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Kahleah Copper shares a North Philly experience with Dawn Staley at Team USA minicamp

Kahleah Copper grew up three blocks away from Dawn Staley in North Philly, and she finally got the chance to play for her at Team USA Basketball's four-day minicamp.

Chicago Sky guard Kahleah Copper grew up three blocks away from where Dawn Staley grew up in North Philadelphia.
Chicago Sky guard Kahleah Copper grew up three blocks away from where Dawn Staley grew up in North Philadelphia.Read morePhelan M. Ebenhack / AP

Dawn Staley carries the pride of her old neighborhood with her wherever she goes. When she walked into the University of South Carolina’s gymnasium for Team USA’s basketball minicamp last week as the coach of the women’s national team, she saw a player who grew up three blocks away from her former home in the Raymond Rosen public housing project.

“North Philly!” Staley yelled.

Kahleah Copper was on the other end of that message. The five-year WNBA veteran is coming off a breakout season with the Chicago Sky. The breakout was so unexpected that she was the lone player invited to camp who wasn’t already in the Team USA player pool.

The 6-foot-1 Copper averaged 14.9 points and 5.5 rebounds while starting all 22 games last season. Before 2020, she had started 15 total games and hadn’t averaged more than 7.1 points in a season.

“It was a big season for me, showing everybody what I could do,” she said. “I took advantage of an opportunity, and I’m just super grateful for the opportunity.”

Copper, 26, said she grew up watching Staley coach the Temple women’s team. Since Staley donned the red, white and blue, no other woman from Philly has been on the U.S. team. It’s not that the Philadelphia area has been devoid of talent, but it’s the rare player who can share the court with the likes of Brittney Griner, Sylvia Fowles, Breanna Stewart, and A’ja Wilson.

Copper fit in well with the group. WNBA teammate Diamond DeShields wasn’t surprised.

“She from Philly, man,” DeShields said. “Folks from Philly are built different. [Kah’s] not too concerned with who is who. She comes out here and does her thing.”

There’s also a historical perspective in play. Just as Copper once watched Staley lead the U.S. national team to Olympic glory as a player and Temple to Atlantic 10 Tournament titles as a coach, some girls will be watching Copper’s growth.

“For us to share this moment now, it’s amazing because it’s not many of us,” Copper said. “I thought I missed that when I didn’t go to South Carolina.”

Copper, a Prep Charter graduate, attended Rutgers. While she didn’t get an offer from South Carolina, Staley was well aware of her. Copper was ESPN’s 18th-ranked player coming out of high school in 2012, and the top player in Pennsylvania. Since then, Staley kept an eye on her.

“Any time we can shed light on anybody from North Philly, I think it’s a beautiful thing,” Staley said. “And for me to be the coach, it’s just icing on the cake.”

Team USA’s minicamp ran from Feb. 4-7. By all accounts, Copper handled herself well and gave herself a chance to be placed in the national-team pool.

Her game fits well with Team USA. A team with that much talent doesn’t have problems scoring. Defense can be a separator, and that’s where Staley said Copper excelled in the four-day camp.

Philadelphians embrace the underdog label, and Copper’s participation in Team USA’s camp was the latest example. She was among four of the 19 invitees who started fewer than half of their career games in the WNBA.

“She definitely looked the part [of a Team USA player],” Staley said. “I think she’ll open doors for other players who may get overlooked or improved over the years to get a shot. That’s what we do in North Philly.”