COLLEGE PARK, MD. - If you consider where the women's basketball program at Temple was before Dawn Staley arrived and the heights it has soared to since, you might think the Owls' head coach would be satisfied.

If the goal was to revive a dead program that had collapsed under the strain of 10 straight losing campaigns, then Staley having seven winning seasons in her first eight would be enough.

If the goal was to earn respect for a program that had one NCAA Tournament appearance in its history before 2000, then Staley having the Owls in the Big Dance for the sixth time since the turn of the century truly represents a new era.

If Staley believed she could only build a good program on North Broad Street, then the 11th-seeded Owls losing 61-54 to 6th-seed Arizona State in the first round of the Oklahoma City Region last night could be viewed as more positive reinforcement. After all, for most programs simply making the NCAA is a highlight season.

Still, if you know even a little bit about Staley's competitive nature, you would know that satisfied is the last thing she is.

Staley didn't come to Temple believing she could build a good program. She believed she could build a great one, a championship one.

Her resume includes three trips to the Final Four as an All-America guard at the University of Virginia; three Olympic gold medals as a player; and championship-round appearances in both the defunct American Basketball League and the WNBA.

"I want to take our program to the next level," said Staley, who retired from playing in 2006 and is in her second season exclusively focused on her program at Temple. "Now I can really concentrate on recruiting."

For the value of what recruiting can do for a program, one need only look at Maryland, the host institution for this pod of games. In 2002, Terps head coach Brenda Frese came from the University of Minnesota to resuscitate a once-proud program.

Frese finished 10-18 that first season but is now on a run of five straight NCAA appearances, and she guided Maryland to the 2006 NCAA Championship.

She did it by breaking through the plexiglass ceiling of recruiting in women's basketball, where the super-elite recruits are almost the exclusive domain of a few established programs, like Connecticut, Tennessee, Duke and Stanford.

It's a much more exclusive club than in men's basketball, and gaining admittance can be like trying to kick through a 2-inch-thick steel door.

"It's interesting when you are battling UConn and Tennessee, programs that have won so many national championships," Frese said after No.1-seeded Maryland beat 16th-seed Coppin State, 80-66, here in a Spokane Regional game. "For most players, that's the easy way out. They feel like they are guaranteed to get championships.

"I think it takes more courage and confidence to be the player that can step out of that, the one that can come make a difference some place else."

Now Maryland is one of those elite programs in large part because Frese sold two high school All-America players from the Philadelphia area on that logic.

In 2004, Cheltenham High star Laura Harper, the Pennsylvania Gatorade Player of the Year and second-team Parade All-American, and Crystal Langhorne, a first-team Parade All-American and two-time New Jersey Player of the Year at Willingboro High, committed to Maryland.

"Honestly, coach [Frese] is just a great recruiter," said Harper, who was named Most Outstanding Player of the 2006 Final Four. "She just convinced me that I was the piece that she needed along with what she was bringing in to build this program to national prominence.

"She believed in me and I believed in her."

A year before, that pitch had worked on Shay Doran, an All-America guard from New York City's Christ the King High. A year later, it was Marissa Coleman, a first-team Parade All-American from St. John's High (Washington, D.C.), and Kristy Toliver, a second-team Parade All-American from Harrisonburg (Va.) High.

In 2006, with those five as the starters, Maryland won its first NCAA women's championship.

Call it a recruiting domino effect to a title.

"Obviously having a great basketball team that's already here with great coaches and great players made the decision to come here a lot easier," Toliver said. "I knew coming here that I had two of the best post players [Harper and Langhorne] waiting for me. Having great talent already in place is definitely a great recruiting tool."

And that's Staley's biggest challenge at Temple.

By sending Candice Dupree and Kamesha Hairston to the WNBA as first-round draftees, Staley has proved she can develop players. Current seniors Ashley Morris and Lady Comfort are further examples of players who have improved with Staley.

But Staley has yet to land that super-elite prospect, the one that can be the catalyst to elevate a program to the next level.

Ironically, Staley almost had that player in Harper.

"I have so much respect for Dawn Staley," Harper said. "Temple was one of my top three choices. Ashley Morris is a good friend and I played AAU ball with her, but I wanted to get away.

"I think Temple just needs that one player to get them over to that next level."

Getting the first is still the toughest in women's basketball. *

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