The men’s basketball team will introduce junior Dalton Pepper and redshirt-graduate Jake O’Brien, both transfers, who make their Temple debut today, Nov. 13, at noon, returning to college basketball for the first time since their respective 2010–11 seasons.
Pepper, who transferred from West Virginia to Temple in 2011 to be closer to his hometown of Levittown, Pa., played two seasons for the Mountaineers. Pepper played in 62 games and averaged 3.5 points and 10.1 minutes per game. He earned a trip to the Final Four during the team’s NCAA tournament run in 2010.
“[Pepper’s] role will be significant,” coach Fran Dunphy said. “He’s a good jump shooter, a good athlete, he’s getting better defensively, and he’s making good decisions so he’s going to play significant minutes for us early on especially.”
The 6-foot-5-inch forward was forced to sit out for the entire 2011–12 season with Temple due to a NCAA mandate on transfer students. Pepper has two years of eligibility remaining.
“It was kind of painful at times, just watching your teammates compete in games and not being able to play and help them out, but at times it just made me realize a lot,” Pepper said. “Basketball, one day, will be over and you’ll be on the sideline just like that. It made me appreciate basketball a lot more and just focus on what I needed to do to get better for this year coming up.”
Pepper was a standout star at Pennsbury High School, where he tallied a school-record 2,207 points and grabbed 962 rebounds. The Falcons had four straight undefeated seasons during Pepper’s tenure with the team, during which he was a three-time All-State selection and was named 2009 Pennsylvania Big School Player of the Year by the Associated Press.
“Here, you get to see a lot of the same faces that you were playing in high school and people come to the games and they still support you so that’s a good feeling,” Pepper said.
While Pepper’s decision to transfer was self-motivated, O’Brien’s was due more to external circumstances. O’Brien, who played three seasons with Boston University, made the decision to transfer earlier this year after Boston announced a move to the Patriot League next year and was thus ruled ineligible to compete in the America East Conference postseason in 2012–13. This left the team’s chances of making the NCAA tournament slim. O’Brien had never considered leaving the university prior to the announcement, he said.
“I decided on Temple because I thought it offered what I was looking for,” O’Brien said. “I was looking for a place where I could come in and play a lot of minutes and a place where we have a chance to win and go to the tournament and really have a successful season.”
The 6-foot-9-inch forward scored 1,020 points and grabbed 444 rebounds in three seasons with the Terriers. He earned America East Rookie of the Year honors during his freshman season and averaged double figures in scoring every year he played. As a junior in 2010–11, a foot injury sidelined O’Brien through the remainder of the season. The same foot required a second surgery in September 2011, which caused him to redshirt last season. O’Brien said the foot is “fully healed” and he has been full throttle since April.
“It’s a real positive impact for us because he’s a very good person, and he’s a good player,” Dunphy said. “I think he’s going to be a guy that’s going to be able to stretch the defense for us, and make some shots, and just really do a good job overall and adds depth and reliability to our front court.”
Not having the opportunity to play in the NCAA Tournament in 2011 and sitting out all of last season wasn’t easy, O’Brien said.
“Just watching from the sidelines and kind of not feeling fully a part of the team and wanting to be out there, it was tough,” O’Brien said. “It makes it that much more meaningful to be healthy and playing for something again.”
Dunphy said he hopes rustiness doesn’t play too much of a factor headed into the season for O’Brien and Pepper, but added the fact that both transfers have made it this far says a lot about them as student-athletes.
“I think sitting out a year is one of the more difficult things that a student-athlete has to do,” Dunphy said. “You don’t feel part of the group, you don’t travel much, it’s not an easy thing and I think those guys have weathered the storm and done a good job with it. Hopefully when the lights go on Tuesday that they both will be ready to go because we need them in order to be successful.”
Avery Maehrer can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @AveryMaehrer.