Several hours before the horses reach the starting gate for today's Preakness Stakes in Baltimore, the WNBA will reach the start of its 11th season.

A nationally televised rematch between the defending champion Detroit Shock and runner-up Sacramento Monarchs will signal the start of the WNBA's second decade.

Left behind at the close of the pro women's basketball league's first 10 years was Temple coach Dawn Staley, who retired after a stellar career; the point guard was a WNBA all-star and three-time Olympic gold medalist.

Staley intends to enjoy her legacy, however, through second-year pro Candice Dupree and rookie Kamesha Hairston, former Temple players who were first-round picks in successive drafts.

Hairston, the Atlantic Ten player of the year, will make her WNBA debut with the Connecticut Sun tonight in Washington against the Mystics after being taken 11th overall in the first round last month.

A year ago, Candice Dupree, also an A-10 player of the year, went sixth overall to the Chicago Sky. She became one of the top newcomers, making the all-star and all-rookie teams.

Gillian Goring, another rookie with local connections, also survived yesterday's final roster cuts. The former Germantown Academy and North Carolina State star will make her debut with Washington tonight in the same game.

Hairston, as many rookies do, had an uneven training camp but her upside was plenty enough to please Connecticut coach Mike Thibault.

"She's been pretty much what I expected," Thibault said after the Toledo, Ohio, native helped the Sun rally against the New York Liberty in the team's first exhibition game, on May 5, in Bridgeport, Conn.

"She works hard. Obviously, she's got a great shooting touch," Thibault said. "She's picking up some of the other stuff quickly. She needs to get a little stronger with the basketball."

Hairston was upbeat that afternoon, especially after performing in front of the large fan base and being interviewed by a slew of Sun beat writers.

"It's different at this level," Hairston said. "It felt kind of funny in the first half, getting used to the system. But I caught on to it in the second half. I felt more comfortable."

Several nights later, at Connecticut's home in the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, it was more of a struggle in a sloppily played game against the Seattle Storm.

"I'm learning," Hairston said. "At the wing spot, it's not easy. It requires a lot simply because you have two great players like [all-stars Nykesha Sales and Katie Douglas].

"You're expected to kind of 'get it.' I guess I just need to relax. But it's frustrating at times. You're trying to see what he wants. You just have to adjust."

Staley has plenty of time to relax now that she no longer is in uniform. But the North Philadelphia native is involved in other activities besides making recruiting treks.

She'll be spending her first moments away from the WNBA season this weekend at USA Basketball headquarters in Colorado Springs, Colo., observing the trials for the American contingent to the Pan American Games, the team she will coach in July.

Back in the WNBA, two other rookies with local connections didn't make the final rosters.

Phoenix cut former Delaware star Tyresa Smith Thursday night. The Mercury are under former La Salle men's coach Paul Westhead, who transformed the team a year ago in his first season with a high-octane running attack.

Former Penn State star Amanda Brown, a graduate of Unionville High, was waived by the Los Angeles Sparks on May 1 after the team picked her in the third round with the 38th and next-to-last choice.

Locals in the WNBA

Here are players and coaches with local connections in the WNBA:

Players

Kamesha Hairston, Temple, forward, Connecticut Sun

Candice Dupree, Temple, forward, Chicago Sky

Cappie Pondexter, Rutgers, guard, Phoenix Mercury

Kelly Mazzante, Penn State, guard, Phoenix Mercury

Tammy Sutton-Brown, Rutgers, center, Indiana Fever

Chelsea Newton, Rutgers, guard, Sacramento Monarchs

Helen Darling, Penn State, guard, San Antonio Silver Stars

Tanisha Wright, Penn State, guard, Seattle Storm

Gillian Goring, Germantown Academy, center, Washington Mystics

Coaches

Pat Coyle, played at Rutgers, head coach, New York Liberty

Paul Westhead, played at St. Joseph's, head coach, Phoenix Mercury

Cheryl Reeve, played at La Salle, assistant coach, Detroit Shock

- Mel Greenberg

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Contact staff writer Mel Greenberg at 215-854-5725 or mgreenberg@phillynews.com.