

The South Carolina Gamecocks Head Coach was overcome with emotions fresh off the team’s NCAA national women’s basketball championship win against the University of Iowa Hawkeyes on Sunday, April 7, 2024. This marks Staley’s third women’s national championship, according to CBS News.

Reflecting on the University of South Carolina team’s latest victory, Staley expressed during an ESPN interview, “I’m so incredibly happy for our players. It doesn’t always end like you want it to end, much like last year. But my freshies are at the top of my heart because they wanted this, and I hope we can erase whatever pain they had last year not being able to finish it here. So I’m just super proud of where I work. I’m super proud of our fans. It’s awesome.”

The Gamecocks went undefeated for the 2023-24 season with a 38-0 record, becoming the 10th women’s team to ever do so, the outlet notes. What’s more, Staley became the first Black coach in NCAA Division 1 (D1) to have an undefeated season, per Greenville News.

Staley’s track record can be partially credited to her relationship with her players. In a personal essay written in 2015, she shared, “My goal is always to decrease the amount of time it takes for us to make a connection, because that’s where it all starts. If there were ever a secret to being a great coach, that’s it: the connection. I need to have a personal relationship with each player. I, just like they do, have to be invested. Something other than basketball has to draw me to them. Basketball is the immediate common ground between us, of course, but I’m talking about a personal level. I like to have something more.”

Staley’s dedication to her players was echoed during a press conference featuring Camden High School (SC) and All-American player Joyce Edwards, who received the Morgan Wootten National Player of the Year award from the McDonald’s All-American Games.

Edwards has committed to South Carolina to play for the women’s team.

Her decision was largely influenced by Staley’s commitment to her academic journey. Edwards mentioned that Staley played a part in making sure that her major, environmental engineering, would be created at the university.

“School always comes first. Even in my family, I couldn’t play sports without getting my grades right, and I kind of think my parents just instilled that in me,” Edwards said during the press conference. “So I feel like it’s just something that grew over time, and my drive for academic excellence just came.”

She added, “That was a big red flag for South Carolina. They didn’t necessarily have my major and I don’t think I was gonna go there because of that. But [Coach Staley] was working hard to try to figure out a way for me to get the best of both worlds. She showed me the honors colleges, which you kind of can create your own major. And I feel like that was the biggest thing, plus the sustainability program that they have there. Just a combination of both. She was in the meetings with me asking questions. She was getting it done.”

Staley’s impact was also echoed by Gamecocks guard Te-Hina Paopao who told CNN the coach has changed not only her life but her family’s too.

“I wish you guys could experience that and just how much she’s helped me as a player and as a woman. And she’s just amazing, man. It’s a blessing. Just playing for her is so much fun,” Paopao  expressed to CNN. “People just love playing for her. People would run through brick walls for her. To be able to have a coach like that, it’s unimagined. We’re all just really blessed to have someone like her in our corner.”