‘Icon’: Dawn Staley’s Continued Greatness Is Cause for Celebration at Her Alma Mater

April 8, 2024 By Andrew Ramspacher, fpa5up@virginia.edu Andrew Ramspacher, fpa5up@virginia.edu

As they often are, Debbie Ryan and Dawn Staley were in communication early Friday morning.

Ryan, the legendary former University of Virginia women’s basketball coach, and Staley, the legendary former UVA player, have a bond going back decades. Ryan has seen Staley grow from a shy teenager out of North Philadelphia to the person Ryan now calls “the face of women’s basketball.”

“She’s just an icon,” Ryan said. “It’s amazing to me.”

Staley, the University of South Carolina’s coach since 2008, entered the weekend with a chance to win her third NCAA championship in seven seasons. Ryan’s message to Staley on Friday, ahead of South Carolina’s game against North Carolina State University in the national semifinals, came from a place of immense pride.

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“It’s just incredible what you have accomplished and who you’ve become,” Ryan said she told her former player.

Staley then led the Gamecocks to a win over N.C. State on Friday, followed by a victory over the University of Iowa on Sunday to capture the national title and complete only the 10th undefeated season in NCAA Division I women’s college basketball history.

As a player under Ryan from 1988 to 1992, Staley was twice named the Naismith College Player of the Year as well as the Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year. The dynamic point guard was part of three Cavalier teams that advanced to the Final Four, including the 1991 squad that finished as national runners-up.

Staley’s No. 24 jersey is retired and hangs in the rafters at John Paul Jones Arena.

In a tribute video to Ryan, UVA’s Hall of Fame coach from 1977 to 2011, that played at JPJ this women’s basketball season, Staley said her former coach has “had a long, lasting presence in my life.”

Staley, 53, has also been the head coach of the U.S. Olympic national team since 2017 and this summer in Paris will be seeking her second gold medal in that role.

Watch for a deeper dive into Staley, Ryan and the overall growth of women’s basketball in an upcoming UVA Today feature.

Media Contact

Andrew Ramspacher

University News Associate University Communications