COLUMBIA, S.C. - Dawn Staley walked into her office Tuesday afternoon, freshly cut basketball net around her neck. Her netlace, Staley called it. She had just been to see her mother, had put the net around Estelle Staley's neck.
It will soon be time to move on, Staley said, but not two days after Staley's South Carolina Gamecocks had cut down that net for winning the NCAA women's basketball championship, after notching another Staley accomplishment, joining a staggering list.
Three Olympic gold medals as U.S. point guard. American flag bearer chosen by her fellow Olympians in 2004. Olympic assistant coach, more gold medals. Two-time national college player of the year at Virginia.
Last month's news that Staley will be the next U.S. Olympic women's head coach seemed a natural 2017 highlight until her Gamecocks took out Connecticut-slayer Mississippi State in Dallas on Sunday to win the national title.
Other than the net, Staley looked dressed for practice, in shorts and a T-shirt, except the T-shirt said NATIONAL CHAMPIONS, and she had on a Final Four hat. She has taken off the net - "to sleep."
Staley has two phones, and both are holding on for dear life, in perpetual need of a charge. The Dobbins Tech graduate who grew up in the Raymond Rosen project, and learned her game at 25th and Diamond, and started her coaching career at Temple, showed how one phone has "I'm from North Philly" wallpaper.
"I have to do it in stages," Staley said of recharging the phones. "I still have text messages from Sunday that I haven't gotten to." She joked about texting some people back at 3 a.m., figuring that way they wouldn't be texting right back. Before Staley got to the office, the receptionist was taking a message from "Dobbins High School," taking down the phone number. "215 . . . " An arrangement of flowers was delivered, but the roses in the prominent spot in the basketball lobby came from a man in Philadelphia.
"You done good! So proud of you!" was the message from her fellow Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame inductee from Temple, John Chaney, who said this was a trade, "Flowers for a cap for me." He added a P.S. from retired basketball secretary Essie Davis, who loved Staley's "fierce red heels."
Congratulations have come from the likes of Magic Johnson, LeBron James, and Bill Clinton. LeBron said he'd had a dream that he was in Columbia congratulating them face-to-face. He's welcome any time, Staley said.
"Bill was kind of expected because we spent some time together," Staley said, then she stopped herself. "Bill," laughing at her own familiarity with the former president.
"I didn't sleep right in my bed last night. Haven't had much sleep," Staley said. "But it's a wonderful thing. . . . Everybody gets to share in this moment."
The words on Staley's phone screen are more than geographical. Her answer to ESPN pregame when asked about the emotions she would show if her Gamecocks won the national title was, "I don't cry. I'm from North Philly."
Her mother once did, riding the No. 33 bus going east on Market Street in 1996, when she caught sight of her daughter on a nine-story mural at Eighth and Market. Estelle Staley had blurted out, "Oh, my God!" By herself on the bus, she started crying.
A rose in concrete
Staley can tell you about how her first shots were with socks into a heating vent, squaring off against her brothers, before she graduated to a cardboard backboard concocted outside, then a crate hooked up to a light pole at 23rd and Diamond Streets.
"A rose grew up from the concrete," Eric Staley said in 2015 of his sister and all she has achieved.
She moved on to what was then the Moylan Rec Center at 25th and Diamond, now the Hank Gathers Rec Center. Hank Gathers himself had said to let this girl play when other guys were maybe afraid they'd get embarrassed, justifiably so.
Staley, who will turn 47 in May, can tell you about her rowhouse at 23rd and Diamond, part of the Rosen project but outside the eight towers, how she and her neighbors who lived in the rowhouses thought they lived in the suburbs.
She mentioned that she had gotten an email this week from the daughter-in-law of the late Dave O'Brien, the former Temple athletic director who had persuaded her to get into coaching, taking over the Owls while she was still playing in the WNBA. She has returned that email already.
She always tells her South Carolina players she just works here, but she's not from here. Her mother was born in South Carolina, however, so there are ties, and if you walk into a Starbucks around here, they'll probably tell you how Staley comes in.
The consensus remains that Staley's common touch never left her, including the one season Staley played professionally in Philadelphia, for the Rage in the now-defunct American Basketball League in 1997-98. That venture added pieces to her life that last to this day, with Rage coach Lisa Boyer now Staley's top assistant after having that role at Temple.
Others remember that common touch. Dan Harrell, who remembers how that Rage group was just completely into hoops, still laughs about the time Staley brought her brand new puppy to the Palestra, "and he walked straight out to the middle of the court and pooped right on the Penn 'P.' Dawn was so embarrassed and apologetic."
Harrell, in charge of cleaning up sweat and anything else on the court in those days, thought it was hilarious. "Max," Staley said Tuesday about the name of that dog.
The story Harrell really likes to tell, that gets more at what he thinks of Staley, is about the time his prized Penn lightweight football jacket was stolen during a high school playoff game at the Palestra. Staley heard about it, and at practice "the very next morning" the Rage point guard presented the Palestra's man in charge of maintaining the floor with a beautiful Nike leather jacket. (Staley had a landmark Nike deal at the time that included that mural at Eighth and Market.)
"My daughter, Melissa, mentioned that jacket while we were watching [Sunday's] championship game," said Harrell, also the Palestra's resident historian while getting his own Penn degree.
The Chaney connection
Follow @DawnStaley on Twitter, and you see how Philadelphia is never far from her thoughts. You'll see a lot of hearts, and "I put on my city!" You'll see her hashtags, #phillymade #northphillyraised. Her second tweet after South Carolina won Sunday was a picture of that phone wallpaper, with the words, "NORTH PHILLY STAND UP!!! Repped for my city! #phillymade."
The Chaney connection is special, she always makes clear. Chaney used to wander by Staley's Temple practices and all of a sudden he was putting in a press break, taking half an hour. That break? She still uses it. Put the point guard in the worst spot on the floor to bait the defenders, then go another way. She'll tell you how Chaney raised her as a coach. "He gave an example of how you put your team in a position to win."
"We're all into sharing this moment," Staley said. "The same people who have been in my corner all career long are the same people I enjoy hearing from. They've seen the struggle. They've seen the ups and the downs and the highs and the lows. That's who you want in your corner when you win something big."
Will her own fire change with a title?
"I'm greedy," Staley said outside her office, that net around her neck. "I'm greedy when it comes to success. You have to approach it that way."
Her whole background comes along for every ride, but Staley also said, "If you just settle for what you've done in the past, that's where the height in your career will be, in the past."