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.

Sunday, April 05, 2015

Staley Didn't Build Temple and South Carolina in a Day But Build Them She Did

By Mel Greenberg

TAMPA, Florida –
Back in her playing days at Virginia, the future Hall of Famer Dawn Staley, reared in urban Philadelphia near Temple University, often battled with creaky knees while becoming one of the all-time point guards in the game.

While several times her knees were operated on to ease the aches and pains, her trainer Sue Foreman, talked about Staley’s resiliency.

“Everything is a challenge,” the trainer said. “One thing is you can’t do is tell Dawn she can’t do anything. You tell her she will be out ten says, she’s back in four, and lots of other things.”

That was in the early 1990s.

A decade later, Temple officials used reverse logic to pursue her to become a coach of a program that was a doormat.

Staley, who also played for the prestigious Philadelphia Belles AAU team, had no interest in coaching and was ready to say nada for the last and final time when the late Owls athletic director Dave O’Brien then appealed to her competitive sensitives – tell her she was afraid of the challenge, she had fear of failing.

That’s all she had to hear.

Staley accepted and it seemed like all she had to do was wave a magic wand and a decade of losing came to an end and Temple was on the way to becoming nationally relevant.

Then in the Spring of 2008, she sought a new challenge, taking a moribund South Carolina program to try and make it competitive in the rugged Southeastern Conference.

Three times as a player she had been to a Final Four, and as a national player of the year in two of those, but the quest fell short and when the curtain came down it was total devastation.

Matters weren’t helped several months later when she was the last cut for the 1992 Olympic team to compete alongside the men’s Dream team.

But after becoming a coach, the disappointment replaced by international and professional success, Staley thought she would return to a Final Four and live the triumph through her players.

She is here for the first time in that role and while Connecticut is a prohibitive favorite to make it three straight, Staley is striking a balance in letting her Gamecocks enjoy the moment but not get carried away from the task at hand.

The way the tournament has played out, there is a safety valve to block thoughts of playing UConn, and that is Sunday night’s opponent in Notre Dame before the Huskies meet Maryland.

Staley talked at Saturday afternoon’s press conferences in Amalie Arena a little about what it took to get both programs back on track.

“What you had to do was change the culture,” Staley said. “You had to get your players to stop thinking about where they’re going to spend spring break besides in the gym prepping for postseason play.

“I was fortunate in that our Temple players bought into that right away, right away. Instantly, we hit the ground running, and it pretty much was a success story,” she continued.

“And then you move to a place like South Carolina where it was very similar, but the players don’t catch on. They really didn’t catch on to doing the things they needed to do to change the culture and love basketball in the way that they probably should love basketball.”

While those initial Gamecock players are long gone from the court, they’ve come to see what Staley was talking about.

“They understand what we asked them to do a lot more because they stayed around our program. They’ve been a very good support system for us, and they’ll be in town sometime this weekend to enjoy the fruits of their labor.”

A year after the testy dust up between Notre Dame and Philly-bred coach Muffet McGraw and Philly-bred Geno Auriemma of Connecticut in the title game showdown battle of the unbeatens won by the Huskies, we now have a Staley vs. McGraw Philly special in the semifinals before Connecticut and Maryland play the nightcap.

Incidentally, Staley is on Auriemma’s USA Olympic staff for Brazil and was part of the contingent with La Salle grad Cheryl Reave that also had Chicago’s Doug Bruno, who also coaches DePaul.

- Posted using BlogPress from the Guru's iPad


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