Cheyney University women’s basketball coach Alicia Mosley was doing homework on Sunday afternoon when she heard her phone ring.
A friend texted Mosley to turn on his TV. Don Staley, legendary coach of undefeated South Carolina, wearing a Cheney jersey on the sideline during the Gamecocks’ second-round NCAA tournament victory over South Florida.
“I am thinking, ‘What?Mosley told Yahoo Sports. “I put the game on my phone and I zoom in a little bit. I’m like, ‘Okay, Don Cheney is rocking University!’
The nation’s oldest HBCU, Cheyney, is located 30 miles west of Staley’s hometown of Philadelphia. Its aging gymnasium was once home to the major women’s and men’s basketball teams led by coaches C. Vivian Stringer and John Chaney.
In 1982, Stringer’s team participated in the women’s NCAA tournament for the first time, advancing all the way to the national title before falling to top-ranked Louisiana Tech. Cheyney is still the only HBCU to reach either the women’s or men’s Final Four, let alone the title game.
The blue-and-white No. 44 Cheney jersey worn on Sunday belonged to Staley Yolanda Lainey, mother of New York Liberty standout Betnijah Lainey and one of the stars of the 1982 Cheyenne team. Yolanda Laney coached Staley in the Philadelphia Youth League and became close to him, According to a Philadelphia Inquirer story from last year,
While Staley may have worn the jersey as a tribute to his friend and a forgotten piece of Philadelphia basketball history, the gesture also meant a lot to current Cheney players and coaches. Mosley said he sent a message to all his recruits on Sunday afternoon saying, “You watch the game? You see what Don is wearing?”
“It makes a lot of sense,” Mosley said. “When you get to the level where she is, you have the opportunity to shine a light on people who need it. I feel like she’s shining a light on us right now.
That ray of light is especially meaningful for 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 several of its athletic programs. Women’s basketball survived early cuts, only to go on hiatus for two full years as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mosley, a North Carolina native, came to Cheney last March after serving as the men’s and women’s assistant coach at Division II Lincoln University. Cheney’s history attracted 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 against a collection of Division III and community college opponents, the first-year coach envisioned returning the program to its former heights. Mosley encourages Philadelphia-area recruits who see banners in the rafters and trophy cases littered with souvenirs to visit Cheney.
“It’s a big part of our recruiting strategy,” Mosley said. “Now I’m just trying to make sense of what Cheney was and what it could be.”
There’s no better way to call attention to Cheney’s glorious past than what Staley did on Sunday. Mosley said that players and recruits were amazed to see someone of Staley’s stature wearing Cheney blue and white.
“How many other coaches will wear another school’s jersey while playing in the NCAA tournament?” Mosley said. “I applaud them for keeping our history alive.”