Cheyney University women’s basketball coach Alishia Mosley was doing some housework Sunday afternoon when she heard the phone buzz.
A friend texted Mosley to turn on her TV. Dawn Staley, the legendary coach of undefeated South Carolina, wore a Cheyney jersey on the sideline during the Gamecocks’ second-round NCAA Tournament victory over South Florida.
“I think, ‘What?‘” Mosley told Yahoo Sports. “I put the game on my phone and zoomed in a little bit. I’m like, ‘OK, Dawn rocks Cheyney University!'”
Cheyney, the nation’s oldest HBCU, is just over 30 miles west of Staley’s hometown of Philadelphia. The 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-ever women’s NCAA Tournament, advancing all the way to the national title game before falling to top-ranked Louisiana Tech. Cheyney remains the only HBCU to reach the women’s or men’s finals, let alone the title game.
The blue and white No. 44 Cheyney jersey Staley wore Sunday belonged to Yolanda Laney, the mother of New York Liberty standout Betnijah Laney and one of the stars of Cheyney’s 1982 team. Yolanda Laney coached Staley in a youth league in Philadelphia and became close with her, according to a Philadelphia Inquirer story from last year.
While Staley may have worn the jersey as a tribute to his friend and 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 sent a text to all her recruits Sunday afternoon saying, “Are you watching the game? Do you see what Dawn is wearing?”
“It means a lot,” Mosley said. “When you get to the level she’s at, you have an opportunity to shine a light on people who need it. I feel like she’s shining a light on us right now.”
This ray of light is especially important to Cheyney because of what its athletic department has endured. In 2018, the cash-strapped university withdrew from the 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, originally from North Carolina, came to Cheyney last March after serving as an assistant men’s and women’s coach at Division II Lincoln University. Cheyney’s story appealed to Mosley, as did the opportunity to run his own program for the first time.
While Cheyney went 2-10 in Mosley’s debut season playing 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 look at the banners in the rafters and the trophy cases filled with memorabilia.
“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 bring attention to Cheyney’s glorious past than what Staley did on Sunday. Mosley said players and recruits were surprised to see some 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.”