From the ‘Illadelph’ to the Dirty South

By Ivan McDowell
Updated: November 19, 2008

ALABAMA — Dawn Staley is a three-time Olympic gold medalist, a former WNBA All-Star and one of the most respected and successful women in basketball history, both collegiately and professionally.

The former All-American point guard from the University of Virginia has now taken her hoops prowess from the northeast to the deep south. Staley was named the Head Women’s Basketball Coach at the University of South Carolina back in May.

She cut her teeth in the coaching profession at Temple University in her hometown of Philadelphia. She took over a program that had not experienced a winning record in almost a decade and immediately became successful, leading the Owls to a 19-11 record and a first-round appearance in the Women’s NIT.

In her eight seasons at Temple, Staley produced six NCAA appearances.

Staley went on this past season to become the all-time Temple women’s basketball coach with career wins at 172-80. In her eight seasons at Temple, Staley produced six NCAA appearances.

The transition from basketball hotbed Philadelphia to football-crazed South Carolina would seem daunting, but Staley’s competitive nature and passion to succeed won’t allow her to fail.

A coach of a lesser pedigree would be intimidated by the challenge ahead, but not Staley. “Basketball season is here and it’s all the same. It doesn’t matter what city you’re in,” commented Staley.

“There it’s definitely a change geographically and seeing how a people in a different part of the country live. It’s definitely a breath of fresh air.”

In the Big Five series, a hoops rivalry exclusive to Philly teams dating back to 1955, Staley led the Owls to a record-setting fourth title and was voted Big Five Coach of the Year.

It was the fifth Coach of the Year honor for Staley, who guided the Owls to a record-breaking 18 consecutive city series wins in eight seasons. The five universities that are members of the Big 5 are the University of Pennsylvania, Temple University, Saint Joseph’s University, Villanova University, and La Salle University.

While not being a conference, the Big Five showcases the rich basketball talent in the city. Staley remains remarkably grounded for a woman who has garnered so many accolades.

That is a testament to Dawn as a person and her humble beginnings in Philadelphia. With an obvious affinity towards mentoring young people, Staley founded the Dawn Staley Foundation in 1997.

The program gives middle-school children a positive influence in their lives by sponsoring an after-school program at the Hank Gathers Recreation Center. The Center focuses on academics and athletics and sponsors basketball leagues and other fund-raising activities.

Staley will have to provide mentoring on the hardwood as well with nine freshman and sophomores suiting up for the 2008-09 edition of the Gamecocks. Seniors Brionna Dickerson and Demetress Adams will be relied upon for leadership. Despite the lack of overall experience and youthful nature of this year’s team, Staley says one thing will be a recurring thing with her program.

“It boils down to trying to outwork people and making sure you’re doing the right things to be successful,” a candid Staley stated. Work is something Staley was known for as a player and regardless of what life brings she is never one to back down from a challenge.

Conference challenges not only include the teams she’ll have to face, but the esteemed group of coaches within the SEC. “When comes to recruiting, everyone has great football, everyone has great facilities”, she added.

“You have to find your niche. Hopefully the hard work that our staff has put in will come to fruition once recruiting season is over.”

Whether it was the hardships of growing up in the projects of Philadelphia or night in and night out going against the best basketball players and coaches in the world, Dawn Staley is a fighter and a winner.

“I’ve always loved challenges and this is another challenge. I will be successful.”