PHILADELPHIA — Dawn Staley had a homecoming to remember.
The women's basketball coach at South Carolina returned this week to Philadelphia with her defending NCAA champion Gamecocks to play Temple. It wasn't her first time back in the city where she grew up since winning the national title in April. But this was a special trip for the Hall of Famer. She was going to her old stomping grounds where she honed her skills as a player to donate a replica NCAA championship trophy to the Hank Gathers Recreation Center.
"You don't dream of streets being named after you," Staley said after her fourth-ranked team routed Temple 87-60 on Thursday night. "You dream about gold medals, winning national championships. That stuff hits you like a body blow you're not prepared for when it comes from people who genuinely care for you. It makes it truly special."
Despite being the visiting team, Staley was acting more like the hostess. Before the game, she participated in a gathering for her former Temple star, Candice Dupree. Staley gave out mini-replica NCAA trophies to former Owls players, but saved the last one for former Temple men's coach John Cheney, who was a mentor to her.
"I've watched Coach Cheney since I was a little girl, coming to McGonigle (Hall), seeing how he operates," Staley said. "I remember driving 12 hours to Atlanta to watch them play in the regionals to get to Elite Eight and lose to Michigan State. I felt for him. He had best team in the country and they fell short. Hopefully I can fill that void by winning a national championship and giving him a part of it."
Staley kept her team on the court at halftime to watch Dupree get her jersey retired. It seemed an easy choice with her team up 26 points, but Staley said she planned to do it no matter what the score was.
What a scene at Hank Gathers Rec Center to welcome @dawnstaley home! So much for and from Philly by our dream merchant ...who now has a stretch of her home street named for her. #respect #legend #Gamecocks pic.twitter.com/QuF7f2DMYM— GamecockWBB (@GamecockWBB) December 21, 2017
"There are times in this profession that nothing's more important than being a part of history," Staley said. "Candice was a part of history here at Temple University and I didn't want to miss it. ... We needed to share in this joyous moment."
Dupree was appreciative that her former coach and her team stayed to watch the ceremony.
"I think it's pretty cool they stayed out here. It was up for discussion," Dupree said.
The Indiana Fever star was impressed with the reception her former coach received from the city the last few days.
"The fact people welcome her with open arms is incredible. She's done a lot for this city in general," Dupree said. "I aspire to be like her when I'm done playing."
Temple coach Tonya Cardoza also was thrilled for her former Virginia teammate.
"To see the city pull for her and really stand behind her, that's awesome," Cardoza said. "That doesn't happen a lot. For her, a female in Philly, that's a big deal."
South Carolina star A'ja Wilson wouldn't let Staley's homecoming be spoiled with a loss to Temple. She had 28 points, 12 rebounds and eight blocks in the win.
"Our team said in the pregame huddle, 'Let's do it for coach,'" Wilson said. "It's her homecoming. We wanted to put it on."
The 6-foot-5 center was emotional about everything she saw Wednesday, from where her coach grew up to Staley being honored with a street named after her.
"That was a great ceremony. It was a great thing. I was crying my eyes out, of course," Wilson said. "Great seeing Coach out there, and the city was paying back all she did for them."
Staley was happy she could share the moment with her team.
"It's been a great experience. I'm a little full and overwhelmed with everything that's taken place," she said. "Philadelphia is a city that loves on so many levels. To come back and share in these moments are truly worthwhile."