Sep 1, 2013
Six days away from the start of Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Enshrinement Weekend for South Carolina women’s basketball head coach Dawn Staley, GamecocksOnline.com is taking a closer look at Staley’s incredible playing career, including her top five career moments next week.
U.S. Professional Basketball (1997-2006)
Playing overseas for several seasons after graduation, Dawn Staley’s year-long USA Basketball residency ended in the birth of two professional women’s basketball leagues in the United States in 1996. The first was the American Basketball League (ABL) with which most of her USA Basketball teammates had committed to play, prior to the Olympics. At the same time, the NBA was forming the WNBA, luring away some of the USA Basketball talent from the fledgling, independent ABL.
Staley stuck with her commitment to the ABL and was selected by the Richmond Rage, where she played for current South Carolina associate head coach Lisa Boyer. Staley led the Rage to a 21-10 record and the league’s first championship game in the 1996-97 season. Current South Carolina assistant coach Nikki McCray’s Columbus Quest edged Staley’s Rage by a single point to claim the title.
After a second season with the league, including the Rage’s move from Richmond to Staley’s hometown Philadelphia, the two-time ABL All-Star made the jump to the WNBA. The league was thriving with the support of the NBA, and its shorter season was appealing to Staley, who was feeling the physical stress of decades playing her all-out, physical style.
Selected ninth in the 1999 WNBA Draft by the Charlotte Sting, Staley became a force in the league. She scored a career-high 23 points against Orlando join July 16, 1999, and handed out a franchise-record 13 assists against Washington on July 26, 2000. Playing for head coach Anne Donovan, Staley, who had just completed her first season as a head coach at Temple, led the Sting to an Eastern Conference championship in 2001, falling 2-0 in the WNBA title series to the Los Angeles Sparks. That season she recorded the 2,000th point of her U.S. professional career, and netted her 2,000th in the WNBA the following season (2002). Staley was named an All-Star after both campaigns and added a third selection the following seasons.
Staley handed out her 1,000th career assist against Connecticut on Sept. 1, 2004, and was traded to the Houston Comets on Aug. 1, 2005. She finished that season and played one more in Houston before retiring from the league to focus all her energy on her coaching career, capping her playing career with two more All-Star selections, becoming the first player to have started for both the Eastern and Western Conference All-Star teams.
Staley closed her WNBA career with 2,226 points (8.5 ppg) and 1,337 assists (5.1 apg). Her assists per game still ranks fifth in league history. She was named to the league’s All-Decade Team in 2006 and five years later was tabbed one of the WNBA’s Top 15 most influential players in league history. With her competitive fire always burning white hot, Staley earned the WNBA Kim Perrot Sportsmanship Award twice.
From having an award named for her – Dawn Staley Community Leadership Award – to representing the league and the sport of women’s basketball on various international tours, Staley continues to influence a league that her reputation and play helped build.