WRITTEN BY: TOM HANSLIN @tomhanslin
PHILADELPHIA – Temple men’s basketball head coach Fran Dunphy has historically molded his teams around strong and seasoned veteran leadership, which has helped the program reach postseason tournament play in eight of the last 10 seasons.
But entering his 11th year at the helm on North Broad Street, Dunphy’s traditional coaching methods could become inapplicable even before the opening tipoff.
With only four seniors listed on Temple’s 2016-17 roster, young talent will not only be showcased, but also forced into pivotal starting roles, particularly in the back court at the guard positions. If inexperience isn’t taxing enough, add in two key injuries. Senior guard Josh Brown is recovering from an offseason Achilles injury, while sophomore guard Trey Lowe will redshirt this season due to injuries sustained in a single-car crash last March.
This season, the Owls will have a new leading scorer and rebounder, due to the departures of senior captains Quenton DeCosey and Jaylen Bond. Now, after being picked to finish sixth in the American Athletic Conference preseason poll for the second consecutive year, Dunphy realizes the obstacles Temple must hurdle in order to return to the NCAA Tournament.
“I’m not real sure where we are or who we are,” Dunphy said last week at Temple’s annual media day. “It’s the fact how young we are at the guard spot. Without Josh and without Trey Lowe being what you would have projected them to be this year, that would have been great to have those two guys healthy.”
Brown, who led the team last season in minutes (36.2 per game) and assists (161), is gradually returning to his normal groove, and expects to play at some point this year.
“Just a matter of time,” Brown said. “Once I start participating in practice, full practice, I feel my legs are under me and I’m back to myself.”
Dunphy noted that Brown is trying to get back on the court ahead of normal recovery time from his offseason surgery, and guessed that he could see live action within a few weeks.
“He’s been doing some running,” Dunphy said. “No live action at this point. He wants to play. I broke our huddle the other day and he wouldn’t break eye contact with me, kept staring at me. I get it, I understand it.”
Until Brown is healthy, Dunphy projects a rotation of sophomore Shawn (Shizz) Alston, freshman Quinton Rose, and senior Daniel Dingle at the point guard spot, in hopes that Alston will also emerge as one of the team’s most consistent scorers.
“Shizz has to have a good year for us, no question. I think he knows that and I think he wants that,” Dunphy said of Alston, who averaged 2.1 points in 10.4 minutes per game last season. “We had a scrimmage [last week] and he had seven assists and no turnovers. That’s pretty good. We can’t expect no turnovers from him. But we can get four, five, six assists from him and he can score it while he’s at it. And he can play some really good defense and really sort of lead us as the most experienced guy with the ball that we’ll have other than when we go to Dan Dingle.”
Rose, who averaged 20 points and 10 assists in his senior year of high school last year, is just excited for the opportunity to contribute immediately.
“I’m an all-around player,” Rose said. “The expectations are the same, we still have to be successful. The injuries are no excuse. Coach always says, ‘No one is going to feel sorry for you.’ We just have to go out there and give it our all.”
As for the front court, power forward Obi Enechionyia will be heavily relied upon as a consistent scorer and rebounder inside the paint. The 6-foot-10 junior averaged 11 points per game last season, making him the team’s top returning scorer.
“We’ve got to get him more shots,” Dunphy said of Enechionyia and his role. “We have to get him more shots than he’s ever gotten, but he also has to get himself shots, too. He cannot be stationary. He’s got to be moving like crazy all the time. He’s got to read defenses and get good separation. He’s got to be smart out there in everything he does.
“But when he gets his feet set, I think every ball is going in the basket. That’s how confident I am about him and his shot. He’s worked really hard at it. There’s never a time after practice when he’s not out here for 200 or 300 jumpers.”
Alongside Enechionyia down low will be 6-foot-10 sophomore center Ernest Aflakpui, who was limited to only 17 games and 31 points last season due to a lower body injury.
“Ernest is the guy who really needs to be an anchor for us,” Dunphy said. “We need him out there 25 to 28 minutes a game. He has to stay out of foul trouble, he needs to be in the right spot. He’s got a really good chance of starting.”
For the first time in program history, Temple will have all of its 30 regular-season games nationally televised, highlighted by two conference games against preseason No. 18 UConn and a road trip against the defending national champion No. 4 Villanova Wildcats.
“As a coaching staff, we feel the pressure to put the best team out there every single day and to back them up with guys who are on the bench who are ready to play when they get into the game,” said Dunphy, whose team will look to defend its AAC regular season title. “I think you always feel pressure, and the pressure you put on yourself to be the best coach you can be up and down the line for us as a staff is always there.”
Temple begins its season on Friday night at the Liacouras Center against Big 5 rival La Salle.