In 2015, Dawn Staley received a piece of the championship net Carolyn Peck cut down after Peck became the first Black women’s basketball coach in Division I to win an NCAA title in 1999 with Purdue.
Staley carried it until she won her championship in 2017 with South Carolina. After winning her title, Staley said she’d continue the tradition. But sharing it with just one coach wouldn’t be enough.
“I may just have to cut that up and spread it out amongst all the Black head coaches, so we all have something tangible to hold onto,” Staley said.
A COMMON THREAD
In November 2021, Dawn Staley sent pieces of her 2017 NCAA championship net to Black female head coaches around the country, creating a tangible connection for a steadily growing group of women in the sport. In Division I women’s college basketball, where 21% of its head coaches identified as Black women during the 2020-21 season according to the NCAA, Staley understood the bond they shared. We spoke to several dozen of the more than 70 coaches who received a net, all of whom shared their perspectives on what it means to be a Black female head coach.
“For her to say this is the one thing that connects us no matter what … we are giving an option for these young women.”
“Having that piece of net so quickly in my head coaching career, six months in, it just gave me a … light, something to see in the future.”
“There is a certain level of pressure you feel in this position because historically, we haven’t been given as much opportunity as our predecessor or a person who is not Black. Those are just facts.”
“It’s getting me to think bigger. How can I make sure I’m supporting others – other coaches, younger people than myself, at whatever level?”
“It really showed me that someone recognizes who I am in the midst of everything that we’re trying to do within this women’s game.”
“There are so many people who can talk about how this hasn’t happened, but I can slowly see change happening. I’m inspired by that.”
“It’s not some foreign thing that no one has accomplished. I think that is the real meaning of the net for me.”
“Thirty years ago, I don’t know if I could picture all of the opportunities … we have right now at Division I institutions. ”
“If people realize these women are beyond just recruiters, they’re smart, they build their players up, now you create more opportunities for others.”
“Just because we have someone who has done it at the highest level, doesn’t mean the progress represents what it should be in our sport.”
“It’s a responsibility that we take care of our business, take care of each other and that we go back and get someone else so everyone has a seat at the table.”
“This net, our network, gives you a sense of we can do this. We can all do this. We can all represent.”
“It just brought more electricity, more excitement and it gave that extra umph that’s needed because it came from someone that looked like me”
“It’s being a part of something like this knowing that I got my chance and that I was seen, valued, heard.”
Black Women Coaches in the NCAAW in the past 5 years
There is a consensus among current Black female head coaches that equitable representation in women’s college basketball is not where it needs to be, but it is trending in the right direction. The 2020-21 season represented the highest increase of Black female head coaches during the last 10 years, rising by 4% from 2020.
“I didn’t do it for me,” Staley said of sharing the net. “It was for no other reason besides what Carolyn did for me. I wanted somebody else to feel that. The fact that we had success after that means it’s real. Carolyn didn’t do it for any reason besides wanting success, so it all came out of wanting somebody else to succeed.”
Written by Sean Hurd. Edited by Ed Guzman. Project Managed by Ashley Melfi.
Produced by ESPN Creative Studio: Michelle Bashaw, Heather Donahue, Jarret Gabel, Lori Higginbotham, Sean Hintz, Kristine LaManna, Thomas Maloney, Sarah Pezzullo.
Illustrations by Gluekit.
This list of Black female head coaches who received a net from Dawn Staley was provided by University of South Carolina athletics