COLUMBIA, S.C. — Dawn Staley sat on stage at the WNBA Draft in New York on Thursday night without the net that has been around her neck since South Carolina women’s basketball won the national championship.
Instead, the Gamecocks coach had a basketball in her hands, waiting to create another keepsake from a memorable first two weeks of April. Staley planned to have Alaina Coates, Allisha Gray and Kaela Davis sign the basketball, commemorating a night in which all three Gamecocks were picked in the Top 10 selections of the WNBA Draft on Thursday.
“She is so excited for all of us,” Davis said. “For her to play such a big role in the WNBA, to carry on not only her legacy but the South Carolina name is huge.”
It was a historic night for the Gamecocks, not much unlike the night on April 2 when Staley and USC claimed the program’s first national championship.
Never had a South Carolina women’s basketball player been selected before the No. 9 spot in the WNBA draft. And only three players in program history were selected in the first round entering Thursday — a feat matched in less than an hour.
Coates became the highest WNBA selection in school history when the Chicago Sky picked her No. 2 overall. The 6-foot-4 Coates updated her ankle injury, which prevented her from playing in the NCAA Tournament as the Gamecocks won all six games. She attended the draft still on a rolling scooter, saying she still will be in a cast for a couple more weeks.
Moments later, Gray went No. 4 to the Dallas Wings, heading to play in the city where she played so fantastically in the two Final Four games to help South Carolina win its national championship.
Davis’ wait was barely longer. She soon went off the board to Dallas as well with the No. 10 pick, leading to a continued bond with Gray after the pair sat out last season as transfers to South Carolina.
“We created some really great memories in Dallas,” Davis said. “We got to win a national championship in Dallas, so hopefully we can create more there.”
But as much as the night was about what’s next for the three players drafted, it served as a reminder of what they are leaving behind. The Gamecocks’ program and Staley were front and center, with players drafted and Staley in attendance, even announcing the No. 1 pick — Washington’s Kelsey Plum — before her players flew off the board.
“I think it shows that she is preparing WNBA athletes,” Davis said. “I think it shows that the work that she is putting in beyond what everyone sees in practice and off the floor, she is preparing us for this very moment and preparing us for this level of play.”
Thursday night was validation of that. Coates stayed home in South Carolina to play for Staley, becoming a centerpiece in the program reaching four straight Sweet 16s, two Final Fours and a national championship.
What was built was so appealing that Davis and Gray opted to transfer after two seasons at Georgia Tech and North Carolina, respectively, to play for Staley and the Gamecocks. And now collegiate success has led to the professional ranks, a reminder that South Carolina women’s basketball is on the big stage in more ways than one.
“Now, it’s time for them to utilize the habits they formed on the collegiate level and translate to greatness on the next level,” Staley said.