PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas (AP) — Dawn Staley brought more than her top-ranked South Carolina team to the inaugural women’s Battle 4 Atlantis.
Her best pal — 4-year-old dog Champ — is alongside her as she walks the resort with fans recognizing him by name, in the locker room and even at news conferences. The only place Champ hasn’t joined Staley is on the sidelines during the tournament, where the Gamecocks won the title by beating No. 2 Connecticut 73-57 on Monday.
“On the road I have a certain routine, and it’s a routine that doesn’t involve Champ because he really doesn’t come on the road,” Staley told The Associated Press with Champ sitting on her lap. “So my routine changed a little bit, but I welcome it because he’s just such a great boy.
“He’s patient. I mean, he’s easy, he’s easy to get along with. And he’s always by my side.”
Champ — who has his own Twitter account and is named after the Gamecocks’ 2017 NCAA title run — joined them for last March’s Southeastern Conference Tournament in their home state but had never flown nor ventured outside the U.S. He remains in the locker room during games and has attended two news conferences, sitting attentively on a front-row chair with assistant coach Lisa Boyer after Saturday’s Buffalo win.
“After (that game) and all those turnovers we had, it’s good to go back to the room and just have somebody to comfort you, because that wasn’t how we wanted to play,” Staley said.
Staley brought Champ because her usual dog-sitters were attending the tournament. Event founder and director Lea Miller-Tooley, who brought her own English cream golden retriever Hudson, helped work through the Bahamian Ministry of Agriculture for approval.
“It’s Dawn’s baby. I understand how important that dog is,” Miller-Tooley said. “So there was no way I was not going to have that dog travel down here.”
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