Geno Auriemma

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Dawn Staley to coach U.S. Olympic women’s basketball team in 2020

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NEW YORK (AP) — The U.S. women’s Olympic basketball team turned to its past to find its next coach.

Dawn Staley will coach the team at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, said two people with knowledge of the decision. The people spoke to The Associated Press on Thursday on condition of anonymity because the decision has not been publicly announced. Staley will be introduced at a news conference in South Carolina on Friday.

Staley helped the U.S. win gold medals as a player in 1996, 2000 and 2004. She also was an assistant coach on the 2008 and 2016 teams that won golds. The Americans have won the past six Olympics.

The 46-year-old Staley has coached at South Carolina since 2008, guiding the Gamecocks to four straight Southeastern Conference regular-season titles and three consecutive SEC Tournament crowns.

She succeeds Geno Auriemma, who became the first coach to lead the U.S. women’s team at two consecutive Olympics in 2012 and 2016.

The 2020 Olympics are in Tokyo, and Staley will first coach the U.S. team at the FIBA World Cup next year in Spain.

“I’m happy for her, she paid her dues been on two different Olympic teams as an assistant,” said Sue Bird. “Arguably, there’s nobody more perfect for the job.”

Staley inherits a U.S. national team that has a roster in flux. Four-time Olympic gold medalist Tamika Catchings retired while Diana Taurasi and Sue Bird haven’t committed to playing again. Both would be in their late 30s by the start of the Tokyo Games.

“We all know when it’s time,” Bird said. “I don’t feel even comfortable talking about not just the Olympic team, but basketball. When it comes to USA Basketball it’s such a coveted position that we all work for, you only want to be in that position if you’re at the top of your game. We got a long way to go between now and then. It’s not a yes or a no.”

There still is a strong young core with Maya Moore, Brittney Griner, Elena Delle Donne, Tina Charles and Breanna Stewart — Staley will likely have to find a point guard to run the team if Bird does not return for her fifth Olympics.

“She helped develop me,” Bird said. “Her last quad as a player, she knew that someone would have to fill her shoes and saw it was me. She was there to help me, there to be in my ear. She gave me advice. The international game is different and players are playing overseas. Just because they haven’t been on a USA team doesn’t mean they don’t know the international game. Definitely could see Dawn helping any young player in that position.”

Besides her work with the national team, Staley has a 21-0 record as head coach of other U.S. basketball teams leading the U18 and U19 squads to gold medals in 2014 and 2015. She also guided the 2007 Pan-Am team to a championship in 2007. She was honored as co-recipient of USA Basketball’s coach of the year in 2015.

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Geno Auriemma wouldn’t have returned without Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi

Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi
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STORRS, Conn. — Geno Auriemma doesn’t think he would have returned to coach the U.S. women’s basketball team at a second straight Olympics unless Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi came back, too.

“I wouldn’t be good enough as a coach to guide the team through a gold medal [at Rio 2016],” Auriemma said at the end of a three-day national team camp at the University of Connecticut on Tuesday. “I need them to help me. That’s how good they are, and that’s how smart they are. And that’s how used to winning they are. So, I wouldn’t trust myself to be able to do it without them.”

Auriemma, 61, is in his 31st season coaching UConn, a run that’s included 10 NCAA titles, four of them with Bird and/or Taurasi on the roster from 2000-04.

In 2012, Auriemma led the U.S. women’s basketball team at the Olympics for the first time.

The Americans went undefeated, running their Olympic winning streak to 41 games. Auriemma called the experience more special because the 12-woman roster included six of his former UConn players, and the dynamic perimeter duo of Bird and Taurasi in particular.

“I think [Taurasi] knows, and particularly her and Sue, I think they know one of my reasons for wanting to do it in the first place was, obviously, being an Olympic coach means a lot, but the opportunity to coach the two of them again was pretty powerful,” Auriemma said.

Auriemma thought that would be his only Olympic head-coaching experience.

“It’s not my turn anymore,” Auriemma said in 2013. “It’s someone else’s turn. I did what I was asked to do and what I wanted to do.

“First of all, I was never asked [to return], so I didn’t want to presume anything. Second of all, I really did think USA Basketball, on the women’s side, has never done that [retain an Olympic coach for the following Games]. So why should I presume I would be the first?”

That all changed on July 31, 2013. USA Basketball finally asked Auriemma.

And on a cleverly planned day — when the coach felt particularly patriotic at the White House, feted with his national champion UConn team by President Obama.

“I was reminded that the opportunity to represent your country is one you don’t take lightly,” Auriemma said in a press release announcing his return to coach the team about one month later. “This is not an opportunity that comes along too often. I was humbled by the request, and I’m honored to do it again.”

Auriemma said the choice did not come easy. It was the longest he had ever taken to make a decision. Unspecified NBA and U.S. leaders nudged him to come back.

On Tuesday, the three-time Olympic champions Bird and Taurasi said they had deep conversations with Auriemma to persuade him as well.

“I think he was really thinking about it and kind of seesawing,” Bird said. “There was definitely a phone conversation that happened. That was probably, in that conversation, the most honest I’ve ever been with him.”

Taurasi said she communicates with Auriemma three times per week, even when she’s playing professionally in Russia.

“Coach, he knows how to use an iPhone now, that’s made communicating a little bit easier,” joked Taurasi, adding that she sat down with, called and texted Auriemma to convince him to go for 2016. “After London, I feel like there was still a little unfinished business for him.”

How can a coach of an undefeated Olympic champion team possibly have unfinished business?

“It wouldn’t be as far as results or scoring more points,” Taurasi said. “I think he just saw an opportunity with, maybe a new breed of players, that he can instill something that can go a long way. I think he’s doing that.”

The comment immediately brought to mind current UConn senior Breanna Stewart, the youngest player among 25 Olympic team finalists who is attempting to duplicate Taurasi’s feat from 2004 — win an NCAA title and an Olympic gold medal in the same year.

Back to Bird, the U.S.’ starting point guard for the last decade. She seemed hesitant to commit to 2016 in the emotional moments after taking gold in London.

But Bird and Taurasi’s message to Auriemma in 2013 couldn’t have been clearer.

“It was, well, we’re going to do it one more time,” Auriemma said. “We’re going to try to give it a shot one more time. I was like, yeah, but I’ve already done it. Then they talked about, let’s do it again. Let’s see where it takes us. Between that and [U.S. women’s national team director] Carol Callan and [USA Basketball CEO] Jim Tooley and USA Basketball, it kind of put the screws on me.

“You had two answers. Yes, and, yes, when can I start? You weren’t going to say no to them.”

MORE: Auriemma: UConn wouldn’t ‘make it at the Olympics’

NBC Olympic researcher Amanda Doyle contributed to this report.

Geno Auriemma: UConn wouldn’t ‘make it at the Olympics’

Morgan Tuck, Breanna Stewart, Moriah Jefferson
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U.S. women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma laughed when asked Sunday if his undefeated UConn team was Olympic-caliber.

“We wouldn’t make the Olympics,” Auriemma said on ESPN. “We wouldn’t qualify. I’m dead serious. I don’t think people understand the quality of players that play on these national teams, and you can’t discount the experience. I’ve got some people that go a week in practice without scoring [at UConn]. They can’t make it at the Olympic level, trust me.”

Auriemma is leading a training camp for the finalists for the U.S. Olympic team in Storrs, Conn., from Sunday through Tuesday.

The camp includes one of his UConn players, senior National Player of the Year Breanna Stewart, who is trying to win her fourth straight NCAA title this season, too.

Auriemma’s UConn team has won 63 straight games dating to last season, all by double-digit margins.

The U.S. women’s team has won 41 straight Olympic games since a Barcelona 1992 semifinal loss. Australia, France and Spain have proven medal contenders, even pushing (and defeating) the U.S. outside of the Games.

But the field is not extremely deep in Africa and Asia, evidenced by U.S. wins over Angola (90-38) and China (114-66) at the London Games.

MORE: Sue Bird looks ahead to ‘likely last Olympics’