No one could. The Owls were predicted to finished fourth in the Atlantic Ten Conference.
Man, was that wrong. The team finished first in the A-10 and advanced to the A-10 Championship game. And though they failed to win the final match-up with Xavier, leaving the decision in the hands of the selection committee, which coach Dawn Staley has always hated, the Owls will be on the bracket.
Senior Lady Comfort will get her wish, which she stated after the loss to the Musketeers.
“[We] just want another chance, want another opportunity to play,” she said. “Show everyone else we can win.”
The reason I could not foresee the success of Staley’s squad, quite possibly the reason those who selected Temple to finish fourth in the A-10, had a lot to do with players who had left the team in recent years.
Names like Candice Dupree, now on the WNBA’s Chicago Sky, Kamesha Hairston, a member on the WNBA’s Connecticut Sun, Cynthia Jordan, a three-point phenomenon in her time at Temple, Ari Moore, Jennifer Owens, Fatima Maddox…these were names on the team with the likes of Lady Comfort and Ashley Morris.
So when those players don’t see anything beyond the second round of the NCAA Tournament in their time in a Temple uniform, how does it seem realistic that the 2007 lineup could possibly make it to the big dance?
But Staley got her team to defy reality and pushed her team to play above and beyond what any onlooker could have ever expected.
She made Morris, who in 32 games as a junior averaged just 3.3 points per game, the team’s leader. Sure, the Philadelphia native did receive the Sixth Women Award despite the lack of scoring, but to move up to a leadership role? What kind of positive outlook could that give someone who has watched the team since the beginning of the 5-foot-5 guard’s collegiate career?
But Morris was at the center of resisting reality. She raised her 3.3 ppg to 15.1 (ninth in the A-10) during the regular season in which she started all 30 of Temple’s contests. She also dished out 4.3 assists per game.
These numbers, along with her importance to the Owls, were enough for the team’s leader to be recognized as the A-10’s Most Improved Player.
That award doesn’t say enough about Morris’ season. Often times, she was remarkable – for instance, 17 second half points, which helped Temple erase a 14-point deficit with about 10 minutes to go on Jan. 23 against Richmond, and 10-for-17, 7-of-10 threes, 32 points, five assists on Feb. 6 against Charlotte.
And though she did not come through in the A-10 finale, that can’t take away from what she did all year.
Even her own words, though she was taking complete blame for the loss, showed what a great season she had.
“Me struggling offensively makes everyone else struggle,” Morris said after the heartbreaker against Xavier on Monday. “When I struggle, nothing goes good for this team.”
And Staley had no regrets riding on Morris’ back.
“She got us here,” Staley said before Morris placed blame on herself. “We wouldn’t be here without Ashley.”
While Staley’s words were undoubtedly correct, the truth is, the Owls would have been lost without Staley.
“I think coach Staley is the best coach in our league,” Dayton coach Jim Jabir said prior to facing Temple in the A-10 semifinals. His comments were just one of many praises she received from coaches during the tournament.
When the Owls had a bye in the first round of the A-10 Tournament and did not need to show up at Saint Joseph’s Alumni Memorial Fieldhouse on March 7 because they did not have a game, Staley was there in the stands. She wasn’t only there to scout the game between Richmond and Duquesne, the one that would determine who Temple would play in its first game; she was there for all four of the day’s games, along with her coaching staff.
Staley and her fellow coaches were there for every game, every day of the tournament.
One of the people who fill the role as a coach is the aforementioned Jordan, who is currently a graduate assistant for the team.
Another great move Staley made. It’s always inspiring for players to see the faces of and be assisted by former players.
“We have a real support system behind us,” Morris said after the Owls shot down Dayton in the A-10 Tournament Sunday. “It’s good to have somebody like that behind you that’s been through it and dealt with the same things you did and has won A-10 championships.”
So no, the Owls were not able to follow the shirts – there was no REPO. But they went further than analysts projected prior to the season. They went further than I anticipated prior to the season.
Who knows if we’ll see another Dupree or another Hairston? But indisputably, we’ll never see another Dawn Staley at Temple. And we shouldn’t want to see another, because this is the Staley we want for as long as she’s able to get out of bed in the morning.
With coach Staley, I realize I could never doubt a successful season again, no matter who will be on the court.
Jeff Appelblatt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.