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Dawn Staley Carves Her Own Basketball Legacy Coaching in Her First Final Four

3 Apr
Dawn Staley has been a winner throughout her basketball career.

South Carolina Dawn Staley has been a winner throughout her basketball career. She will be making her first appearance as a coach in the 2015 Final Four when her Gamecocks take on Notre Dame in Sunday’s national semifinal contest in Tampa.

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

When we think of iconic figures in Philadelphia basketball, we almost always point to male basketball players like Wilt Chamberlain, Julius Erving and Allen Iverson, three guys that would be atop a roundball Mount Rushmore if it existed here.

But, there’s one more person you need to add to that list of Philadelphia basketball royalty and her name is Dawn Staley.

Staley, who will be taking her University of South Carolina women’s basketball squad to the Women’s Final Four in Tampa, Florida, has done just about everything in basketball and is just as worthy as her legendary male counterparts.

When Staley’s South Carolina women’s squad takes the floor against Notre Dame in Tampa, it’ll be her first trip to the national semifinals as a head coach and her first visit since her collegiate days when she was leading the Virginia Cavaliers to three straight Final Four appearances.

Transforming a once dormant Gamecocks women’s basketball program into a national powerhouse is a testament to her North Philly roots and a rock-hard determination to succeed in the face of enormous odds, something she reflected on during a conference call with Final Four coaches earlier this week.

“I’m most proud of being able to cut the bottom of a milk crate out, nail it to a piece of wood, and put it on that electrical pole,” said Staley, a three-time Olympic Gold Medalist. “And I used to really‑‑ I perfected a bank shot off of a wooden basket in a crate.

“So I know I’ve accomplished a lot of things in my life and my basketball career, but that’s truly hard.  I won a lot of horse games on the streets of Philly learning how to perfect the bank shot under those circumstances.”

It was that competitive fire that helped her turn a struggling Temple’s women’s basketball program into a force to be reckoned with in the Atlantic-10. From 2000 to 2008, Staley’s teams won 172 games and captured four A-10 titles and made six NCAA Tournament appearances.

Quite a few of her players from those Owls teams have gone to play well at the professional level in this country and internationally. Most notably, Candice Dupree who helped lead the Phoenix Mercury to a WNBA title.

Coming to South Carolina and coaching in a tough Southeastern Conference that includes perennial powerhouse Tennessee, winners of seven national championships, was an even tougher task for Staley than reviving Temple’s program.

In her first year, Staley’s squad won just 10 games. Four years later, the Gamecocks went to the Sweet 16.

But Staley said it wasn’t easy. She needed to get talent good enough to make South Carolina into a national powerhouse. Some of that talent is homegrown from the state of South Carolina.

One of those best players is junior guard Tiffany Mitchell, a two-time SEC Player-of-the-Year who is averaging 14 points per game and she landed a Parade national high school player of the year in 6-foot-5-inch freshman A’ja Wilson, who is averaging 13 points per game.

“It takes talent.  It takes great people, and it takes a commitment, a commitment of discipline,” Staley said.  “So once we got those things in place, our program started to move in the right direction.  We didn’t always have that.  Seven years ago, we didn’t have that.”

For all the times Staley has been a part of winning traditions as both a player and a coach at the collegiate level, she has yet to win a national championship. As a player, she came close in 1991 when her Virginia squad he experienced a heartbreaking overtime loss to Tennessee.

Staley said if South Carolina wins the women’s national championship this weekend, the trophy is not just for her, but for all the people who shaped her playing and coaching career along the way including former Temple head coach John Chaney.

“So I take all of those people who helped me along the way and who also experienced that awful feeling of not‑‑ you know, that void of not winning a National Championship,” Staley said. “Hopefully, the cards are in our favor this year, and hopefully I’ll be able for all of those people who played an integral role in my life.”

 

 

 

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Former Temple Women’s Star Living a Dream with the Harlem Globetrotters

13 Mar

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Former Temple point guard Fatima Maddox in enjoying the spotlight as a member of the Harlem Globetrotters.  Photo by Webster Riddick.

Former Temple point guard Fatima  “TNT ” Maddox in enjoying the spotlight as a member of the Harlem Globetrotters. Photo by Webster Riddick.

PHILADELPHIA—Ever since she started playing basketball, former Temple women’s basketball star Fatima Maddox has always dreamed of being a professional basketball and showing off her skills.

During her college days at Temple, Maddox played point guard for then head coach and Basketball Hall-of-Famer, Dawn Staley, leading the Owls to a pair of NCAA Tournament appearances and an Atlantic-10 title in 2006.

After Temple, Maddox played professionally in Sweden for a few years. In 2012, Maddox’s pro hoop dreams became even bigger than she imagined when got a tryout with the world-famous Harlem Globetrotters and became the first woman to make the team since 1993.

“I get a phone call to try-out for the Globetrotters and I’m like, ‘Are women allowed on that team?’” Maddox said. “I showed up with no expectations, not really knowing what to expect and it worked out for me … I ended up making it and I’ve been living a dream ever since.”

Now known as “TNT”, Maddox is having the time of her life as a Globetrotter, entertaining the crowd with slick ball-handling skills reminiscent of legendary Globetrotter Fred “Curly” Neal. The former Temple guard was in town for their show at the Wells Fargo last weekend.

As much fun as Maddox is having on the basketball court, the most meaningful part to her as she plays with the ‘Trotters around the country and around the world is the chance she gets to interact with fans on and off the court, especially the kids.

“This gives me a chance to do so much more off the court as well as on the court as far as charities,” she said. “We go to a lot of schools and we do a lot of school visits. “It’s been rewarding for me. Now I visit hospitals with sick kids. I visit schools. It takes everything that I’m about and intertwines it.”

During the Globetrotters recent visit to the Wells Fargo Center, Maddox participated in all the famed Globetrotter antics, the famous weave play, the pre-game circle, hidden ball tricks and she did her signature sliding dribble plays and twirling and spinning the basketball on her fingers.

“I like the slide dribble that I do and so I break that out whenever I can,” Maddox said. “I’ve always been good at dribbling and that adds a little something to it.”

Maddox said Curly Neal has been one of her biggest fans at watching her perform his old moves on the court.

“(Neal) is so encouraging. He’s a legend,” she said. “He tells I’m doing a good job. He’s always encouraging me to get better, so I hoping I’m making him proud.”

When she wasn’t on the floor and playing with her teammates, Maddox was in the crowd hugging the kids and giving them an opportunity to come on the floor with the Globetrotters. That aspect of being a Globetrotter seemed to make her big smile light up even more.

“The smiles on those kids faces, those are priceless,” Maddox said. “If I can bring joy to somebody by doing something I love to do. That’s the fun part for me. It’s been awesome, it really has been.”

As the lone woman on the team, Maddox has held her own with the guys and has earned a great deal of respect from her male cohorts.

“TNT is amazing. … She’s one of the best ball-handlers on the team,” said Chris “Handles” Franklin. “It’s not like she’s a gimmick. She can really play basketball. She can dribble. She can shoot. She can do it all.”

“Most importantly, she’s an inspiration to all the women out there. She show’s you that you can do anything you want when you put your mind to it, “ Franklin said.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Women of Power: Hoops Legends Staley and Cooper-Dyke Coach Game They Play–Superbly

17 Feb

By Scott Talley 

For the Chris Murray Report 

Hall-of-Fame head coach Dawn Staley has been a winner as a player and as a coach at both South Carolina and Temple.

Hall-of-Fame head coach Dawn Staley has been a winner as a player and as a coach at both South Carolina and Temple.

It is often said that great players don’t make great coaches.  Apparently this adage was never communicated to Dawn Staley or Cynthia Cooper-Dyke.

Staley, one of the most decorated players in women’s basketball history is now head basketball coach of the University of South Carolina Lady Gamecocks.  At first glance, it would appear impossible for Staley to match her athletic resume, which includes being a two-time National Player of the Year (1991, 1992) while starring at point guard for the University of Virginia, playing on three gold-medal-winning Olympic teams, and 2013 enshrinement into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.  However, the Philadelphia native is well on her way to achieving coaching greatness.

The Lady Gamecocks entered the 2013-14 campaign on the heels of two consecutive 25-win seasons, including a stellar record of 25 wins and only eight losses last season.  And with March approaching, Staley’s nationally ranked team is a virtual lock to make this year’s NCAA Tournament, also known as the “Big Dance.

This season, the Gamecocks are 23-2 overall and are first place in the Southeastern Conference with an 11-1 recording including Sunday’s road win over No. 19 LSU.

Staley arrived at South Carolina in 2008 to turn around the Lady Gamecocks’ basketball fortunes after a highly successful run as head coach of Temple University, where she posted a 172-80 record in eight seasons, including six NCAA Tournament appearances.

 

Basketball Hall-of-Famer Cynthia Cooper-Dyke won four WNBA titles as a player and is looking to bring USC back to prominence in women's basketball.

Basketball Hall-of-Famer Cynthia Cooper-Dyke won four WNBA titles as a player and is looking to bring USC back to prominence in women’s basketball.

Like Staley, Cooper-Dyke was often the center of attention during a spectacular playing career.  The fiery guard’s highlight reel included playing on two NCAA championship teams at the University of Southern California, winning an Olympic gold medal, leading the Houston Comets to four consecutive WNBA titles, and 2010 enshrinement into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

As a head college basketball coach, Cooper-Dyke also has mirrored Staley by turning losing programs into winners, including success stories at Prairie View A&M, University of North Carolina at Wilmington and Texas Southern.   When former Los Angeles Lakers standout Michael Cooper was unable to get the job done as head coach of the University of Southern California’s women’s team, Cooper-Dyke received a call from her alma mater.

Upon accepting the job she said:  “I’m very excited to coach every one of these USC players.  I’m excited about the talent we have.  I’m excited to teach and learn and motivate and really see them blossom into the players they can truly become.”

True to her words, after only a few months on the job, Cooper-Dyke’s Women of Troy are showing signs of returning to national prominence, including a home-and-home sweep of rival UCLA this season.

Under Cooper-Dyke’s leadership, USC is 16-10 overall and 9-5 in Pacific-12 Conference play and are in a three-way tie for second in the conference.

Since the NCAA began sponsoring women’s basketball in 1982, basketball has remained the most popular women’s sport and in recent years the talent has grown by leaps and bounds.  The sport’s continued rise will no doubt be fueled by coaches like Cooper-Dyke and Staley, who are committed to helping young women be successful on and off the court.

As Staley said during her Hall of Fame induction speech:  “I knew I had made the right decision to coach when I started to care more about my players than the win, and I really like wins…”

Scott Talley is a freelance writer and public relations consultant based in Detroit, Michigan. 

 

 

More Opportunities: WABA Seeks to Give More Women A Chance to Play Pro Basketball

28 Jul
The WABA hopes to increase opportunities for women to play professional basketball.

The WABA hopes to be a successful compliment to the WNBA.

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report

When Sonya Nichols was a basketball player at James Madison in the mid-1990s, she struggled with knee injuries and didn’t have much of a chance to showcase her skills enough to get an opportunity to play professional basketball.

Nichols didn’t get any calls from the European professional leagues, the newly formed WNBA or the former American Basketball League. Not having a venue to showcase her talents was something that still sticks with her.

“After my collegiate career when my knees were ready to go, I didn’t have a platform to play,” Nichols said. “I took that personally. I knew that one day that I would like to be a part of helping women who are displaced and not able to go overseas or not interested in going overseas, for that matter to be in some type of league that’s available for us just to showcase and demonstrate the talent we have because we didn’t’ make it to that next level for one reason or another.”

As the chief executive officer of the newly formed Women’s American Basketball Association, Nichols wants to give women basketball players that opportunity to play at the professional level.   The league; which is a part of the Indianapolis-based American Basketball Association, is scheduled to begin play in April, 2014.

WABA chief operations officer  and Philadelphia sports agent Sporty Smith will be the owner of the WABA’s Philadelphia Philly Love. The league hopes to have 24 teams in place by the time play begins next April, he said.

Former WNBAers, collegiate players, players who have spent time in the European leagues and coaches from those ranks will make up the WABA, Smith said.

But what makes this league different is that it will also offer local stars, women who played for local colleges and high schools that might have name recognition in the cities in which the league has teams, the chance to show they’ve still got it, Smith said.

“The difference between us and the WNBA is that a lot of the players that would be on those teams would be local and so they’ll have their families readily available to watch them play,” Smith said.

There are currently nine teams in the league, according to the WABA’s website. These teams are:  The New Jersey Express, which will play out of Newark, N.J.; The New England Stormers, which will play out of Boston; The Hampton Roads Lightning (Norfolk, Va.); and the Philadelphia Love. Once the league is fully formed these teams will make up the Northeast Division.

The Midwest Division is comprised of only one team so far, the Chicago Lady Steam. The South Division will be made up of the Lake City Kingdom Riderettes (Lake Charles, La.); The Lady Cadets of Fayetteville, NC; The Lady Roadrunners of Columbus, Ga.; and the McAllen Queens of McAllen, Tex.

Going into markets big and small is an important part of the new league’s strategy for growth.

“That’s an opportunity for us,” Sonya Nichols said. “That’s pretty much the standard model of the ABA since it’s inception. We’re going take a page from their book and really tap in those markets. People in those towns want to come out and support a professional team because they don’t have them.”

While giving women’s basketball players another venue to play professional basketball sounds like a good idea, the WABA will have to convince an audience in an over saturated sports market that their league will be as good as the WNBA, which has its own struggles in its 17 years of existence.

With the addition of new WNBA players like Elena Delle Donne of the Chicago Sky, Skyler Diggins who plays for the Tulsa Shock and of course, Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner, who dominated women’s college basketball with her size and ability to dunk, interest in the WNBA is actually growing.

Attendance, WNBA merchandise and TV ratings on ESPN 2 have gone up this year thanks to Griner, Delle Donne and Diggins.  In the season-opener featuring all three players, ESPN 2 had it highest regular-season ratings in nine years.

Nichols said the recent success of the WNBA and the popularity of women’s college basketball bode well for her upstart league.

“People are very interested in women’s sports now, “ Nichols said. “Those three players of that caliber have really sparked an interest.  …We definitely feel that we’ll be able to stay in it and we will sustain just as the WNBA has.”

One of the things that could help the WABA is having a television deal to broadcast their games. To that end, Nichols said that she has worked out a deal to televise their games with the New York-based Urban Broadcasting Company, which is scheduled to launch in the fall and is supposed to reach 40 million homes on Comcast, Time Warner and Dish Network.

Nichols said the new league is also in negotiations with another network, but will not announce anything until a deal is done.

Meanwhile, Nichols and Smith are also trying to find arenas to play their games. If they’re going not to going to play in places like the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia or New York’s Madison Square Garden, collegiate arenas will be the venue of choice.

For his team, Smith has found a practice facility in Northeast Philadelphia.  He said he is negotiating with local colleges for a regular place to play their games.

As for player salaries, the WABA will not be doling out millions right away. Smith said that will happen as the league grows and continues to get sponsorship. The league minimum for players will be $50 per game.

Both Nichols and Smith said the main thrust of their local marketing strategy is to be involved in community service efforts by partnering with local charities and also having community organizations such as children’s dance groups perform at halftime.

“Our service projects will garner a lot of attention,” Nichols said. “Some of the community service initiatives that we have include tutoring, women’s shelters and other projects that we’re working on now.”

In the spirit of the old men’s ABA from the 1970s, Nichols said there will be some interesting wrinkles such as the red, white and blue basketball and points to award outstanding defense and hustle as a way of making the game fun for fans.

For example, if a team makes a steal near their own basket, a team will get two points for the steal and two or three additional points if they hit a two-point bucket or a three-pointer.

“If you play good basketball, they’ll keep coming back,” Nichols said.

ABA CEO Joe Newman the thing he likes about the new league is that it opens a door of opportunities for people who want to be employed in the sport.

“It’s an opportunity to do what they’ve dreamed about in their careers and that is to play at the professional level,” Newman said. “It’s also off the court to develop the potential middle managers and marketing people, press media people and community people, and radio and TV people who will pursue what they studied in college… It’s a place to achieve your dreams.”

It’s Time For Men to Respect and Support Women’s Basketball

10 Apr

http://espn.go.com/espnw/commentary/9133781/brittney-griner-nba-offer-false-promise

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report/The Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Baylor's Britany Griner will be the No. 1 pick in the WNBA Draft and could be the league's most compelling figure.

Baylor’s Britany Griner will be the No. 1 pick in the WNBA Draft and could be the league’s most compelling figure.

When the University of Maryland Lady Terrapins defeated the Duke Lady Blue Devils in an overtime thriller for the NCAA’s women’s national basketball title in 2006, it was one of the greatest games of all time, not just in women’s hoops, but in the history of college basketball.

Freshman point guard Kristi Toliver’s miracle three-pointer over Duke’s 6-foot-7 forward Alison Bales in the final seconds to send the game to overtime enabled the Terrapins to come back from a 13-point deficit at halftime.  Freshman Marissa Coleman would sink a pair of free-throws in overtime to pull off an improbable upset.

A day after the game, I was in the Sixers press dining room having dinner with some of the beat writers when I brought up what a great game that Maryland-Duke national championship game was last night.

“You actually watch women’s basketball,” one of the guys said.

I don’t know why I was surprised by the response. I’ve been a sports writer for a while so I shouldn’t have been.

I mean, hey, in a mostly white, mostly male sports journalism industry, why should women’s basketball get any notice? My guess is that the only reason that women’s tennis gets any notice is that it’s played in really, really short skirts.

But while sexism rears its ugly head most in the world of sports journalism, it’s not the only place it hangs out. In a country where great strides have been made in the area of gender equality,we still have quite a way to go.

Recently, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban made headlines when he sent a Twitter message to 6-foot-8 Baylor All-American Brittney Griner offering a tryout with his team.

It was widely reported in the sports media that it was nothing more than a publicity stunt by Cuban, who is our modern-day Bill Veeck for his penchant for making himself the story.

Of course, you heard all the reasons why Griner couldn’t play with the fellas in the NBA. The athleticism, the speed, the size would be too much for the 6-foot-8 Griner. I can accept that because Griner is a back to the basket player in the low post and not just because she’s a woman.

Besides, 6-foot-8 forwards are a dime a dozen in the NBA and most of them are swing guards or small forwards. If Griner was a good ball-handler and had that kind of game, I might be inclined to say that she may have shot at possibly making a team.

But all that said, I agree with ESPN columnist Jemele Hill who says that she’d like to see Griner make an impact on the WNBA and become one of the best players in the women’s game while also boosting the profile of a league that’s trying to make a name for itself.

Recently, the WNBA and ESPN announced a huge television deal that runs through 2022. The league has revamped its logo and wants to market current college stars like Griner and Notre Dame’s Skylar Diggins, and Delaware’s Elena Delle Donne as the future faces of the league.

Like Hill and her ESPN colleague Kate Fagan, I believe that the whole of idea Griner trying to play in the NBA is another way of marginalizing women as athletes.

Neither Griner nor the current stars of the WNBA like Diana Taurasi, Swin Cash, Tamika Catchings, or Candace Parker need men to validate them as great basketball players. But they are deserving of their respect.

As much as the WNBA and ESPN will do to market their sport, I think the real issue that there is still a huge resistance among men in sports media and society in general to take women’s sports seriously.

The only time you hear any serious discussion of women’s sports on sports talk radio is to hear the loud mouths justify why they don’t watch or to say something disparaging about one of the athletes.

That was the case in 2007 when Don Imus referred to the Rutgers women’s basketball team as “nappy-headed hoes.”

What bothered me about that situation was that C. Vivian Stringer’s Scarlet Knight squad had completed a remarkable run through the NCAA Tournament and reached the national championship game when nobody expected them to be there.

But it’s not just media coverage. Women’s college basketball teams, even in some of the most successful programs, don’t draw the kind of crowds that their male counterparts do. Is it marketing on the part of the university? Or is it because the players don’t have that look that appeals to our male sexual fantasies like an Anna Kournikova?

To me, it’s not market forces or anything couched in some pseudo scientific survey done by a Harvard research team, it’s just that we men still can’t get past our sexism to appreciate the athleticism of female athletes. After all, sports are supposed to be the domain of men.

While I respect ESPN’s efforts for broadcasting the WNBA and women’s college basketball, we will not have true gender equity in sports until we can stand around the nation’s water coolers and rave about Brittney Griner’s exploits on the court in the same way we do LeBron James’s.