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"Dawn is antisocial."
This is Dawn Staley talking, in a halting attempt to craft a portrait of herself.
"She's a loner. She would much rather be behind the scenes than in the scenes. And she always has a blank look on her face."
With that, Staley stares at her inquisitor with the blankest look imaginable. For her, life is lived at an adagio pace. By her own admission, she spends much of her time at the University of Virginia watching movies on her VCR (at least six a week) and ingesting an endless series of TV programs. When she really wants to kick up her heels and go out, which is infrequently, Staley goes to a movie. She estimates she has watched Dirty Dancing 50 times. That alone would glaze anybody's eyes.
All of this changes on a basketball court. There Staley is transformed into a blazing allegro blur of excitement, a whirling dervish of a playmaker—very likely the best player on the best women's team in the country this year. Nobody plays with more verve and vigor—more devotion—than she does. "The truth is," says assistant coach Shawn Campbell, "she's at a different level. The things she can do, we can't coach."
That Staley, a 20-year-old, 5'5" bundle of energy, is such a force on the court is proved by the numbers. Last season, as a sophomore, she led the Cavaliers in scoring (17.9 points per game), assists (4.4 per game), steals (3.2 per game) and even tied for tops in rebounds with 6.7 per game, despite her lack of height. She was also fourth on the team in blocked shots (16). In a rare burst of off-court enthusiasm, she says, "I'll always take a blocked shot over two points. That's a guard's dream." More than anything else, her efforts are the reason Virginia reached the Final Four last season, for the first time ever.
This season the Cavs have three firm goals: to win all their regular-season games, to reach the Final Four in New Orleans and to win the national title. "People have high expectations for us," says Staley. "But ours are higher than theirs."
Seldom, in fact, has a team been such a heavy favorite to win a national championship. Not only do the Cavs have the season's Player of the Year-in-waiting in Staley, but because their top six players are returning, the Cavs will also retain 94% of the scoring and 92% of the rebounding from last season's 29-6 team. In that group are centers Heather and Heidi Burge, who, at 6'4�", will be listed in a forthcoming edition of The Guinness Book of Records as the world's tallest living female identical twins. And the Cavs get back 5'10" forward Tonya Cardoza, the team's second-leading scorer in '88-89 (18.2 points per game), who missed last season because of academic problems. Says Cardoza, "We expect to win it all. Nothing less. We have no weaknesses."
To all of this, coach Debbie Ryan shakes her head and says, "Expectations can ruin a season. But Dawn is special to the game. God decided to make only one of her."
Staley's teammates have learned they must always be on the alert for behind-the-back or no-look passes, both of which have been known to hit the less alert on the noggin. Says teammate Tammi Reiss, "It makes all the rest of us better players to play with the best."