Dawn Staley went from being a 5-foot-5 point guard from the tough streets of North Philadelphia to being immortalized among basketball’s greatest as the newest female player of the Naismith Hall of Fame Sunday.
“It’s a tremendous honor, It’s something you don’t prepare for,” she said prior to her induction. “I’ll never forget this feeling as long as I live. I’m still in awe.”
Staley was the National High School Player of the Year at Dobbins Tech in 1988 before twice being named the NCAA Player of the Year at the University of Virginia. She led the Cavaliers to the NCAA final in 1991 and remains the only woman on the losing end to be named Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four. She would win three Olympic gold medals in Atlanta, Sydney and Athens, two FIBA World Championships and be a five-time WNBA All-Star.
“I didn’t even know I was on the ballot,” Staley said. “For me, I just played the game like I always played it, I really loved it, I was competitive, it’s been my passion, I’m not talking about playing in the Olympic Games, playing in the national championship, I’m talking about playing on the playground, I got the same feeling whatever stage I played on.”
Currently the coach of South Carolina, Staley coached Temple from 2000 to 2008, where she was able to teach current Phoenix Mercury forward Candice Dupree.
“Candice I’m not surprised,” Staley said of Dupree’s accomplishments. “I saw her do it night in and night out for us at Temple. I’m just hoping she has an opportunity to get on an Olympic team. With her talent, she’s paid her dues, she’s been an All-Star, the next thing to check off her list is to be an Olympian. I hope that Candice will be selected to be an Olympian. I’d rather for Candice to be a part of it than myself, I’ve been to the Olympic Games, if I had to choose, I’d choose Candice.”
It was just days ago that Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma announced he would be returning as coach as the national team for Rio in 2016, and Staley, who was an assistant under Anne Donovan for Beijing in 2008, doesn’t believe she will be on his staff.
Always an advocate of giving back, the founder of the Dawn Staley Foundation traveled throughout Africa in August, performing charitable tasks in Malawi, Tanzania, Zambia, Rwanda, and South Africa.
“I just went on a wonderful trip with the Bill Clinton Foundation, and I witnessed a lot of wonderful things,” Staley said. “I witnessed deaf people hearing for the first time. President Clinton, through his foundation, is changing an entire continent, through the knowledge from generation to generation, what a wonderful feeling I had, the things we can do through our own lives.”
Sylvia Hatchell, the North Carolina women’s coach who also was enshrined on Sunday, remembered Staley as one of the toughest rivals she’s faced in the ACC.
“Dawn was a great player,” she said. “When I first started coaching at North Carolina, she was at Virginia, and they used to beat us like a drum. I can remember one time, they were beating us by 40 or 50, and Dawn was dribbling over by the sideline, by the bench and saying to (Virginia coach Debbie Ryan) ‘What to you want us to practice on, what do you want to work on?' That was motivation to me because Dawn was such a great player and now such a great coach, as well.”
Staley continues a parade of women’s players started three years ago with Cynthia Cooper-Dyke, Teresa Edwards and Katrina McClain. In the 13 years before them, only Lynette Woodard and Hortencia de Fatima Marcari were inducted. It seems now it will be a trend that will only continue, as the generation that rose to the occasion in Atlanta and gave birth to the WNBA is increasingly respected among the circles of basketball royalty.