Cheyney University women’s basketball coach Alishia Mosley was doing chores Sunday afternoon when she heard her phone buzzing.
A friend wrote to Mosley to turn on her television. Dawn Staley, the legendary coach of undefeated South Carolina, wore a Cheyney jersey on the touchline during the Gamecocks’ second-round win over South Florida in the NCAA tournament.
“I think, ‘What?‘” Mosley told Yahoo Sports. “I downloaded the game to my phone and zoomed in a bit. I’m like, ‘Okay, Dawn rocks Cheyney University!’”
Cheyney, the oldest HBCU in the country, is just over 30 miles west of Staley’s hometown of Philadelphia. The aging gym was once home to dominant women’s and men’s basketball teams led by coaches C. Vivian Stringer and John Chaney.
In 1982, Stringer’s team competed in the first-ever NCAA women’s tournament and advanced to national title contention before falling to leaders Louisiana Tech. Cheyney is still the only HBCU to reach the women’s or men’s Final Four, let alone the title game.
The blue-and-white No. 44 Cheyney jersey Staley wore on Sunday belonged to Yolanda Laney, the mother of New York Liberty star Betnijah Laney and one of the stars of that 1982 Cheyney team. Yolanda Laney coached Staley in a youth league in Philadelphia and became close, according to a story in last year’s Philadelphia Inquirer.
South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley wears a Cheyney University jersey during the Gamecocks’ victory in the second round of the NCAA women’s tournament against South Florida March 19, 2023 in Columbia, South Carolina. (Jeff Blake/USA TODAY Sports)
While Staley may have worn the jersey as a tribute to her friend and as a tribute to a forgotten piece of Philadelphia basketball history, the gesture meant a lot to current Cheyney players and coaches as well. Mosley said she texted all of her recruits on Sunday afternoon and said: “Are you watching the game? See what Dawn is wearing?”
“It means a lot,” Mosley said. “When you get to the level that she’s at, you have an opportunity to shed light on people who need it. I feel like she’s shining a light on us right now.”
This ray of light is of particular importance to Cheyney because of what his athletic department has been through. In 2018, the financially troubled university withdrew from its league, dropped its NCAA Division II status, and suspended many of its athletic programs. Women’s basketball survived the initial cut, only to be sidelined for two full years as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The story goes on
Mosley, a North Carolina native, joined Cheyney last March after serving as an assistant coach for both men and women at Division II Lincoln University. Cheyney’s story appealed to Mosley, as did the opportunity to headline a program of his own for the first time.
While Cheyney won 2-10 against a string of Division III and community college opponents in Mosley’s debut season, the first-year coach plans to bring the program back to its former peak. Mosley encourages Philadelphia-area recruits visiting Cheney to look at the banners in the rafters and the trophy boxes lined with mementos.
“It’s a big part of our recruiting strategy,” Mosley said. “All I’m trying to do now is raise awareness of what Cheyney was and what it can be.”
There’s no better way to draw attention to Cheyney’s glorious past than what Staley did on Sunday. Mosley said players and recruits were amazed to see someone Staley’s stature wearing Cheyney blue and white.
“How many other coaches would wear another school’s jersey at the NCAA tournament?” Mosley said. “I appreciate her for keeping our story alive.”