Before she was a three-time WNBA All-Star and FIBA World Champion, Phoenix Mercury forward Candice Dupree was twice named the Atlantic 10 Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year, while the Temple Owls racked up three conference championships and NCAA trips.
“All four years were special, just being coached by such a great player is a great memory, but I’m happy for her, she deserves it,” Dupree said.
Dupree came out of the gates in a flourish, grabbing 17 rebounds in her first game, a win at Penn. However, Dupree’s freshman campaign ended 14-15, Staley’s only losing season of eight with the Owls.
“I actually hated Temple when I went in for my recruiting visit,” said Dupree, who is from Tampa, Fla. “I was from the suburbs, I went up to Philly, I just didn’t warm up to the players who were there, didn’t really have a good time. For some reason, my parents really liked what she was about as a person and as a coach. They pushed me to go to school there, I went up for summer school, and my mom told me if I came home after two weeks, they’d put my bags on the street and leave me there. I stuck with it and ended up loving it, I was fortunate.”
In 2003-04, Dupree scored 13.9 and grabbed 7.6 as Temple finished 21-10 and 14-2 within the conference before bowing to TCU in the first round of the NCAAs. Dupree’s junior year put Temple into No. 15 of the national rankings as the Owls went 28-4 and 16-0 in the Atlantic-10, with two of their three regular season losses coming in November to Tennesse and LSU. After a win over Louisiana Tech, Rutgers crushed the Owls’ Final Four dreams in the second round.
With Dupree averaging 17.4 points and 8.7 rebounds, Temple returned to the Big Dance as a six seed in 2006, following a 24-8 season, but was upset by Hartford. Dupree graduated second in program history in points, third in rebounds and second in blocks, categories all mounted by 1984 All-American Marilyn Stephens.
The Chicago Sky made Dupree the sixth overall pick in the 2006 Draft, the franchise’s inaugural selection, and when the Sky met the Houston Comets, it meant the first time a collegiate coach and player tandem faced off as players.
“It was interesting,” Dupree said. “I’m glad we didn’t have to guard each other, she’s a lot shorter than I am. It was fun to go up against her on the next level and see if she practices what she preaches.”
Following the 6-foot-2 Dupree’s rookie year, the 5-foot-5 Staley retired from playing at age 36. She left Temple for South Carolina in 2008 and advanced to the Sweet 16 in 2012 and the second round last season.
“Even though she was a point guard, she knew what post players needed to do,” Dupree said. “Sometimes she would get down there and go up against us in practice. Sometimes the little ones make the big ones work harder because they don’t back down, they’re feisty. That’s what she would do to us in practice to make us play at a higher level.”
Creator of the Dawn Staley Foundation and a fighter for impoverished children, Staley is considered one of the leading athletes in charitable activities and returning back to her community. Last month, Staley went on a mission to Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania, and Rwanda, with Bill Clinton and his daughter Chelsea.
“A big thing is to always give back, remember where you came from,” Dupree listed as lessons she learned from Staley. “I know in college, we worked with her Foundation. Even now, we have been collecting shoes for the less fortunate, I’ve racked up all of my teammates and said ‘Hey, do you have any shoes that you’re not planning on wearing? Give them to me so I can mail them out to her.’ She’s always looking to give back, going to Africa, I just hope I can do things like that as I get further in my career.”
It is uncertain how many of the former Temple players will show up in Springfield this weekend. Dupree and the Mercury have a game at Atlanta Sunday, so she will not be in attendance.
“Some are working for her at South Carolina (Cynthia Jordan and Ariana Moore), some are teaching, some have regular jobs, for the most part, we are successful in whatever it is we’ve chosen to do,” Dupree said. “Last summer, a lot of my college teammates surprised me for my birthday, and I think it’s great we’ve kept in touch with each other.”
Former Temple player Christena Hamilton, sister of NBA player Richard Hamilton, is now an assistant coach at Winthrop University.
Mercury guard Diana Taurasi, who won the Olympic gold medal with Staley as a teammate in 2004, said she sees many of the values Staley passed to Dupree.
“When you go to school and play for her, a lot of those attributes are passed on,” Taurasi added. “Always unselfish, working hard, making sure everyone is ready. She definitely trickled that down to her players.”
The Hall of Fame enshrinement for Staley, Gary Payton and many others can be seen at 11 a.m. PT Sunday on NBATV.