Staley: Final 4 showing what Black women can do

    Mechelle Voepel covers the WNBA, women’s college basketball, and other college sports for espnW. Voepel began covering women’s basketball in 1984, and has been with ESPN since 1996.

SAN ANTONIO — The NCAA Women’s Final Four will have two Black coaches for the first time in South Carolina’s Dawn Staley and Arizona’s Adia Barnes, And after her Gamecocks’ 62-34 Elite Eight victory over Texas on Tuesday night, Staley said that it sends a message to athletic directors across the country.

“There’s so many Black coaches out there that don’t get opportunities,” Staley said. “Because when ADs don’t see it, they don’t see it. And they’re gonna see it on the biggest stage Friday night.”

South Carolina, the No. 1 seed in the Hemisfair Region, will meet overall No. 1 Stanford of the Alamo Region in one semifinal at 6 p.m. ET. Mercado Region No. 3 seed Arizona takes on River Walk No. 1 UConn in the other semifinal at 9:30. Both games are at the Alamodome.

Staley and Barnes are also the only former WNBA players who have taken a team to the Women’s Final Four. Staley, 50, began her coaching career at Temple in 2000, and moved to South Carolina in 2008-09. She previously led the Gamecocks to the Final Four in 2015 and 2017, winning the latter for the program’s first national championship.

Barnes, 44, is in her fifth season at Arizona. She talked Monday after her team’s Elite Eight win over Indiana about her admiration for Staley. The feeling is mutual, Staley said.

“I’m super proud of Adia, and I wanted that to happen,” Staley said. “I was cheering for her to get it done. Not for any other reason besides us being represented at the biggest stage. Two black women representing two programs in the Final Four, something that has never been done before.

“Our history here in women’s basketball is filled with so many Black bodies, for this to be happening in 2021, to me, is long overdue,” Staley said. “We’re proud, we’re happy. I know my phone is probably full of text messages of Black coaches all across the country just congratulating us on doing it, on being present, being in the moment, being able to take our programs to this place.”

Staley said that the lengthy pro playing careers for her and Barnes also factor into how they coach.

“There’s always going to be part player in us,” Staley said. “And that’s why our players — we are so relatable to them. We’ve done that. We’re trying to help you get to that place.”

Three other Black women have coached in the Women’s Final Four. C. Vivian Stringer took three teams: Cheyney (1982), Iowa (1993) and Rutgers (2000, 2007). Carolyn Peck was the first Black woman to win an NCAA championship, with Purdue in 1999. Pokey Chatman went with LSU (2005, 2006).

Two Black men also have taken teams to the Women’s Final Four: Winthrop McGriff with Cheyney (1984) and Quentin Hillsman with Syracuse (2016).

“Representation matters,” Staley said. “Nothing against anybody else that lost to us. But when you see two Black women representing in this way, I hope the decision-makers [notice]. Because there are a lot of jobs out there.

“You give Black women an opportunity. Bring them in, interview them. If you don’t hire them, let them know why. So we can continue to work on perfecting our craft and our profession. There are a lot of people out there who aren’t getting the opportunities they should. Because this is exactly what can happen when you give a Black woman an opportunity.”

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