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USC snags star in Dawn Staley

South Carolina is shelling out big money to land one of the biggest names in women’s basketball.

USC has reached a deal with Temple University’s Dawn Staley to become the Gamecocks’ new coach, the university announced Wednesday.

The 38-year-old Staley will be introduced at noon Saturday after university trustees approve the most lucrative contract ever given to a female coach at USC. Staley will join Gamecocks track coach Curtis Frye as the only black head coaches in school history.

Staley’s five-year deal includes a base salary of $250,000 — the same as new men’s coach Darrin Horn — and a total package reaching $650,000 annually, sources confirmed.

If the contract is approved, Staley will make more in guaranteed income than Gamecocks baseball coach Ray Tanner ($345,000) and the man who hired her, USC athletics director Eric Hyman ($475,000).

The proposed contract also includes a provision calling for USC to assist Staley in paying the $500,000 buyout owed to Temple. USC will cover the buyout but recoup 75 percent of it from Staley over the course of the contract.

Longtime trustee Eddie Floyd, a member of the executive committee that will vote on Staley’s deal, said making an investment in women’s basketball is the right move.

“As long as we get what we pay for,” Floyd said. “If we get someone who’s good — and she sounds like she’s quality — I think you’re better off spending more and getting someone who’s good than spending less and getting someone’s who’s not quality.”

Staley has won at every level as a player and coach.

A national prep player of the year at Dobbins Tech in her native Philadelphia, Staley guided Virginia to three consecutive NCAA Final Four appearances from 1990-92. Staley, a five-time WNBA all-star, led the now-defunct Charlotte Sting to the WNBA Finals in 2001.

In 2000, Staley took over a Temple program that did not have a winning record in the decade before her arrival. She leaves as the women’s coach with the most wins in school history, a 172-80 record in eight seasons.

Staley led the Owls to four Atlantic Ten tournament titles, six NCAA appearances and the program’s first national ranking.

Staley will succeed Susan Walvius, who stepped down last month following 11 seasons after failing to reach the NCAA tournament for the fifth consecutive year.

Attempts to reach Staley Wednesday were unsuccessful. USC media relations director Steve Fink said Hyman preferred to wait until Saturday’s news conference to comment.

ESPN college basketball analyst Nancy Lieberman said the Gamecocks acquired a “gem” in Staley.

“It’s a great hire,” Lieberman said. “She’s young. She’s got energy. She can win. Her players are going to like her, and they’re going to like her more if they do what she asks them to. It’s a good day for the University of South Carolina.”

Staley visited USC’s campus last week before Hyman traveled to Philadelphia Saturday to meet again with his prospective coach, according to a source. The two reached a contract agreement late Tuesday.

There were questions about how willing Staley, who is single, would be to leave Philadelphia. She’s a popular public figure there because of her basketball success and involvement in charitable organizations. Temple gave Staley a six-year contract extension last year after a couple of schools came after her.

But Staley was intrigued by the USC job because of the opportunity to compete in the SEC while living in the state where her mother grew up.

Lieberman said Staley would bring more visibility to a USC program that made the NCAAs twice under Walvius and struggled to attract fans to the 18,000-seat Colonial Center.

Staley is a three-time Olympic gold medalist who carried the American flag during the opening ceremonies of the Sydney Games in 2004. An assistant for the U.S. team that will play in the Beijing Olympics this summer, Staley is considered a candidate to be the head coach of the U.S. squad for the 2012 Games.

“She brings a high profile. She brings excellence, academics,” Lieberman said. “Everything you could want in a coach, Dawn Staley represents.”

Staff writer Ron Morris contributed to this report. Reach Person at (803) 771-8496.