South Carolina basketball coach's championship journey started in 1999

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South Carolina forward A’ja Wilson holds the trophy and coach Dawn Staley points as the team celebrates a win over Mississippi State in the final of the NCAA women’s college basketball tournament April 2, 2017, in Dallas. South Carolina won 67-55.

AP

NEW YORK -- North Carolina faces Gonzaga for the NCAA men’s basketball championship Monday evening. South Carolina won the women’s title Sunday night, a changing of the guard in more ways than one.

For the first time in five years a team not named Connecticut took home the women’s national championship trophy.

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South Carolina coach Dawn Staley cuts down the net as she and the team celebrate their win over Mississippi State in the final of the NCAA women’s college basketball tournament April 2, 2017, in Dallas. South Carolina won 67-55.   AP

South Carolina -- led by head coach Dawn Staley -- became just the second team guided by an African-American coach to the title.

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Purdue coach Carolyn Peck holds up the net after her team won the championship game of the women’s Final Four in San Jose, Calif., March 28, 1999. Purdue beat Duke 62-45.   AP

“I’m gonna enjoy it. I’ve been coaching for 17 years now,” Staley said at a press conference.

Staley praised the only other black coach to win -- Carolyn Peck -- who had given Staley a piece of her 1999 championship net.

Staley has kept it in her wallet ever since.

“She said when you win your national championship, just return it,” Staley said. “And you know … I’m going to have to pass a piece of my net onto someone else so they can share, and hopefully, accomplish something as big as this.”

But the lack of diversity has been a big problem in the NCAA women’s game. According to a University of Central Florida study, nearly 90 percent of NCAA athletic directors are white.

Out of 320 Division I women’s teams, only 10 percent have an African-American female coach. Forty-seven percent of the women players are African-American.

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South Carolina forward A’ja Wilson (22) holds the trophy as she and her teammates celebrate a win over Mississippi State in the final of the NCAA women’s college basketball tournament April 2, 2017, in Dallas. South Carolina won 67-55.   AP

However, Staley herself reluctantly became a coach. She says athletic directors should pick the best person for the job.

“You know I’m not one that looks at race,” Staley said. “Basketball has been faceless, and colorless, and genderless. I think athletic directors need to hire on what’s best for them.”

Staley will try her best representing the country, taking over from Geno Auriemma as the 2020 U.S. women’s Olympic basketball head coach in Tokyo, Japan.

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South Carolina players celebrate their win over Mississippi State in the championship game of the NCAA women’s college basketball tournament April 2, 2017, in Dallas. South Carolina won 67-55.   AP