Amid a sea of players and a downpour of cheers, coach John Chaney found a few free moments to reflect last Tuesday on the fortunate bounces on the court and off that helped him reach 500 wins as coach of the men’s basketball team.
A milestone is seldom cause to overlook the present as far as Chaney is concerned. But his team had only turned the ball over four times against Army – a statistic likely more important to him than the 69-37 final score – so the 73-year-old coach sat back briefly after the season-opening victory and enjoyed the moment.
“For me, it’s just a lot of memories,” Chaney said. “Like coming off the floor and looking at someone like Mark Macon, who’s on my staff now, who helped get me started here years ago. That’s perhaps more important to me than anything else. It makes you get a little melancholy when you see people that are still around you, still working with you, helping you, still believing in you. That’s important.”
Since the night in 1982 when the Owls squeaked by with a one-point win over George Washington, Chaney has added 24 years on the job, 17 trips to the NCAA Tournament and countless memories to his resume.
There is the small matter of an NCAA Tournament drought that now spans four seasons, but the last time the Owls opened the season with a win, in 2000, they advanced to the Tournament.
Senior guard Mardy Collins, who had hoped to help Chaney reach 500 last season against Virginia Tech in the National Invitation Tournament, led all scorers with 18 points and swiped five of the team’s 14 steals.
In all, the Owls forced 21 turnovers, went to the free throw line 30 times, and scored 69 points, their highest total in a season-opening win since 1993-94.
“I think the kids are shooting the ball a little better this year than what they were last year,” Chaney said. “Somebody like [freshman guard Dionte] Christmas is going to help us. It’s just that we’re suffering with a lack of a big guy for balance.”
In need of an inside presence, junior Dion Dacons played 16 minutes, a number he reached or exceeded in only eight games last year. He grabbed three rebounds and registered four steals in a primarily grunt role.
Chaney couldn’t say what he thought when he arrived here fresh off a 28-3 season and NCAA Division II Tournament appearance as head coach at Cheyney State. But he knew what he wasn’t thinking at the time.
“Did I think I’d be 73 years old and still on the job? No, not at all,” he said. “I guess every job I’ve ever had, I never thought about a time when I would leave. You just go to work. I’ve been that way my entire life, just a blue-collar guy who just goes to work. That’s all.”
The next step, later that night, was a UCLA-New Mexico State matchup to determine which far-away locale the Owls would travel for a second-round Preseason Tip Off game last Thursday. UCLA ultimately won and gained the right to host the Owls at Pauley Pavilion.
Going through his options last Tuesday, though, Chaney said neither destination seemed desirable.
“That’s a long ride!” Chaney exclaimed.
It sure has been.
UCLA 54, TEMPLE 47
The Owls (1-1) did not manage enough offense despite a stifling defense that held the Bruins to 37 percent shooting from the field.
The Bruins had scored 83 points in their opening win over New Mexico State.
UCLA sophomore guard Arron Afflalo led all scorers with 18 points. Collins played all 40 minutes, finishing with 15 points, nine rebounds and three assists. He committed just one turnover for the second straight game.
If senior forward Antywane Robinson seems to be taking more shots this season, it’s by design. Chaney encouraged Robinson, whose performance often relied on whether he hit his first few shots, to stay aggressive even after he misses. “I can’t let my first few shots dictate how I play the rest of the game,” Robinson said. “Because then people are going to know when they scout me, ‘Get him out of the game early and we won’t have to worry about him for the rest of the game.'” … Sophomore guard Mark Tyndale spent time at the point in both games. … Two games into his college career, Christmas has seen 55 minutes of action and taken 14 shots. “He came out shooting,” Tyndale said. “Just like I did [as a freshman].”
Ben Watanabe can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.