WASHINGTON – There was no way Dawn Staley could have anticipated the long commitment she had made the first time she slipped on a jersey to represent the United States in international basketball.
In the summer of 1989, she was a graduate of Murrell Dobbins Tech in Philadelphia and already starring as a freshman at the University of Virginia. Named to the USA Basketball women's junior national team (now U19 team), Staley saw her first international experience end with the team going 2-4 and placing seventh at the 1989 Junior World Championships in Bilbao, Spain.
It wasn't a slam-dunk start to what would become one of the most celebrated careers in USA Basketball history.
Now, nearly 30 years later, Staley will lead the USA as head coach of the senior national team when it competes in the 2018 FIBA Women's Basketball World Cup, scheduled for Sept. 22-30 in Tenerife, Canary Islands.
As a national-team player, Staley won three Olympic gold medals and two World Championships. As an assistant and/or head coach with USA Basketball, she has helped lead teams that have gone 68-4 and won two Olympic gold medals.
Asked if she imagined spending her entire adult life affiliated with USA Basketball, Staley said, "No, I did not. I didn't think I would be invited back after probably the way that I displayed some of my Philly [style]. Still, it seems to have come full circle."
Staley, who was selected by her fellow U.S. Olympic athletes to carry the flag at the opening ceremony of the 2004 Summer Games in Athens, often explains that she had no intention of becoming a coach.
She was still a player for the WNBA's Charlotte Sting in 2000 when then-Temple athletic director Dave O'Brien coaxed her into taking the Owls' head-coaching job by asking if she believed she could actually turn around one of the least successful programs in Division I while still playing in the WNBA.
There was no NCAA rule against a professional player becoming a coach, so Staley accepted the challenge. She then went on to win her second Olympic gold medal at the 2000 Games in Sydney, Australia.
Her first six seasons at Temple, she coached while spending her summers playing her final seasons in the WNBA. By the time Staley left in 2008, the once-lowly Owls had gone 172-80 and made the NCAA tournament in six of her eight seasons on North Broad Street.
That led her to another off-the-scrap-heap project at South Carolina. The Gamecocks had won just 20 games combined in the previous five seasons.
Staley had South Carolina in its first Sweet 16 in her fourth season. The Gamecocks made their first Final Four in 2015 and won the NCAA title in 2017. Her record in Columbia is 250-87 (.742), and that has led to the Gamecocks' drawing the highest attendance in women's basketball for the last four seasons.
"From coaching and being a dream merchant for young people, it brings out other aspirations once you get into it. Coaching at the collegiate mid-major [level] makes you want to coach at a Power Five program," Staley said. "You get some experience being an assistant coach with an Olympic team, and then you want to become the head coach."
Staley's first job as an assistant coach with USA Basketball was with the 2006 team that won a bronze medal at the World Cup. In 2008 and 2016, she was the assistant on gold-medal Olympic teams.
She won gold medals as head coach of the 2008 Pan American team, the squad at the 2014 Under-18 FIBA Americas Tournament, and the 2015 FIBA Under-19 champions.
She was named Senior National Team coach on March 10, 2017, and is expected to lead the team through the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
Staley handles the WNBA players who make up the Team USA roster differently than she handles her players at South Carolina.
"I was talking to a teammate and wondering, 'Man, is Dawn always this chill?' " USA and Los Angeles Sparks forward Nneka Ogwumike said. "Her calm and collectedness give you the confidence that she knows that you are a ballplayer and you know what you have to do when you're out there.
"What she does is guide us in the right direction, and that's really nice. … Granted, we need structure to some degree and Dawn gives us that, but her style really develops the mind of the player."
It's been nearly three decades since Staley believed she might have Philly Philly-ed her way out of USA Basketball.