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Nancy Wilson: A pivot for women's basketball

48 days ago
South Carolina Athletics
Photo: South Carolina Athletics

Despite making a few pivot steps throughout her life, Nancy Wilson never stepped out of the state that helped her step into the game of basketball. The former Gamecock women's basketball coach is a member of the 2021 University of South Carolina Athletics Hall of Fame class.

The Lake City, S.C., native began her historic coaching career in the Palmetto State after playing at Coker College in Hartsville. Nancy Wilson head shot "I have always valued the fact that I was able to coach in my home state because not that many people get to say that," Wilson said.

In 1976, Wilson became the head coach at the College of Charleston, where she had a 193-61 record and led the Cougars to three AIAW Division II Championship appearances, making her the winningest coach in school history.

"We had done very well at the College of Charleston in the AIAW Division II, and the time was right if I wanted to try another level," Wilson said.

In the summer of 1985, Wilson was named the head coach at South Carolina.

Though she faced many challenges trying to rebuild the program, Wilson was fortunate to recruit talent from within the state, such as Columbia native and Hammond star Martha Parker. "During the time, we were in the process of rehabilitating the perception of the program, and she was the perfect out-front person for this because she could speak to people of any age, and on the court, she could play any position," Wilson said. "She did a tremendous amount towards moving our program forward."

Other key South Carolina standouts for Wilson were Lisa Diaz, a guard from Columbia; Beth Hunt, a forward from Garden City; Marsha Williams, a center from Moncks Corner; and fellow 2021 Hall of Fame inductee, Brantley Southers, from Columbia.

"At one time, 10 out of 12 players were from the state," Wilson said. "I appreciate the fact that we were able to provide for people from our state the opportunity to play basketball at such a high level." After the school joined the SEC in 1990, Wilson relied heavily on experienced stars, such as Hartsville native Shannon "Pee Wee" Johnson.

"Shannon didn't play on a really strong team that was very competitive in the SEC, and that compelled her to do more," Wilson remembers. "She was just an extreme athletic talent." "The number of really good teams has evolved. The number of really good players who have the resources to accomplish something like that has escalated a great deal, as well."

The former Olympic Gold medalist and current Coker College head coach still ranks third in career points (2,230) in Gamecock women's basketball history.

Wilson deems the 1988 University of Alaska at Anchorage Invitational, a key turning point in her career, when the Gamecocks beat UNLV and Western Kentucky to win the tournament.

"It's what moved us into the national scene, making people aware of us," Wilson said. "It was the first time we were ever ranked."

The 1990 transition from the Metro Conference to the Southeastern Conference was quite the challenge for Wilson, though, due to the caliber of competition. Nancy Wilson womens basketball "Some felt that recruiting would be easier now that we were in the SEC, but it was difficult because you were recruiting against such proven winners," Wilson said. "It meant that night in and night out, you were playing teams that you had previously put on your schedule as big games. These games were now everybody on your schedule."

During her 12 seasons at the helm, Wilson led the program to five Metro Conference regular-season titles (1986, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991) and three Metro Conference Tournament Championships (1986, 1988, 1989). Five of Wilson's teams advanced to the NCAA Tournament (1986, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991), with the 1990 team reaching the Sweet 16.

In addition to coaching in the Palmetto State, Wilson helped coach Olympic teams and World University Games teams. She served as the head coach for the 1992 Junior Olympic Team in Seoul, South Korea, where she led the team to a silver medal. Wilson served on the selection committee for the U.S. women's team, as well.

"I was always astounded at the amount of talent we had at tryouts," she remembers. "I would just sit there and look at the talent and think we could have so many different teams that could beat so many different countries. To travel with young ladies of that caliber and watch them compete is something I am very appreciative of."

While serving as the administrative assistant for the 1991 World University Games women's basketball team, Wilson was able to watch current Gamecock women's basketball head coach Dawn Staley.

"She was always a fun one to watch," Wilson recalls. "I respected her mannerisms so much because she was one of our best players at the time, yet she shared the point guard position with somebody who had been an Olympian before and was trying to get back in shape to be an Olympian again. [Staley] shared that position willingly, competed hard, and did what was asked of her."

Staley was a vital asset in the United States victory over Spain in the 1991 World University Games gold medal game.

"That could have been a very tight game because of Suzie McConnell, but Dawn came in and became the reason we won that game," Wilson said.

In 2003, Wilson returned to the College of Charleston and completed her career in 2012, with a 542-365 record.

"I recognize that I am very blessed that I was given the opportunity," Wilson said. "I've got lots of fond memories of relationships with players, assistant coaches, and fans."

Looking back, Wilson is glad to see how women's basketball has advanced nationally and worldwide.

"It has grown by leaps and bounds," said Wilson. "The number of really good teams has evolved. The number of really good players who have the resources to accomplish something like that has escalated a great deal, as well."

Wilson now resides in Surfside Beach, South Carolina.

Induction ceremonies will be held on Thursday, October 14, and the inductees will also be recognized at Saturday's football against Vanderbilt at Williams-Brice Stadium.