A new fan favorite debuts

The crowd chants Juan Fernandez’s name during his first Temple game.

Juan Fernandez couldn’t shake his pregame nerves until he finally entered his first Temple basketball game Monday night during the Owls 73-58 win against Kent State.

The freshman point guard said he couldn’t sleep the night before his debut, which gave him plenty of time to imagine what his first collegiate experience would be like.

Fernandez said his debut was exactly what he anticipated, save one minor detail.

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Juan Fernandez quickly became a crowd favorite, despite giving up three turnovers in the freshman's debut with the Owls on Monday night. (Kriston Bethel/TTN)

“I wasn’t expecting the people yelling my name at the game,” Fernandez said. “… It was weird, actually. But I’m starting to like it. I’m starting to enjoy it.”

Fernandez made a quick impression on the Temple faithful. In 21 minutes of action, the Argentina native dished out four assists and scored eight points. He also added a steal, but committed three turnovers.

Temple coach Fran Dunphy was impressed with his midseason addition, but wasn’t blown away by Fernandez’s performance.

“It was good,” Dunphy said. “Not great, but good. He made two huge threes for us. … Overall, I thought he was good. I thought his defense is improving.

“He’s not going to ever be a jet out there. He just has to be smarter than everybody else. I think he certainly has that capability.”

Fernandez dazzled the crowd with his aggressive and crafty passes, but that aggression also led to three turnovers.

“He doesn’t want me to turn the ball over,” Fernandez said of Dunphy. “He likes when I make the assist and that’s what I like to do. But I have to be more careful next time with the turnovers.”

That Fernandez played 21 minutes is attributable to his ability to pick up the game quickly. He joined the team on Dec. 26 and has only had a handful of practices to learn Temple’s style.

“He picks up things fast,” senior guard Dionte Christmas said. “He’s been doing well in practice. I thought he did a great job today. Coming out, he had [four] assists, which helped us a lot.”

Fernandez was eligible to play last week against Villanova, but Dunphy decided it wasn’t fair to throw the Fernandez into the fire.

Fernandez said watching his first game from the sideline and an extra week of practice aided him, though it didn’t rid him of his anxiety.

“At the end of that game, I wanted to play just to take the pressure off,” he said. “It helped me a lot just to watch everything. It’s very different than from where I came from, so today I was more relaxed because of that.

“I could get to know my teammates better and I think we have a lot to do. I think it will take some more time for me to get to know them. But it helped me a lot to have one week of practice and no games. I think the result was pretty good today.”

The result was good enough to get the crowd chanting his name.

John Kopp can be reached at john.kopp@temple.edu.

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