Backups gain experience

Starter’s injury leads to increased time for trio of guards.

For the second year in a row, an injury to junior guard Juan Fernandez might be a blessing in disguise for the men’s basketball team.

Last season, Fernandez suffered a concussion-like injury against Fordham on Jan. 23. The injury caused Fernandez to miss the next game against Charlotte and limited the 6-foot-4-inch guard to the bench for a while.

Fernandez’s absence allowed for then-sophomore guard Ramone Moore to step up. Moore went through a stretch last season in which he scored double-digit points in seven straight games. Moore’s production led to a starting role this year; he’s become the team’s leading scorer at 15.4 points per game. Screen shot 2011-01-17 at 10.58.39 PM

On Jan. 7 Fernandez suffered a knee injury in practice and missed two games before returning against Duquesne in a limited role. During his absence, sophomore guards Khalif Wyatt and T.J. DiLeo, along with freshman guard Aaron Brown, received extra playing time.

Wyatt, who has started in all three games in place of Fernandez, has averaged 10.3 points per game as a starter this season while also shooting 40 percent from a three-point range. With the added playing time, Wyatt has looked more like the All-State guard he was at Norristown High School than the freshman guard who averaged just half-a-point per game last season.

During his senior year of high school, Wyatt averaged 20 points, four assists and four rebounds per game while leading his team to the state championship.

The similarities between Moore’s situation and Wyatt’s have not been lost on the Norristown High product.

“You never know when they’re going to need you to step up and start like this,” Wyatt said. “I remember last year [Moore] stepped up when Juan got hurt and he played his best basketball, and he was just ready to fulfill what we needed.”

With DiLeo, the Owls have more of a true point guard coming off the bench. In the past three games, DiLeo has averaged five points and 26.7 minutes per game. During that stretch, DiLeo has had six assists while producing one turnover. In the win over Saint Louis, DiLeo had arguably his finest game of the season as he scored seven points on two-of-two shooting while running the point for a significant portion of the game.

While Wyatt has offered more offensively, DiLeo’s ability to come in and manage the offense has had a calming effect on the team.

“He’s doing really good work,” coach Fran Dunphy said. “T.J’s a really solid, solid guy all the way around. I’m hoping he can maintain his level of minutes played.”

Brown’s impact has been primarily on the defensive end, but he has also managed to average 5.7 points in the past three games while averaging 14.3 minutes per game.

“I think [Brown] has worked hard in practice, showing coaches that he can play,” Moore said. “I think Coach has shown that Aaron can come in the game and play productive minutes. That’s helping him out a lot with his confidence.”

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to say the team is better without Fernandez. It isn’t. However, the experience that Wyatt, DiLeo and Brown have gained by playing in his absence will help the Owls in the season, particularly in March.

“We’re going to need everybody, from Khalif to T.J to Aaron Brown and all those guys,” Moore said. “With Juan getting hurt and Khalif coming in and doing a good job, you never know when we might need that.”

Kyle Gauss can be reached at kyle.gauss@temple.edu.

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