Dawn Staley returns to Dobbins Tech to share national title

STALEY07-H
South Carolina women's basketball coach and Dobbins grad Dawn Staley greets a fan at the high school on April 6, 2017.

Proudly wearing her No. 5 jersey, Diamond Johnson sat with her Murrell Dobbins Tech basketball teammates in the school's auditorium Thursday afternoon and eagerly awaited the arrival of Dawn Staley.

On Sunday, Johnson had watched Staley coach South Carolina past Mississippi State, 67-55, in the NCAA women's basketball final in Dallas.

"I felt real nervous during the game," the senior point guard said. "It felt like I was playing. I was on the edge of my seat."

Returning to 22d and Lehigh, where her brilliant hoops career began to take shape, Staley, still wearing the championship net around her neck, was recognized for the latest in her long list of accomplishments.

Among those who took the stage to honor Staley were former Temple coach John Chaney, current Temple boss Fran Dunphy, ex-Dobbins star and new Lincoln University coach Doug Overton, and Philly hoops icon Sonny Hill.

From the political arena, Mayor Kenney, City Council President Darrell Clarke, and State. Sen. Sharif Street took part in the ceremony. So, too, did Philadelphia School District Superintendent William Hite Jr.

"Dawn Staley helped put women's basketball on the map," Kenney said. "We couldn't be more proud."

After graduating from Dobbins in 1988, Staley went on to become a two-time national college player of the year at Virginia. She won three Olympic gold medals as the U.S. team's point guard.

While playing in the WNBA, Staley, who grew up in the Raymond Rosen project, took the advice of the late Dave O'Brien, the former Temple athletic director, and accepted the head coaching job on North Broad Street.

Hill recalled Staley's playing in three-on-three tournaments with the boys and honing her skills at what was the Moylan Recreation Center, now the Hank Gathers Recreation Center.

"The journey began at 25th and Diamond," Hill said. "You always felt, 'If I can do it here, I can do it anywhere.' Dawn is proof of that."

Johnson, who lives near Broad Street and Cecil B. Moore Avenue, said she has watched videos of Staley's brilliant career on the hardwood and models some of her own game after the person whose likeness is displayed in two murals outside Dobbins' auditorium.

"I learned from her how to use your whole body when driving to the basket, either to score or draw a foul," the 18-year-old said.

Two years ago, Staley and the Gamecocks fell a couple of wins shy of an NCAA title. They were nipped by Notre Dame, 66-65, in the semifinals in Tampa, Fla.

"Everything in life isn't about winning," Staley said Thursday. "It's about learning and getting better."

Redemption came Sunday. "It feels so good, not because we won, but because of the people I get to share it with," Staley said.

Clarke presented the WNBA Hall of Famer, who sat on stage to the left of Dobbins principal Toni Damon, with an award from the city and a green "North Philly" baseball cap.

The "netlace" has become part of Staley's everyday wardrobe.

"I want everyone to have a piece of this net, figuratively," she said. "I hope it inspires you to be successful. Sometimes you need to dangle a carrot in front of you when you're trying to reach a goal."

Staley, 46, will coach the U.S. women's team at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

"She's such an inspiration to our girls," said Toni Goodman, Dobbins' athletic director and girls' basketball coach. "And, like everyone here said, she's never forgotten her roots. She's given back so much to this community."

robrien@phillynews.com

@ozoneinq

www.philly.com/ozone