Dawn Staley and Candice Dupree stood on the court at Madison Square Garden in July, emotions probably swarming through their minds as they were introduced as WNBA All Stars.
For the veteran Staley, the game provided one final all star memory in a storied playing career that brought her international fame.
For the rookie Dupree, the selection displayed how quickly she had ascended to the top of women’s basketball, just four months after ending her Temple career as one of the program’s finest players.
Staley’s professional career ended late last the month when the Sacramento Monarchs knocked out her Houston Comets from the WNBA playoffs in the first round. A few days earlier, Dupree completed her first season in the pros, emerging as the Chicago Sky’s top scorer.
Staley finished her career as an icon for women’s basketball. Perhaps nothing illuminated this more than when Staley, a three-time Olympic gold medal winner, carried the United States flag during the opening ceremony of the 2004 Olympic Games. A seven-time all-star (including appearances in the short-lived American Basketball League), Staley was named to the WNBA All-Decade team.
“This a future Hall of Famer,” Temple assistant coach Lisa Boyer said. “She’ll probably go in for a couple of different reasons. She’ll go in as a player. I think that whole 1996 Olympic team will go in, and I’d like to think she’ll make it as a coach.”
Yet Boyer, who coached Staley during their tenure with the ABL’s Richmond/Philadelphia Rage, said most people won’t ever realize the significance of Staley’s career.
“Unless you know the history of women’s basketball, I don’t know if people can appreciate what she’s given to the game,” she said.
Still, Staley was showered with recognition everywhere she went during the season. Houston held a ceremony before her final regular season game featuring representatives from each chapter of her career.
Dupree would get questions about Staley from players around the league.
“The question everybody always asks is, ‘What’s it like to play under Staley?'” Dupree said. “[I’d tell them,] I don’t know any different. She’s the only college coach I played for.”
Staley, busy coaching USA basketball, could not be reached for comment.
So as the sun sets on one Philadelphia star, it is merely breaking the horizon on another.
Dupree, drafted sixth in last year’s WNBA Draft, entered the season as the building block for the expansion Sky. Nikki McCray, a former teammate of both Staley and Dupree,
said though no one knew what to expect from Dupree, she was immediately impressed by Dupree’s strong fundamental skills and calm demeanor.
“I was impressed when I saw her practice,” McCray said. “I was like ‘Oh my gosh.’ There was no way you were going to keep her out of the lineup. She was a force, and you can’t keep a player like that on the bench.”
Dupree started 31 of 34 games, while leading the Sky with 13.7 points per game. She finished second on the team with 5.53 rebounds and .74 blocks per game. Among rookies, Dupree finished third in points and rebounds per game, but led all newcomers with a .457 field goal percentage.
“Her potential can be as great as she wants it to be,” said McCray, a former ABL most valuable player. “She can take the WNBA by storm. When I think of the post players in the league, she’s probably in the top five – as a rookie. That’s impressive.”
Both McCray and Boyer agreed that for Dupree to reach her potential, she needs to realize how good she really is. Boyer said she’s seen Dupree naturally make moves it would take other players nearly a year to learn.
“You’ll say to her, ‘Candice, do you know what you did?’ ‘No.’ … With Candice, you have to get her to appreciate or take advantage of how talented she is,” Boyer said.
That appreciation helped drive Staley, Boyer said.
“Dawn’s got a lot of Philly in her,” she said. “What I mean by that is that she’s super, super competitive. … Dawn’s more apt to show that emotion. If she gets a bad call, you’ll know it, whereas Candice, she’ll show it, but you won’t know it as much.”
McCray, who played the first half of the season before retiring, said she has been trying to light that fire in Dupree.
“Everyday, I tried to get her to separate her from her team because she was so much better,” McCray said. … “[After retiring,] I still called her and challenged her to play great because I want her to send a message to that team.”
McCray wants Dupree to talk more trash in practice and challenge her teammates to compete at her level. This, she said, will rally a team that finished 5-29 in its first season.
Dupree, who guided the Owls to three straight NCAA Tournament appearances, is not accustomed to losing.
“It was tough,” Dupree said. “I didn’t come into the season thinking we’d win a lot of games, but definitely more than five.
Our team has good chemistry off the court, which helps a lot.
“I would much rather have gone through this my rookie season than go through this five years down the road.”
Perhaps Dupree should take a lesson from the book of Staley who is known for getting the most out of her teammates.
“You’d be hard pressed to find anyone in the league who wouldn’t want to play with [Staley] because she makes everybody better,” Boyer said.
John Kopp can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.