When the final buzzer sounded in Blacksburg, Va., last Tuesday, the men’s basketball team had lost in the first round of the NIT to end a season with more ups and downs than the hilly Virginia landscape. More importantly, the trip to the NIT and the loss to Virginia Tech marked the fourth-straight year the Owls had missed the NCAA Tournament.
When the 2001-02 freshman class graduates in May, it will be the first entering class since 1979-80 to never witness the Owls visit the Tournament. Those lucky students in the late ’80s and into the ’90s were spoiled by coach John Chaney’s 12-year run of consecutive Tournament appearances.
We silly fools who enrolled at Temple after the turn of the century expected big things and big headlines. Unfortunately, those materialized in controversy rather than wins.
So now we have no choice but to look on to next year, where the prospects are just as hazy. Sure, the Owls will be improved, especially if point guard Mardy Collins chooses to forego the NBA Draft and return for his senior season. In the non-conference portion of the schedule this season, it was clear that Temple could play with anyone. But the Owls have always been able to play with anyone. Coming up just short against Wake Forest and sticking a dagger into Villanova was nothing new.
It was the Fordhams, Saint Joseph’s and George Washingtons that made the Owls’ lives difficult this season, and with those teams all likely to mature by next season, Chaney and company could be looking at another bout with frustration.
Charlotte and St. Louis join the Atlantic Ten Conference in 2005-06, and though St. Louis doesn’t look to be much of a factor, Charlotte should expect to run roughshod over the existing A-10 tenants.
The road for the Owls, then, will only get tougher.
Therefore, despite all the disagreement and finger-pointing, Chaney needs to return next season. And Collins, while the lure of escaping a tense environment for NBA cash might be strong, has to come back as well.
Though at times Chaney showed poor judgment and Collins coughed in some clutch situations, the program – the school – needs them.
As a student, alumnus or faculty member, you might not want to admit that men’s basketball is a key element of our school’s reputation. Coach Dawn Staley took the women’s basketball team to new heights this year, but Temple will be seen to many in the way Chaney represents it. His final representation, to the public eye, cannot be negative. Otherwise, your diploma will join those from Nevada-Las Vegas and Baylor in having an unfairly tainted reputation.
Chaney must come back to cleanse his image and, at the same time, the school’s. He needs the support of students, boosters, and players like Collins. Collins is not the best player the Owls have ever had, but his decision to leave or stay is the most important factor in returning glory to the basketball program.
If Collins stays, the detractors have to stop detracting for a while. They have to stop saying Chaney can’t develop unheralded high schoolers into stars. They have to stop saying Chaney can’t retain the interest of today’s all-America candidate. They have to stop saying Chaney is bad for the kids who play for him.
Once they stop, the rebuilding process can begin.
Benjamin Watanabe can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.