Staley, Dawn (1970—)

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Staley, Dawn (1970—)

American athlete. Born on May 4, 1970, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; graduated from the University of Virginia, 1992.

Won numerous athletic honors throughout high school and college career; was a member of the gold medal-winning women's basketball team representing the U.S. in the Atlanta Olympics (1996); played with the American Basketball League's Philadelphia Rage (1996–97); moved to the Women's National Basketball Association (1998).

At 5'6", Dawn Staley seemed an unlikely candidate for the U.S. women's Olympic basketball team, but her incredible high school and college basketball career proved that height is not as important as determination and talent. Born in 1970 and raised in Philadelphia, the youngest of a family of five children, Staley attended Philadelphia's Dobbins Technical High School, where she excelled in athletics, particularly basketball. Determined to be the first in her family to graduate from college, she received a scholarship to the University of Virginia, where she began her academic studies in 1988.

At Virginia, Staley continued the successful career she had begun in high school, leading her team to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Final Four playoffs three years in a row and becoming the most outstanding player of the playoffs in 1991. A three-time winner of the Kodak All-American award, two-time winner of the Women's Basketball Coaches' Naismith Player of the Year award, and recipient of numerous other athletic kudos, Staley also had the respect of her teammates, who elected her team captain in 1992, her senior year at the University of Virginia. At graduation, she held the NCAA career record with 454 steals and the Virginia record for career points and assists during her four years of collegiate play.

From college, it was a natural jump to the Olympic trials, and Staley made the grade. In 1992, she was a member of the R. William Jones Cup team, and from 1993 to 1995 played around the world, taking time out to participate in the 1994 Goodwill Games, where she was named Most Valuable Player after averaging 9.3 points per game. In 1996, Staley was selected to serve on the U.S. Olympic team, where her ranking as its shortest member belied her impressive points-per-game score against Korea. Staley's contributions in the area of rebounds, assists (an average of 3.5 per game) and free throws (she sank nine of ten against Brazil) enabled the United States to take home the gold. That year, Staley also gave back to the community through her establishment of the Dawn Staley Foundation which sponsored an after-school project, a scholarship program and a series of basketball clinics.

After her Olympic success, Staley entered the world of professional basketball, joining the American Basketball League's Philadelphia Rage in her hometown. She was a two-time All-Star with the league before moving to the less intensive Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA) on a three-year contract in September 1998. The WNBA's shorter schedule allowed Staley to rest her battered knees in preparation for a second Olympic run in the 2000 Games. As a leader with the Charlotte Sting, she pulled the team together for a run to the playoffs, averaging 11.5 points and 5.5 assists per game. She added to her team's strengths with her precision passing and her remarkably accurate free-throw shooting, the second-best in the league. Her play earned her the 1999 Sportsmanship Award and the American Express Small Business Entrepreneurial Spirit Award. At the 2000 Games in Sydney, Australia, the U.S. women's basketball team—including Staley, Sheryl Swoopes , Lisa Leslie , Natalie Williams and Teresa Edwards —fought hard against an excellent Australian women's team in the final round, winning the gold medal with a score of 76–54. Among all-time USA Olympic competitors, Staley ranks fourth in assists, with 28. She now serves as head coach of women's basketball at Temple University, one of the youngest Division 1 head coaches in America.

Pamela Shelton , freelance writer, Avon, Connecticut