Last year, much was expected of Temple men’s basketball team.
They were fresh off an appearance in the NCAA Tournament’s Elite 8, and coach John Chaney was going to be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame.
Lynn Greer and Kevin Lyde, two preseason All-American candidates, were returning to Broad Street for another run at the Final Four.
As you all know, the Owls never got a chance at a Final Four appearance.
A loss to LaSalle in the Atlantic 10 tournament made it certain that the Owls would not have their names in Bracketville.
This is a new year, however, with some new faces.
Maurice Collins, a Philadelphia native, and Antwayne Robinson of Oak Hill Academy are newcomers this year and both are expected to contribute immediately.
Coach Chaney added that these two players are “two of the best I’ve seen in a while, almost comparable to Aaron (McKie) and Eddie (Jones).”
Add in 7-foot freshman center Keith Butler from Philadelphia Christian Academy and there are a handful of first year players that will learn on the run.
“I’m throwing the young guys in the water,” Chaney said, “and letting them get beat up quick.”
Players aren’t the only newcomers to this year’s squad.
Coach Bill Ellerbee, a longtime Chaney supporter, will be sitting on the bench this year helping out with instruction and recruiting.
“Ellerbee gives us the advantage because he works as a resident clinician at the Adidas camps, where there are 120 Division-I kids, where you can sleep with them, hug them, kiss them, take them to supper, and tell them you love them,” Chaney joked.
The biggest question heading into the season is if the returning players can fill the void of the departed seniors.
Junior guard David Hawkins and senior swingman Alex Wesby are two of the most experienced and talented players on the roster and at this juncture; they are the obvious answers to this question.
Wesby, a former Prop 48, has worked hard enough in the off-season to get a year of eligibility back.
Chaney said that he considers Wesby a son, which speaks volumes for how much this 6-foot-5-inch versatile player will be counted on until last seasons A-10 Conference Sixth Man of the Year Brian Polk returns to the team from a suspension.
Temple’s offense will be filtered through Hawkins, who plays and looks like a tightly wound ball of fast-twitch muscle.
Hawkins played primarily off the ball last year, but with the departure of star point guard Lynn Greer, he will be logging significant minutes at the point.
“I want to be playing the point,” Hawkins said. “But I’ve got to do whatever coach asks of me.”
“When David took over for Lynn in the NIT last year, he did exactly what I want from my ball handlers, to keep the turnovers to a minimum,” Chaney said.
“Every year, we lead the league in that category, so that is very important.”
Wesby, Hawkins, and the new freshman aren’t the only players that will be contributing this year.
Sophomore guards Hawley Smith and Nile Murray, along with sophomore forward Glenn Elliot will be notable players this season, as well.
“Hawley has come in a lot stronger, and his shot has also improved, I see him playing mintues at the 2 and 3,” Chaney said.
“Glenn is competing for the center spot, and Nile will have progressed from last year, so a lot of people will have chances to contribute.”
Not many people know what to expect from this season’s squad; Chaney called it a “renaissance year.”
What you should expect is the traditionally effective match-up zone defense, excellent coaching and young men who play the game of basketball the way it should be played.
After all, hasn’t that been the story for a few decades?
Andrew Monaghan can be reached at ACTMONO@aol.com