Dawn From Raymond Rosen… National Champion!!

One evening last fall, I sat with Phil Martelli in the St. Joseph’s Basketball offices and discussed, what else… the city game. Over the past 30 years, we’ve had maybe a 100 or so of these conversations. The only thing that’s changed is the size of his office and the amenities surrounding us.

In the beginning, we would sit in his “office” adjacent to the old Field House. This space housed two Assistant coaches and two desks. After that, there was room for maybe one media guide… if it was less than 200 pages. Seriously, there wasn’t enough room to house the sneaker collection of a bench player on Team Final or We R1 “B” team. It was a glorified closet, tiny and cramped… I loved it there…

Let me tell you… we talked a lot of shit in that little space…  Who’s good? Who stinks? Who’s gonna win? Who should St. Joseph’s be recruiting?

Then, Phil got a bump… Head Coach of the Hawks… With that came a move a few feet down the hall and a private office about the size of my dorm at Lincoln University… An improvement for sure, but still lacking the “Je Ne Sais Quoi” one typically associates with Division 1 basketball offices.

But the long,  meandering and captivating conversations continued…

Eventually, St. Joseph’s committed to upgrading it’s basketball facilities… Wow!! These days, Phil works out of an office suite befitting an senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company… Just to help you understand how far things have come, the square footage of tabletop in the conference room connected to his office is literally greater than that of his first office… SJU has stepped up big time…

Although we sit in a much more refined space and lounge on nicer furniture… The the conversations are the same as they always were…

Two Delaware County Hoop Heads sitting around talking a lot of shit!

That particular evening, last fall the conversation turned to women’s college basketball… Phil’s dear friend Geno Auriemma (below) has emerged as the greatest coach in the history of women’s college basketball.

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Who knew?

In 1979, Auriemma joined Martelli’s staff at Bishop Kenrick in 1979. They coached together in the Philadelphia Catholic League for two year before Auriemma left to join the women’s staff at the University of Virginia. After four years at Virginia, Auriemma took the reins of the nondescript UConn women’s program. Prior to Auriemma’s arrival at Storrs in 1985, the Huskies Women’s Basketball team had exactly one winning season in its history.

They fuckin’ stunk!

Since Geno’s been there, they have won an astonishing 11 NCAA Women’s D1 Championships. 23 Big East Regular Season Championships and 22 Conference Tournament Championships. The Huskie’s record during Auriemma’s tenure is an incredible 991-135. He’s been named the Naismith Coach of the Year 8 times…

By any reasonable measure, Geno is the one of the greatest coaches in the history of collegiate athletics… He’s up there with the likes of John Wooden, Bear Bryant, Pat Summit, Coach K and Nick Saban… Rarefied air indeed…

So… I understood where Phil was coming from… I got it when he declared:

“Nobody else is gonna win one ‘til Geno hangs ‘em up… He’s got this thing wired…”

Yeah… I understood… But I disagreed…

Fuck that!

“Dawn is gonna get one Phil…”

Now… I didn’t have much more to go on than pure faith in “Saint” Dawn… After all, Geno was in the middle of what seemed like a 9,874 game winning streak… I simply believed my lil’ homie from North Philly and the Raymond Rosen Projects would get it done…

Dawn Staley = Winning!!

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I remember it like is was yesterday, my college roommate, Dexter “Big Herb” Matthews (above left), was also from Raymond Rosen. It was 1987 and he kept talking about his youngbuck… This lil’ girl that was frying everybody… Big Herb emphatically insisted his neighbor and childhood friend was the best player in the world… male or female…

“Y’all niggas just don’t know… my youngin’ is the best player in the nation…”

“Fuck you talkin’ bout Herb?”

“I’m telling you… watch… y’all gonna see.”

That’s how I was introduced, in 1987, to Dawn Staley… So… I start following her in the box scores… one story, in particular, stands out… 26 point, 15 rebounds, 13 assists and 12 steals… Wait… What the fuck?

No dotcoms back then, had to take that ass to the store and pay $.50 cent to get the scoop. From the moment Big Herb put me on, I never missed one…

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Now I’ve always been a hoop head but I was not a huge fan of female version of the city game. Before Staley’s emergence, the only women’s games I ever watched up to that point were the first (1982) Women’s NCAA Championship featuring Coach Vivian Stringer, the great Yolanda Laney and USC’s televised games. I had to watch Cheyney State play for the national D1 title… Imagine that? Cheyney playing for the D1 Championship on national TV…  And, EVERYBODY had to watch USC and Cheryl Miller. She was just the finest female player of her era. To this day, I still say Cheryl, in her prime, would BUST lil’ brother Reggie’s ass…

Big Herb introduced me and ALL of fellas at Lincoln University to Dawn Staley and women’s basketball. For that, we are forever grateful…

We watched Staley (below) change women’s college basketball while playing at the University of Virginia.

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Dawn was the quintessential PHILLY GUARD! Along the lines of Guy Rogers, Earl Monroe, Pooh Richardson and Kyle Lowry. Beyond tough, very little flash and willing to die on the court… It really wasn’t fair for her opponents. Dawn was used to killing dudes on the playgrounds of North Philly. She was wired differently from the women she faced… Most often the smallest player, she literally dominated the game from the backcourt… She willed the UVA program to win after win…

The NCAA tournament? That was a forgone conclusion… The only question was: Would she win a National Championship? She led UVA to 4 NCAA Tournaments, three Final Four appearances and one National Championship game.

Must see TV!! I watched every second of every game…

The world soon discovered what Big Herb had been saying for years… Dawn Staley wasn’t to be fucked with on the court… She was ABOVE varsity… She was on some other level shit…

She was the ACC female athlete of the year and the national player of the year in 1991 and 1992. A true point guard, she scored when necessary to win the game… Which was often… Staley finished her college career with 2,135 points. She relentlessly pressured opposing point guards making them extremely uncomfortable handling the ball around her… Time after time, she would strip ‘em and leave BUTT NAKED while she laid the ball off the backboard for an easy two points… Staley holds the NCAA record for career steals with 454.

A true point GOD, she finished her career at Virginia as the as the ACC’s all-time leader in assists at 729.

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Since then, she’s collected three Olympic Gold Medals as a player, two more as an assistant coach and been inducted to the Naismith Hall of Fame.

Given a chance to work just few blocks from Raymond Rosen, Staley put Temple women’s basketball on the map. She began coaching Temple in 2000 while still playing professionally. In eight years, she led the Owls to 6 NCAA appearances and one WNIT.

Always looking for a challenge, and in search of that National Championship that eluded her as a player, Dawn decided to invade the SEC and challenge mighty Tennessee for SEC supremacy. She started from the bottom… This was no rehab… It was new construction…  The Gamecocks had only won a total of 20 games in the five years before her arrival.

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Her record at at South Carolina is 221-80. The previously moribund Gamecocks have made six consecutive appearances in the NCAA tournament, with three Sweet 16s and a Final Four in 2015… Dawn got ’em rolling… The Gamecocks have been stalking the Geno and the Huskies…

That night in the Ramsay Center, the shit talking continued…

“Fuck that Phil… I like Dawn to knock your boy off… Geno can’t keep winning every year…”

“I’m telling you Del… He’s got it figured out… He’s not gonna lose…”

Well… we didn’t get the matchup we wanted… Morgan Williams, the gifted 5 foot 5 point guard from Mississippi State ended Geno’s season with a beautiful pull up jumper in the semifinals…

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After making Williams literally disappear, Dawn and the Gamecocks got one! But, she didn’t knock off Geno… To be continued…

A guy from Darby Township and a coach from Landsdowne… Two Delco Hoop heads… with two friends vying for national supremacy year in, year out… Does it get any better than this?

I can’t wait to see Phil… I’m gonna talk a whole LOTTA shit!!

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