Opening the 2003-2004 campaign, Temple is looking to maintain the momentum it ended last season with.
Winning 15 of their last 20 games, including improbable runs in the last two NIT tournaments, the Owls are in search of their first NCAA Tournament berth after a two-year hiatus.
“I think we are still living off some of the things we did last year,” sophomore guard Maurice “Mardy” Collins said. “We finished up strong and improved our team a whole lot, and I think that’s key.”
Temple lost six players to transfer and Alex Wesby to graduation.
Clutch-shooter Brian Polk left here because of poor grades and will be the most sorely missed.
In turn the Owls have four recruits, two walk-ons and two more players who gained their eligibility after sitting out last season.
Joining this year’s squad is top recruit and point guard of the not-so-distant future Mario Taybron. In addition there is guard Dustin Salisbery, forward Dion Dacons, and guard Tyreek Byard.
Moreover, sophomore small forward Michael Blackshear and junior power forward Nehemiah Ingram have their academics in order and should contribute right away.
Led by lone senior guard David Hawkins, the Owls bring back four experienced starters. Despite new faces, aspirations of a tournament berth seem tangible.
While this year’s schedule has its share of quality opponents, it doesn’t compare to last season’s seven road games in December. For the veterans, this year’s itinerary looks like child’s play with the Owls opening three of their first four games at home.
“Our future looks bright with these kids,” Chaney said. “Whether that future is now, I don’t know.”
Defense is a staple for the Owls. If it breaks down like it did last season, the NCAA’s will not be in their sights. They allowed opponents to shoot 43 percent from the field and 38 percent from beyond the arc.
Temple also yielded 66 points per game. Anyone who watches Temple knows it all starts with defense.
Temple’s guards play an essential role in Chaney’s game plan. Both Hawkins and Collins are the most dependable players on the team.
Hawkins averaged 17 points a game. His explosion to the basket gave him 188 free throw attempts. Both he and Collins worked diligently on their shooting this past summer. Hawkins said he shot up to five hours a day.
“He [Chaney] didn’t tell me to work on my outside shot, but I did that vigorously,” Hawkins said.
Guard play in the Atlantic Ten Conference is so good this year Collins is probably one of the most underrated players. He will stay at the point for the time being. Collins’ ball handling and clutch shooting make him very dangerous.
Chaney is leery about overwhelming Taybron with the huge task of playing point for him. Chaney demands perfection at the position. The plan is to bring Taybron off the bench and get him accustomed to running the offense in spurts.
Taybron could be the real deal. In the Hank Gathers Summer League, he played well and gave Saint Joseph’s best defender, Tyrone Barley, more than he could handle.
It appears the 6-foot-5 Salisbery will start, completing a three-guard lineup. An all-state player from Lancaster, Salisbery is a natural scorer who will need to adjust to Chaney’s patient offensive approach.
Sophomore center Keith Butler is the team’s X-factor. The Owls were 5-0 in games Butler scored in double-digits. Temple can still win if his production is minimal, but they could go deep into the postseason if he becomes a formidable presence.
“I feel more comfortable than I do last year,” he said. “I just felt that I didn’t get to show what I can really do.”
With few quality big men in the A-10, Butler has the opportunity to dominate.
“I keep instilling in him his head that he’s 7-foot and that it’s going to take another giant to stop him, so anybody smaller than him he should go up and try to dunk it every time,” Hawkins said.
Butler hit the weights this summer and worked on his post game. His penchant for early foul trouble is also a factor, but Butler contends he’s got it under control.
Sophomore forward Antywane Robinson was sort of lost in mix after a severely sprained ankle sidelined him toward the end of last season. He is the most dynamic player on the team. At 6’8″, Robinson is the most versatile player in Chaney’s matchup zone. His long arms cut off passing lanes and distract opposing shooters from a clear look at the basket.
At just 210 pounds, Robinson will be battling bulkier opponents all season long.
“The expectations are a lot higher than last year,” Robinson said. “When I came in as a freshman, it was like, we need to get into the tournament. But now it’s, we must get to the tournament. We already know what it takes so there are no excuses.”
Ingram will be there to give Robinson a breather. Ingram is physical and one of the few big bodies Chaney has on the roster.
Michael Blackshear is just 6-6 but has outstanding jumping ability. He will attack the glass, playing a role similar to Hawley Smith’s last year.
Blackshear, however, is more talented.
Jason Haslam can be reached at email@example.com.