Hall of Famer Staley back at work

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- South Carolina coach Dawn Staley has something new to entice women's basketball players this fall -- her Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame trophy.

Staley returned Monday from a weekend of celebrations and ceremonies in Springfield, Mass., where she was inducted along with 11 other basketball greats. She sat next to her trophy at South Carolina's arena, saying it will eventually end up in her office.

"That's where the recruits will see it," she said with a grin.

Staley was humbled by the honor and hopes she's set an example for young women looking to achieve big things in basketball.

"I hope little girls will approach the game like I did," she said. "I didn't cut corners. It was just a process for me where I was living out my passion."

Staley hopes several of those type of teenagers grow up to play college basketball for her Gamecocks, where she'll start her sixth season this fall. South Carolina won 25 games each of the past two years and reached back-to-back NCAA tournaments for the first time since the 2002 and 2003 seasons. The Gamecocks' 11-5 mark in the Southeastern Conference also was the school's best-ever league showing.

Staley's got the bar set even higher down the road -- she's turned down coaching overtures from Ohio State and her alma mater Virginia for their vacancies the past two years -- and told her South Carolina players in her hall induction speech Sunday night that if they stuck with her they'd eventually become national champions.

"That's right, I said it," Staley said Monday. "I put it out there."

Then again, reaching high goals are why Staley was inducted into the hall in the first place. She was the national player of the year out of Philadelphia's Dobbins Tech high school. She played her college ball at Virginia, where she played in three Final Fours and was twice the Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year.

She went on to star in both the ABL and WNBA. She won gold with the U.S. Olympic women's basketball team in 1996, 2000 and 2004. That final time as a player, Staley was honored as the America flag bearer at the Athens Games' opening ceremonies and keeps a framed photo of the moment in her South Carolina office.

She got her head coaching start in her home town, at Temple, before moving on to South Carolina after the 2007-08 season. Staley has led South Carolina on a steady climb up in the SEC ever since.

Staley went off recruiting soon after returning to her office. She doesn't plan to act differently as a hall member (one of just 15 female players in the hall), but understands the impact it will have.

"It just adds instant credibility," she said.

It's been a busy offseason for Staley. Last month, she toured several African nations alongside President Clinton and daughter Chelsea as part of a delegation put together by the Clinton Foundation. Staley said she was overwhelmed by the grace of African nationals who continually gave of themselves to strangers despite their own need.

Staley says she learned things on the trip that will make her a better coach.

The most difficult thing for Staley about the hall of fame was the 15-minute speech. Staley is never one to dwell on things, positive or negative, and does not like talking about her career. She said the induction ceremony, though, gave her a chance to reflect on what she'd done and all those who helped her get there.

"As athletes, we're confident people. We want to think that we kind of did this thing alone," she said. "But you can't become who you become (alone) in a team sport."