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Staley finds a comfort zone with her new job

Dawn Staley's debut as USC women's basketball coach will be at Penn State on Nov. 16.
Dawn Staley's debut as USC women's basketball coach will be at Penn State on Nov. 16.

When Dawn Staley steps out the front door of her house in Forest Acres, she hears no taxis honking, no street vendors hawking soft pretzels, no one booing Santa Claus or any of the other familiar sounds of her native Philadelphia.

Far from getting restless or nostalgic for her hometown, South Carolina’s new women’s basketball coach said Columbia’s tranquillity feels like home.

“I know I’m from Philadelphia, and I’m from the hustle and bustle of the city, but I’m not of the city. The city is just where I live. I didn’t take advantage of the nightlife,” Staley said Wednesday. “I think it’s calm here and it’s wholesome, so to speak. It provides a lot of time for me to just focus on the task at hand. There aren’t many distractions.

“Well, my house is a distraction until I get that straightened out and unpacked. But that’s the only distraction.”

Staley was hired by USC six weeks ago, but did not move into her home until Friday “when the cable company came.”

She has an eight-minute commute to the Gamecocks’ basketball offices — three minutes longer than the drive from her place in center-city Philly to Temple’s campus, where Staley took over a moribund program and turned the Owls into a perennial NCAA tournament team during an eight-year tenure.

The 38-year-old Staley faces a similar rebuilding project at USC, which missed the NCAA tournament in each of Susan Walvius’ final five seasons. Staley has yet to see any of her USC players on the court, and the summer workout program she provided them raised a few eyebrows.

“We’ve got some of our post players shooting 3’s. So they’re a little skeptical about that,” Staley said. “I’d rather have them shoot them right now to get them comfortable with them. Then if we find someone that can shoot them from out there, we’ll let them.”

Forwards Jewel May and Demetress Adams were told to keep firing until they made five shots from three spots beyond the 3-point arc. They eventually finished the drill, but “it could have taken them an hour to do it,” Staley said.

The Gamecocks return two starters (Adams and guard Brionna Dickerson) and seven players from a team that finished 16-16 after losing to N.C. State in the second round of the WNIT.

Leading scorer Jordan Jones transferred to Florida, while Walvius recruits Becky Burke (released from her letter of intent and signed with Louisville) and Taylor Dalrymple (headed to junior college because of grades) never made it to campus.

Freshman guards Jasmine Payne and Ashlie Billingslea were dismissed from the team for stealing credit cards on campus prior to Staley’s arrival.

But after watching video from last season, Staley said the Gamecocks have talent.

“I think we’ve got some athletes. I think we’ve got some speed in the post, and we’ve got a little speed on the perimeter,” she said. “I didn’t see us shoot it from the outside with any consistency, so we’ll have to work that part of it. Just watching, I think we have the ability to defend.”

Staley said she might use a couple of the five available scholarships, but she would not specify the recruits she is targeting.

The Gamecocks open Nov. 16 at Penn State before facing Clemson in Staley’s home opener three nights later. But before trying to get the Gamecocks in gear, Staley will serve as an assistant coach for the U.S. Olympic team, which leaves for Beijing at the end of July.

In the meantime, the transplanted Philadelphian will continue to unpack boxes and become acquainted with Columbia’s quiet side.

Asked when she leaves her office most evenings, Staley smiled and said: “In time to get something to eat before everything closes.”

Reach Person at (803) 771-8496.

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