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, April 07, 2017

Dawn Staley Award Presented to Kelsey Plum to Conclude Festive Homecoming for Coach of the NCAA Champs

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

PHILADELPHIA – In some ways the annual Dawn Staley Award presentation at the Union League Thursday night that goes to the top guard in the nation was suddenly a breakout of multiple reunions and delegation because of the individual who bears the name of the award.

First was the recipient, Washington senior Kelsey Plum, the consensus national player of the year who has been on a whirlwind since her collegiate career closed picking up consensus national player of the year honors in Dallas at the Women’s Final Four from the Associated Press, the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association (Wade Trophy), and the United States Basketball Writers Association (USBWA), as well as the Nancy Lieberman point guard award that is administered by the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass.

From here she is headed to Los Angeles, where she will likely receive the Wooden Award and then will undoubtedly also earn the Naismith Award given out in Atlanta.

Next Thursday comes the WNBA Draft in New York, where only team needs and deals might cause her to not be the overall number one pick but if not she should still be taken rather quickly.

Plum finished as the all-time Division I scorer with 3,393 points as well as the leading scorer this past season with a 31.7 points per game average.

Kelsey’s mom Katie and Eastern Michigan coach Fred Castro, who had been an assistant at Washington prior to this past season, were among her people. Mike Neighbors, who left the Washington job last week to take over at his homecoming at Arkansas, was supposed to be on hand but his flight was cancelled due to the weather that struck the area earlier in the day.

Then there was Staley, herself, who had a heady day that began in the morning with a homecoming at Dobbins Tech in North Philadelphia attended by many local basketball notables as well as Mayor Kenny in the wake of her guiding South Carolina to its and her first NCAA title Sunday night over Southeastern Conference rival Mississippi State and Staley also recently being named the USA Women’s Olympic coach for 2020.

There was a Temple/South Carolina meld with Staley’s former Virginia teammate, now Temple coach Tonya Cardoza, and Owls associate head coach Way Veney and star senior Feyonda Fitzgerald while Ari Moore and South Carolina director of basketball operations Cynthia Jordan, who played for Staley at Temple, were also in the house.

La Salle women’s coach Jeff Williams was on hand with assistants Dalila Eshe and Christal Caldwell. Donald Hunt of the Philadelphia Tribune who covered Staley in her high school days was also among the media contingent.

Longtime University City coach Lurline Jones was another notable.

Michael G. Horsey, CPA, and founder of the Phoenix Club, which is behind the Staley Award, which launched in 2013, opened the ceremony, followed by principal sponsors Clarence LeJeune of LeJeune & Associates, and Derek Recross of Redcross & Associates.

Big Ten network broadcaster Vera Jones, who received the Excellence in Broadcasting Award, emceed the event.

Staley introduced Plum, saying, “We talked a long time about who was going to get this award. We were pretty biased this year, not because you took it. That’s what you do, you leave no questions as to who’s the best guard in the country.

“You made it easy for us by your play and it was incredible to watch. My team is not one that watches a whole lot of women’s basketball but most of our conversations with my team were around you and what you were doing.

“For me it was special, because they don’t talk a whole lot about basketball. They talked about you and the special season you were having. You scored a lot of points and you made it look really easy.

“I will tell you that basketball is a gift that keeps on giving as long as you give to it. As long as you sacrifice, as long as you work hard, as long as you’re persistent and persevere, it’s going to keep giving. You just have to embrace it. Be a steward of the game. Be a servant of the game. Be a historian of the game.

 “Because a lot of times we play the game, we don’t know the history of it. We don’t know what it is built. You don’t seem like that type. I’m so looking forward to seeing your career played out in the WNBA. I think your future is bright. If it is anything like you did over your four year career at the University of Washington, women’s basketball and its future is in a great place.

“It is truly my honor to have you as the fifth recipient. I wish you nothing but success. Please take women’s basketball to a place it’s never been. The WNBA is an incredible place to live out your dream, keep holding it in high regard so the next people coming down the pipeline have a place to live out there dreams. Thank you for what you did this year. I hope there’s another Kelsey Plum coming along, I hope she is on my team. Thank you so much.”

Plum then came to the podium to accept.

She began by noting she was in the City of Brotherly Love “and I sure feel a lot of love tonight, so thank you.

“Coach, I call you coach because I hope one day you will be my coach,” Plum quipped, “thank you. You’ve been a pioneer in this game. I know its history. And to have my name on your award is a dream come true.”
She thanked her mother for instilling values and being there and Castro, who was her “guard coach” at Washington. “He was so sick of me because U would call and text him every day. ‘Coach. What time are we watching film. What time are we working out.’

“I feel the love and support (in the room) and hopefully I can come back as an alumni because this has been really special to me.”

The inaugural winner was Notre Dame’s Skylar Diggins in 2013, followed by Baylor’s Odyssey Sims in 2014, South Carolina’s Tiffany Mitchell in 2015, and Connecticut’s Moriah Jefferson last season.