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A homecoming for Staley

Dawn Staley didn't make it home for Christmas last year as she guided the South Carolina women's basketball program during her first season.

Staley will enjoy plenty of family time this year thanks to the Gamecocks' participation in a tournament in their coach's hometown of Philadelphia.

USC is preparing for the Saint Joseph's Hawk Classic beginning today with a game against Boston University. The Gamecocks will face Brown or Saint Joseph's at 2 or 4 p.m. Tuesday.

Staley spent a few days before Christmas with family in Philadelphia before returning to Columbia on Christmas Day, and then it was back to Philadelphia on Saturday with the team.

"It's was nice," Staley said Sunday. "Last year I didn't get to spend Christmas in Philly."

Staley said the tournament fit into the team's schedule, so she "jumped on it" when presented with the chance.

While Staley is the unofficial tour guide in the City of Brotherly Love, she is looking at it as more of a business trip.

The team practiced Saturday afternoon before going to out to eat and then to Warm Daddy's, a nightclub owned by team doctor Dr. Jeffery Guy's family. On Sunday the team shopped on South Street, an upscale shopping district, and went to the Franklin Institute Science Museum to check out the Body World's exhibit.

After that, it was back to work.

"We're just trying to let them take it all in, maybe put an educational spin on it," Staley said. "Now it's time to buckle down. We had our fun, now it's time to focus on what we came here to do."

Staley expects her team's two tournament games to be good tune-ups for SEC play, which begins Sunday at home against LSU. Three of the South Carolina's four losses have come against ranked teams.

None of the other three teams in the tournament has a winning record.

"This is a good test," Staley said. "We need to win this tournament. Anything big we do (this season), it's going to be on the road. This will prepare us for what we're trying to do in terms of the postseason."

Freshman Kelsey Bone has produced on the offensive end as expected, and transfer Valerie Nainima is the team's leading scorer. Fellow freshman point guard Ieasia Walker is coming into her own, and a recruiting class that was ranked in the top 10 nationally is producing.

In the team's last outing, a 93-85 loss to North Carolina on Dec. 20, Bone had her best game with 27 points and 10 rebounds, and Walker scored 12 points in 33 minutes. Staley hopes those are signs of the team's progress.

"For us, we need Ieasia to play like she has of late," Staley said. "We need another threat. She already is a defensive stopper, now she is starting to pick up the offensive pace. It's nice to see things starting to come together."

Just as they did for Staley this holiday season.