Staley is a big shot among WNBA stars A victor during the skills competition yesterday, she will play in her final All-Star Game tonight.

Posted: July 12, 2006

NEW YORK — Another long-ball hitter from Philadelphia was in the all-star spotlight yesterday, this time at Madison Square Garden.

A day after Phillies slugger Ryan Howard won the Home Run Derby in Pittsburgh, Dobbins High graduate Dawn Staley nailed a shot at the buzzer to capture the WNBA's three-point-shooting competition.

It was one of several all-star achievements for the 36-year-old Houston Comets point guard, who will start for the West tonight (7, ESPN) in her final season as a player.

Staley, the Temple women's coach, will be the first player to have started for both the East and West all-stars. She played for the Charlotte Sting before being traded to Houston late last summer.

The three-time Olympic gold medalist also will be honored at halftime as part of the all-decade team celebrating the WNBA's 10th season.

And there is an excellent chance that Staley could become the first college head coach to play against a fellow all-star she had coached the same year.

Chicago Sky rookie Candice Dupree, the three-time Atlantic Ten Conference tournament MVP at Temple, was a late replacement for the East on Monday night after Indiana Fever forward Tamika Catchings was sidelined with acute Achilles tendinitis.

Staley and Dupree, the sixth overall draft pick this year, were on opposite sides last month in Houston and will be opponents Friday in Chicago.

"It's crazy, isn't it?" Staley said of her success yesterday after beating the Connecticut Sun's Katie Douglas, 17-16. She had topped the six-player field in the first round with 19 points, while Mwadi Mabika of the Los Angeles Sparks collected 17.

An all-star victory tonight would be a first for Staley, since the East is winless in six games.

"The odds are in our favor, but we still have to play the game," said Staley, who noted that the West has six members of the 2004 Olympic team, including herself. The others: Sue Bird, Lisa Leslie, Yolanda Griffith, Sheryl Swoopes and Diana Taurasi.

Joining Staley and Dupree at the game will be West reserve Cappie Pondexter, the former Rutgers star who was drafted No. 2 overall by the Phoenix Mercury.

The last time the three were involved in a major event together was in March, when Rutgers and Temple played in Trenton in separate brackets of the NCAA tournament's opening rounds.

Did Staley think at the time that they would be reunited at the All-Star Game?

"I would have said, 'I won't be there, but those other two have a good possibility of being there,' " she said.

Pondexter also wasn't looking that far ahead.

"I wasn't thinking All-Star Game; I was just trying to win an NCAA tournament," she said. Rutgers lost to Tennessee in a Cleveland Regional semifinal.

Tonight's game was the last thing on Dupree's mind when she got the phone call Monday.

"I was at home in Tampa and got a call: 'You have to catch a flight to New York.' The last two days have been a mess. My flight was delayed, so I missed my connection. I had to stay over in Atlanta. I got up here this morning, they lost my luggage."

Dupree and Pondexter are two of a record four rookies in the game, topping a previous high of two. The others are Seimone Augustus of the Minnesota Lynx, the overall No. 1 pick out of Louisiana State, and Sophia Young of the San Antonio Silver Stars, the No. 4 pick out of Baylor.

Augustus beat out the Seattle Storm's Bird by almost five seconds, 28.5 to 33.2, in yesterday's dribble, dish and swish contest.

Injuries have altered the lineups. The East's Nykesha Sales has been replaced by Sun teammate Taj McWilliams-Franklin, and New York Liberty starter Becky Hammon has been replaced by Charlotte's Tangela Smith.

Contact staff writer Mel Greenberg at 215-584-5725 or mgreenberg@phillynews.com.

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