Womhoops Guru

Mel Greenberg covered college and professional women’s basketball for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he worked for 40 plus years. Greenberg pioneered national coverage of the game, including the original Top 25 women's college poll. His knowledge has earned him nicknames such as "The Guru" and "The Godfather," as well as induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Staley Inducted Into Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame

By Mel Greenberg

Dawn Staley began the first of what will be at least two and possibly three induction trips to prestigious institutions Thursday night when she was part of the eighth elite class of athletes, coaches, journalists, contributors and marque events to earn spots in the Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame.

The late Ora Washington, who is also in the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame, was inducted as was Speedy Morris who served a short stint as La Salle women's basketball coach besides coaching the Explorers men's team and at high school boys stops at Penn Charter, Roman Catholic and St. Joseph's Prep High Schools.

Because of South Carolina's game at Illinois Friday night to open the 2011-12 season, Staley was unable to be on the scene at the Sheraton Society Hill near the waterfront alongside the Delaware River.

Former Temple players Stacey Smalls and Ari Moore represented Staley with Moore making the acceptance remarks.

Smalls, who later was an assistant coach of former La Salle coach Tom Lochner's staff,was already with the Owls when Staley began her coaching career at Temple in the spring of 2000 while Moore, out of Cleveland, was one of Staley's first recruits.

Over the summer Staley was also named as part of the next June class into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in Knoxville, Tenn., and is also now eligible for consideration into the next Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass.

Incidentally, the Mighty Macs movie abour Immaculata's first national title and its former coach Cathy Rush was an ongoing topic of discussion during the social hour with numerous people asking the Guru if he had seen the production. All who said they did said they liked it.

Staley requested the Guru to write the bio for the dinner program and here it is.

By Mel Greenberg

Immaculata University’s transformation of the women’s basketball world with the first of three straight national titles was almost a decade old when a youngster growing up in the Raymond Rosen Projects in North Philadelphia first began to step onto the concrete basketball courts near her home.

But a woman playing Dr. Naismith’s game per se was not yet in the attention span of the individual who would eventually become one of the two greatest female talents ever to come out of Dobbins Tech and the Philadelphia Public League to gain national notoriety.

Dawn Staley was born on May 4, 1970, to her parents Clarence and Estelle as she became a sibling to sister Tracey, and brothers Lawrence, Anthony and Eric.

“In the neighborhood, playing basketball was the in-thing, and I wanted to do whatever the in-thing was,” Staley recalled the beginning of her love affair with the round ball near 25th & Diamond Streets.

“If you were good, you got to play. The guys didn’t look at it in terms I was a girl. If I was good they would let me in their games.”

Good quickly became great and four years after Dobbins’ first female superstar, the late Linda Page, made national news in February, 1981, scoring 100 points to break Wilt Chamberlain’s local high school record of 90, the 5-foot-5 Staley came on the scene for the late Tony Coma to help the Mustangs add to their collection with three straight Public League championships.

Dobbins lost just one game in Staley’s three years on the varsity and in her senior year after averaging 33.1 points a game, she was named USA Today’s national high school player of the year.

“She was the perfect player,” Coma once told Sports Illustrated. “She said hello at the beginning of the season, goodbye at the end, and in between we won all the games.”

Staley scored 43 points in her final game in March 1988 as Dobbins beat University City 75-65 after she came off the bench late in the third quarter with the opposition holding a one-point lead.

“When I came back in, I told the girls we had to want it more,” Staley said after the game. “That we should go after it.”

By then Staley, who dealt with nagging leg cramps most of her career, knew that her superior skills could translate into a collegiate scholarship, which she accepted from the University of Virginia to play for Debbie Ryan, the then-future Women’s Basketball Hall of Famer who retired after last season.

“It clicked,” Staley told Newsday, the daily on Long Island near New York. “This was the way I was going to get to college. I wasn’t going to get there on my parents’ financially ability.”

Staley will join Ryan in the Women’s Hall in Knoxville, Tenn., in June and with her five years past retirement as a player achieved, she likely could be part of the next inductee class at the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass.

A soon she arrived in Charlottesville along with Tammi Reiss to form one of the all-time backcourt tandems in women’s collegiate history, Staley raised the Cavaliers’ national profile and by her sophomore year, she was to lead Virginia to the first of three straight NCAA Women’s Final Fours.

“When she said she was coming to Virginia, I knew everything was going to change because she was also bringing (shooting guard) Tammi Reiss with her,” Ryan recalled this past summer. “I’m proud of what she’s accomplished as a player. I’m proud of what she accomplished as a coach and I’m proud of who she is as a person.

“She’s everything you could want and I’m glad to have been a small part of her life.”

In 1990 the Cavaliers’ ruined Tennessee’s bid in the regional final to advance, though the Lady Vols got revenge the next season beating Virginia in overtime in the national title game. Then Stanford did likewise in the national semifinals in 1992 her senior season in what became a year of personal celebration but major disappointment.

Staley earned her third straight All-American citation and second national player of the year award. Along the way she even gained Most Outstanding Player honors at the Final Four despite being on the losing side.

She finished her collegiate career as the only player in Atlantic Coast Conference history to collect more than 2,000 points, 700 rebounds, 700 assists and 400 steals.

Staley’s jersey is one of three to be retired at UVa, and in 2008 she was inducted into the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame.

But the failure to win a national title by the time of her Virginia graduation hurt deep and Staley’s feelings were no less good several months later when she became one of the final cuts for the 1992 United States Olympic team.

With no women’s pro league yet established in the United States, Staley went overseas and then the joy began in 1996 when she was named to the U.S. squad and went on to earn three straight Olympic gold medals.

NBA great Magic Johnson once said that he would gladly pay to watch Staley do her thing on the court.

After the 1996 victory in the Atlanta Games, she established her Dawn Staley Foundation and after-school activities for urban youngsters at risk.

She was a founding player for the American Basketball League and in the ABL’s second season Staley came home when the Richmond squad moved to Philadelphia and played in The Palestra.

Staley then jumped to the WNBA prior to the ABL’s collapse in the winter of 1998-99 under bankruptcy and went on to collect numerous All-Star honors. This past summer was voted one of the 15 all-time greats in the WNBA.

Her final Olympic appearance as a player in 2004 brought the ultimate highlight when the captains of the other sports in the United States delegation in Athens, Greece, voted Staley to lead the group carrying the American flag into the stadium during the opening ceremonies.

"Being asked to carry the flag into the opening ceremony caught me off guard," Staley once stated. "It's not something I ever dreamt of or aspired to do, but it was so meaningful.

“It was such a prestigious thing to be able to do. I believe that if you live right and try to do the right things, things will happen to you that will catch you off guard but that are so gratifying for you. Being chosen to carry the flag for the whole United States team is one of those moments in the story of my life."

Olympic success gained her a major local honor twice with the 1997 and 2005 Wanamaker awards.

Four years later following her Olympic retirement as a player, Staley was back at the games but in a new role as an assistant coach to Anne Donovan on the gold medalists who triumphed in Beijing, China.

She had not harbored coaching aspirations but in the spring of 2000 then-Temple athletic director Dave O’Brien went after a reluctant Staley to fill the Owls’ vacancy.

“It was hard at first and then I challenged her by appealing to her competitive instincts and that turned her around,” O’Brien recalled with a chuckle over the recruiting process. “I knew that would get her juices going when I told her she didn’t want the job because she was afraid to she would fail.”

Temple had not had a winning season in a decade, but Staley’s arrival saw that drought end and within a year she began to raise the program into national recognition winning Big Five and Atlantic 10 titles, earning national rankings and making consistent trips to the NCAA tournament.

That success won her multiple honors with Big Five and Atlantic 10 coach of the year awards.

Former Cheltenham High star Stacey Smalls was already on the roster and such early star recruits such as Ari Moore and Cynthia Jordan helped turn the program around. Several years later she recruited future WNBA All-Star Candice Dupree, a first-round pick, as was Kamesha Hairston the following season.

Another player already in place along with Smalls when Staley took the Temple job was Coatesville star Christena Hamilton, who later coached two years at her own high school alma mater and is a new assistant women’s coach at Winthrop.

“I grew up watching Dawn on TV and wanting to be just like her,” Hamilton once told Sports Illustrated. “Having my idol as a coach, well, that blows my mind.”

In May 2008 Staley’s eight-year run on North Broad Street at the Liacouras Center ended with a 172-80 record. Looking for a new challenge, she left for South Carolina where she is about to begin her fourth season guiding the Gamecock’s fortunes in the Southeastern Conference.

-- Mel


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