A message from Dawn Staley: Now is the time to grow our game. You can help.

Dawn Staley has been the women's basketball coach at South Carolina since 2008 and led the Gamecocks to the 2017 national championship. A three-time gold medalist as a player, she will coach Team USA at the Tokyo Games this summer. Staley is a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame. She spoke with USA TODAY Sports about how the conversations ignited during the three weeks of the 2021 women's NCAA Tournament can — and should — be turned into action. 

Now that the Final Four is over and we’ve crowned a champion — how can you not love a game that comes down to a final shot?! — I have a favor to ask all of you who tuned in for the first time, all the people who discovered in the last three weeks just how amazing women’s basketball is: 

Don’t look away. 

Women’s basketball needs support and investment more than ever. What I see going on right now is a happy life movement — because when you tune into women’s basketball, your life is forever changed for good. If you’ve been watching you’ve probably seen all of the beautiful people that make up our game — players, coaches, assistant coaches, athletic trainers, performance coaches. It’s a village of people. But here’s the thing — you can create your own village. 

We need to pour into young women and girls at every level, not just college and the WNBA. I go watch my godsons play in local AAU ball, they’re freshmen and eighth graders, and I see how people invest in them. Look at the money we put into young men, even though most of them will never go pro. You’ve got dads coaching, moms running around the gym, parents who are passionate and yelling at officials, officials yelling back — imagine if we put that same investment, that same passion, into young girls. Now, I’m not saying all the energy is positive but at least it’s there, and we can get it moving in the right direction. 

When you automatically say women’s basketball is boring or girls can’t play, you’re doing a disservice to young people everywhere. The truth is that the people who say that are the ones who haven’t given women’s basketball a chance. And then those people decide to share their commentary on social media and suddenly, hearsay runs like wildfire. That’s what happens to women’s basketball all the time. 

But when you actually give us a chance — when you come to an arena and feel the energy, when you sit down and watch us on TV — and see what these amazing women can do, you see it’s the same level of talent as the men’s, and there’s no way you can walk away from women’s basketball. You’re hooked. The same emotions you get from football, men’s basketball or any other men’s sport you get from women’s basketball: the agony of defeat and the joy of victory, all rolled into one. Our game is what March Madness is all about. The NCAA says we can’t use that term but I’m gonna use it anyway because there’s all kinds of madness — on and off the court. 

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