In 1991, Dawn Staley and Tonya Cardoza played as teammates for the University of Virginia in the NCAA Division I championship game.
Sixteen years later, the two friends coached against each other for the first time ever when the University of South Carolina visited the Liacouras Center on Thursday.
“Leading up to it, that’s your sister on the other sideline,” Staley said. “Once the ball tips, it’s just another opponent. I didn’t really visualize Tonya down there. I just was really in tune to our game.”
South Carolina, which is ranked No. 4 in the Associated Press Top 25 poll, beat Temple, 87-60, and Staley became South Carolina’s all-time winningest coach. Senior forward A’ja Wilson recorded a double-double for the Gamecocks with 28 points, 12 rebounds and eight blocks.
When Cardoza was asked whether Temple would renew the series after next year’s game at South Carolina, she laughed and said “we’ll see what happens next year.”
The trip for Staley was more than just a basketball game. Staley coached the Owls from 2000-08 and grew up in North Philadelphia.
She came to Philadelphia with her team two days before the game. On Wednesday, Staley brought her team to the Hank Gathers Recreation Center at 25th and Diamond streets. Staley said it’s where she learned how to play basketball and honed her skills to eventually become a Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame player.
In a ceremony, Diamond Street between 23rd and 25th was renamed Dawn Staley Lane. Staley also left a replica of the Gamecocks’ Division I title trophy from the 2016-17 season.
Wilson knew the game and the environment was special to her coach, so she told her teammates to win the game for Staley.
“This was kind of her homecoming ceremony, so we had to put on but still stay in our system,” Wilson said. “We didn’t want to go too crazy, but still, it’s what we do. We stayed within our system and got the win.”
Staley’s coaching job at Temple was the first of her career and not far from where she grew up. Staley said she used to come to McGonigle Hall as a young girl to watch how former Temple men’s basketball coach and Naismith Hall of Famer John Chaney led his teams to success.
Twenty years after Chaney made his first NCAA Tournament appearance during the 1983-84 season, Staley made her second NCAA Tournament and won her second Atlantic 10 Conference title. She coached Temple to six NCAA Tournament appearances.
Chaney’s final six seasons overlapped Staley’s first six at Temple. Staley said being in the presence of Chaney helped build her career.
“With coach Chaney, I never want to miss nuggets that he gives,” Staley said. “He’s always got something incredible to say and I always want to make sure that anytime I’m around him, I do give him the floor because he’s always dropping knowledge to anybody. I just appreciate what he’s meant to me throughout my career, and certainly to share a space with him when I first started coaching couldn’t have been any better for my career.”
Staley said she gave a replica Division I championship trophy to Chaney after last season. While building a relationship with Chaney at Temple, Staley became the winningest coach with 172 wins. Cardoza surpassed that mark last season.
Staley said she is glad to see Cardoza’s success at Temple and her receive a contract extension, but she is still waiting for Cardoza to take her out to dinner after the extension.
Staley said she always recalls the national championship game in 1991 that she played in with Cardoza.
Virginia had a two-point lead late in the game against the University of Tennessee and coach Debbie Ryan, who watched her former players coach Thursday’s game, called a timeout.
“We’re in the timeout, and much as our players probably do to us, we listen to the coach during the timeout,” Staley said. “We walk out on the court and then we have our own little discussion as to what we’re really going to do on the court.”
Staley said in the player huddle the only thing she told the team was for Cardoza to not go for a steal.
“Tonya goes for the steal, of course, misses…and the rest is history,” Staley said. “We ended up losing the national championship in 1991.”
Tonya “Don’t Go For the Steal” Cardoza is what Staley calls her former teammate. Staley never won a national championship as a player, but Cardoza said she is happy to see her friend win one as a coach.
“We looked out for each other in college,” Cardoza said. “She had 20 dollars, she’s sharing that 20 dollars with me. She’s making sure I have whatever she has. If she’s getting her hair done, she’s making sure that I’m getting my hair done as well. To see the city pull for her and really stand behind her, that’s awesome, because that doesn’t really happen a lot, and for her, a female in Philly, that’s a big deal.”