Cheyney University women’s basketball coach Alishia Mosley was doing some housework Sunday afternoon when she heard her phone buzz.
A friend texted Mosley to turn on her TV. Dawn Staley, the legendary head coach of undefeated South Carolina, was wearing a Cheyney jersey on the sideline during the Gamecocks’ second-round NCAA tournament win over South Florida.
“I’m thinking, ‘What?’” Mosley told Yahoo Sports. “I put the game on my phone and I zoomed in a little bit. I’m like, ‘OK, Dawn is rocking Cheyney University!’”
Cheyney, the nation’s oldest HBCU, is located just over 30 miles west of Staley’s hometown of Philadelphia. Its aging gymnasium 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 participated in the first women’s NCAA tournament, advancing to the national title game before falling to top-ranked 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 is a replica of the one worn by Yolanda Laney, the mother of New York Liberty standout Betnijah Laney and one of the stars of that 1982 Cheyney team. Yolanda Laney coached Staley in a Philadelphia youth league and became close with her.
Staley told reporters Sunday that a friend recently sent her the Cheyney jersey. She said she wore it on Sunday because she likes “what it stands for.”
“Yolanda Laney … actually started leagues for us," Staley said. "Like when I was younger, we played in something called the DBL, and she was very much a part of creating that league to give younger players an opportunity to just come together and play in the summertime. So fond memories of that.
“And I mean, Cheyney State was the only HBCU to make it to a Final Four, and for them to be led by Coach Stringer, who opened doors that now I walk through, I mean, it was truly an honor to wear this jersey and to represent them.”
While Staley may have worn the jersey as a tribute to her former coach and an homage to a forgotten piece of Philadelphia basketball history, the gesture meant a lot to current Cheyney players and coaches, too. Mosley said she texted all her recruits Sunday afternoon and said, “You watching the game? You see what Dawn is wearing?”
“It means a lot,” Mosley said. “When you get to the level she is at, you have an opportunity to shine light on people who need it. I feel like she’s shining a light on us right now.”
That beam of light is especially meaningful to Cheyney because of what its athletic department has endured. In 2018, the cash-strapped 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 go on hiatus for two full years as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mosley, a native of North Carolina, came to Cheyney last March after serving as a men’s and women’s assistant coach at Division II Lincoln University. Cheyney’s history appealed to Mosley, as did the opportunity to run a program of her own for the first time.
While Cheyney went 2-10 in Mosley’s debut season playing against a collection of Division III and community college opponents, the first-year coach envisions restoring the program back to its former heights. Mosley encourages Philadelphia-area recruits who visit Cheney to gaze at the banners in the rafters and the trophy cases littered with keepsakes.
“That’s a big part of our recruiting strategy,” Mosley said. “All I’m trying to do now is bring awareness to what Cheyney was and what it can be.”
There is no better way to bring attention to Cheyney’s glorious past than what Staley did Sunday. Mosley said players and recruits were amazed to see someone of Staley’s stature wearing Cheyney blue and white.
“How many other coaches would wear another school’s jersey while playing in the NCAA tournament?” Mosley said. “I appreciate her for keeping our history alive.”