Months of rumors and drama ended Friday as President Donald Trump hosted Collegiate National Champions Day at the White House.
The South Carolina women’s basketball team practiced in the Carolina Coliseum in preparation for a Sunday matchup against Wofford.
When asked why she was not in Washington, D.C., with other NCAA champions, USC head coach Dawn Staley simply responded, “Because I’m here practicing.”
But the situation between Staley and the Trump White House has been anything but simple since the Gamecocks won their first national championship in April. And while Staley repeatedly said she wants to move past the whole thing, it continued to be a controversial topic all the way until this week.
In June, as Staley and her team celebrated, she said she would make the traditional trip to Washington, D.C. like every other women’s hoops champion since 1983, despite the Trump administration’s high-profile clashes with other sports teams like the Golden State Warriors.
Then, in September, Staley told the Associated Press that she had never received an invitation and expressed confusion because other championship teams had already received theirs despite winning their titles after the Gamecocks. Former South Carolina Governor and current United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley then stepped in to say USC would get an invite in the fall.
As practice for the 2017-2018 season began, however, Staley said she was no longer worrying about a White House invite, instead focusing on the year ahead. She did not say at the time whether Haley’s promised invite ever came.
On Thursday night, after the Gamecocks defeated Clemson on the road, Staley released a statement saying the White House had finally extended an invitation to Friday’s festivities, which are for NCAA champions of many different sports, but that South Carolina would not be able to attend as it prepared for Sunday’s game.
“We did hear from the White House about attending (Friday’s) event, but we will not be able to attend,” Staley’s statement read. “As I’ve been saying since our practices for this season started, all of our focus is on the season ahead. The only invitation we are thinking about is to the 2018 NCAA Tournament.”
On Friday at practice, Staley said she had received the invitation “maybe two weeks ago,” just as South Carolina was preparing for its opening exhibition against Coker.
Between then and Thursday’s statement, the Gamecocks traveled to College Park, Maryland, just outside of Washington, D.C., to face the Maryland Terrapins on Nov. 13.
However, Staley brushed aside questions Friday about whether observers should consider the team not going to the White House a political statement.
“I can’t speak on what other people think. People can think what they want to think,” Staley said. “I’m here concentrating on my team and getting better.”