As the flag-bearer for the U.S. team at the Opening Ceremonies of the Athens Olympics four years ago, Dawn Staley was front and center at the 2004 Summer Games.
Staley will play more of a behind-the-scenes role for the women’s basketball team in Beijing this month — unfamiliar territory for the former point guard who helped lead Team USA to the gold medal in each of the previous three Olympics.
Staley admitted the switch from the court to the bench as one of three assistants for U.S. head coach Anne Donovan could make for a more “boring” Olympics experience than she is accustomed.
“You’re just in a position of doing scouting reports and (making) suggestions,” said Staley, South Carolina’s first-year coach. “There’s no decision-making on my part that will directly affect the games.”
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That could change by the time the London Games roll around in 2012.
Staley, 38, who was hired as Susan Walvius’ successor at USC in May, has been mentioned as a candidate to coach the Americans in London.
Video: Five questions with new USC women's basketball coach Dawn Staley:
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“I think she has a tremendous chance to be an Olympic head coach,” said Carol Callan, director of the women’s programs for USA Basketball. “She has all the leadership qualities, the resume as a player and she’s building her resume as a coach.
“I think she will be the Olympic coach one day. It’s just hard to predict exactly when.”
Staley is not eligible for the post under the current criteria, which require the U.S. head coach to have several years of WNBA head-coaching experience.
But those criteria can change, depending on whom USA Basketball officials target.
“It’s always possible things can change based on who or what people feel would be the best for the program,” Callan said. “I wouldn’t totally say she’s out of the running because of that. There will be a lot of factors looked at moving forward.”
In the meantime, Staley plans to make the most of her stint with this year’s team, which includes several former teammates from previous Olympic squads. The group features forward Lisa Leslie, who is vying for her fourth Olympic gold, and guards Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi and Tamika Catchings.
Staley and Texas coach Gail Goestenkors will work with the guards. Mike Thibault, coach of the WNBA’s Connecticut Sun, will help Donovan with the post players.
“I think Dawn has a unique quality in that she has played with half of this team before. She still has leadership amongst the players,” Callan said. “It’s not quite the same as being on the floor with them, but she has a unique position of having played with so many of them before.
“I think she’ll be invaluable, to the head coach and others coaches, but also the players.”
Having visited the Great Wall of China on a previous trip with USA Basketball, Staley has few sightseeing trips planned. But the Philadelphia native hopes to watch a few other events, such as boxing and track, and visit a couple of local seamstresses who make custom-designed clothes.
Staley will stay in close contact with her assistant coaches during her month away from Columbia.
“The lines of communication will always be open,” she said. “I’ll have my phone, my Sidekick, email, all of that. So we’ll be in touch.”
USC athletics director Eric Hyman said Staley’s place on the Olympics team should help the Gamecocks’ recruiting efforts.
“Everybody’s aware that she’s the assistant coach of the Olympic team. And I think there’s a lot of chatter about her being the head coach in the future. I think that speaks volumes,” Hyman said. “Young people out there know that. They’re aware of her position with the Olympic team and they’re aware of her and all of her accomplishments.”
Depending on what happens in Beijing and what transpires over the next couple of years, Staley may have another honor to add to her resume that would put her front and center at the Olympics once again.
Reach Person at (803) 771-8496.