Fran Dunphy rarely goes a day without thinking about recruiting.
The men’s basketball coach said he thinks most coaching staffs spend a lot of time working on bringing in new players.
“I think it’s the lifeblood of what we do,” Dunphy said. “It’s always what we work at. We talk about it often. It’s something that we think about 24/7.”
Dunphy and his staff aren’t the only ones thinking about the Owls’ recruiting. Dunphy’s recruiting during recent years has raised questions about the coach’s ability to bring in the talent necessary for the team to be contenders in a competitive new conference. The former University of Pennsylvania coach has a tendency to recruit players who don’t get a ton of interest from other schools and then coach them up into serviceable, sometimes great, college players.
However, many fans want him to pull in more heralded recruits. To do that, it’s Dunphy’s job to sell himself, his team and his school to those players.
Anthony Lee was on Main Campus. People were coming up to him and asking him if he was on the basketball team.
He wasn’t yet. He was still in high school.
Lee, a 2010 commit, was on an unofficial visit to Temple with his parents. The Columbia, Md., native was easy to spot, given his 6-foot-9-inch frame. Lee said he liked that people on the street were approaching him, since it showed the passion of the fans.
“It was so cool,” Lee said. “I was hyped. They think I go here and I don’t even go here yet. [At this point] I’m not even being recruited for real.”
While that experience helped Lee feel comfortable on campus, that’s not what happens with all recruits. Dunphy said the first step he and his staff – specifically, assistant coaches Dave Duke, Dwayne Killings and Shawn Trice – take is compiling a preliminary list of players they want to look into. The four of them divide up the players, sometimes based on relationships the staff might have with coaches in the area, and then go and scout the players individually.
While Dunphy said “we’ll go anywhere” to find a good player, he added that it’s important to establish recruiting pipelines. He said the staff is working to further relationships in Texas and Florida, since the Owls are now conference opponents with Houston, Southern Methodist, Central Florida and South Florida. Temple now has exposure in those areas that didn’t exist before the American Athletic Conference was created.
“We’re not just going to automatically go to California and scour California because it takes time, effort, money,” Dunphy said. “You want to make sure that you are getting the biggest bang for your buck. Take advantage of the kinds of relationships you have.”
After scouting the player, if they’re still interested, Dunphy visits the player, either at home or at school. That gives Dunphy an opportunity to meet with the player and his parents, coaches or whoever is close with the player.
Then Dunphy will invite the player to Temple. A typical visit begins with the player arriving on Thursday evening, having dinner and hanging out with the team. Sometimes, prospects are paired with a current player on their visit. Lavoy Allen, an Owl from 2007-11, said he showed around Dalton Pepper, Juan Fernández and eventual North Carolina commit Justin Watts.
On Friday, the player watches practice and goes out to dinner with Dunphy. On Saturday, the player will go to a football or basketball game and then head home.
Mark Karcher played at Temple from 1998-2001 under former coach John Chaney. He was a McDonald’s All-American at St. Frances Academy in Baltimore and wanted to go to an Atlantic Coast Conference school, but did not academically qualify. After three years at Temple, he played professionally overseas. He is now the founder and one of the coaches of BMore’s Finest, an Amateur Athletic Union program in his hometown.
“A lot of kids don’t understand the process,” Karcher said. “I don’t really think they take it as a business. I think they look at it as something to do… I try to get the kids to understand that in the recruiting process, [they should] be a student of the game. Watch games, watch basketball, do some research. I think a lot of kids today watch basketball for the wrong reasons. I try to teach them to look at details.”
Chaney, the legendary men’s basketball coach who led the Owls from 1982-2006, declined to comment through an athletics spokesman.
Dunphy said the traits he looks for in a player include positional need, skill, academic drive and character fit. He said his methods haven’t changed since arriving at Temple and he still looks for the best possible player.
Ryan Brooks was going to prep school.
The 2006 Lower Merion graduate had finished his senior season and had gotten interest from some Division I schools, but he wasn’t enamored with any of them. He decided to attend prep school for a year to improve his game and increase his exposure.
Then Dunphy, who had just taken over for Chaney, got in touch with Brooks. It was late in the recruiting process, so Brooks didn’t have much time to decide – only about a week, he said.
That was enough time. Brooks decided to go to Temple, and he became Dunphy’s first recruit at the university.
“He sold Temple as a program,” Brooks said. “The history, the academics. The people that they could help surround me with that helped me both on and off the court.”
Brooks, who now plays for Telekom Baskets Bonn in the German Basketball League, said he was aware of Dunphy’s reputation around the city. Brooks was also familiar with Temple, as his mother is a music therapy professor in the Boyer College of Music and Dance.
At the time, the team was going through somewhat of a down period. Although the program hadn’t had a losing record since 1982-3, the Owls hadn’t won 20 games in five seasons. After Dunphy and Brooks’ first year, the team rebounded to win more than 20 games in each of the next six years.
“One of the things Dunphy said was that he was starting a new era, and I could possibly be the face of that new era, being his first recruit,” Brooks said. “Ultimately, the goal was to turn that program around. I believe in the four years I was there, we definitely did that.”
Dunphy said he thinks a selling point of Temple is that it has a “vibrant and alive campus” in a big college basketball city. Rarely do recruits who visit Main Campus find that to be a bad thing, but there have been occasions when Temple’s location has hindered the team’s chance of getting a player.
Allen said when then-Plymouth Whitemarsh player C.J. Aiken visited campus, Aiken’s mother wasn’t happy with the surrounding area. Aiken went to St. Joseph’s University.
“It’s another big thing,” Allen said. “Parents aren’t really turned on about where the campus is located.”
For his part, Allen, who now plays for the Indiana Pacers, said the area didn’t matter to him because he spent most of his time on Main Campus.
One common theme among Dunphy recruits is that they aren’t guaranteed anything. The coach tells players they will be given an opportunity to work and get playing time. Dunphy said many players aren’t ready to play right away, but those that are – like Allen and Fernandez – get that opportunity. However, Dunphy doesn’t think most players are ready right away.
“There are certainly young men who are choosing a program because they think they can play significant minutes right away,” Dunphy said. “In today’s world, sometimes the instant gratification is what young people want. And that’s OK. That’s what they want. The fact is, if you have a really good program each and every year, like we did for the previous six years before this, we had some veteran leadership all along the way which allowed us to go back to the NCAA tournament. That’s what you’re gonna get at these really top-notch programs.”
Allen said while players who come to Temple tend to not be very highly recruited, they often turn out to be productive. He agreed that Dunphy not promising them immediate playing time turns some players off.
“Guys want to hear what they like to hear,” Allen said.
The last time Temple got a commitment from a Philadelphia player directly out of high school, Kevin Ollie was playing for the Sixers.
That commit, Scootie Randall, made his decision in February 2008 after leading Communications Tech to the Public League title. In the 77-73 double-overtime victory against Frankford, Randall scored 16 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and dished out five assists.
Now Randall is playing for the Iwate Big Bulls in the Basketball Japan League. Meanwhile, Ollie has gone from NBA journeyman to NCAA national champion coach.
Although it’s been more than six years since a Philadelphia native decided to move from high school to Temple, Dunphy doesn’t consider it to be quite that long, saying both T.J. DiLeo, a 2008 recruit from Cinnaminson, N.J., and Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson, a 2009 commit and Chester, Pa., native, are “pretty much” Philadelphia players, referencing their hometowns’ proximity to the city.
Still, there has been a drought. DiLeo committed a month after Randall and Hollis-Jefferson made his decision months later in September 2008.
In the past six recruiting classes – 2009 to 2014 – there have been 23 total players on the Rivals 150 who are from Southeastern Pennsylvania and South Jersey. Eight of those players are from Philadelphia. None came to Temple.
Of those 23 players, four – Maalik Wayns, Daniel Ochefu, Ryan Arcidiacono and Mikal Bridges – committed to Villanova. St. Joseph’s and La Salle got one each – Aiken and Aaric Murray, respectively. The only Temple player on that list is Pepper, who originally went to West Virginia before transferring.
Since 2002, the earliest year Rivals has information for, three of the top-ranked Philadelphia players in their respective classes have committed to a City 6 school. All three – Wayns in 2009, Reggie Redding in 2006 and Kyle Lowry in 2004 – went to Villanova. The other 10 players, including Ja’Quan Newton, Rysheed Jordan, Amile Jefferson and Mustafa Shakur have committed to schools across the country.
“I think that there is a certain amount of sizzle that goes with going away to school as they report it to their constituents, their families, their AAU guys,” Dunphy said. “Those kinds of things. There’s a sizzle related that, as opposed to saying, ‘I’m going to go to a city school.’ In my mind, there’s a great amount of substance in that, but for some of these kids it might not have the same sizzle.”
Dunphy also said the rise of AAU teams has contributed to the trend of players leaving home for college. AAU teams are made up of the best high school players in a given area and compete with each other during the summer, when the high school season is over. AAU competitions are good opportunities for coaches to scout multiple players who have college potential at a time.
“These kids travel so much with the AAU teams,” Dunphy said. “They see different campuses. They see different parts of the country. They travel more than they ever did in the past.”
The only Philadelphia-area Temple recruit since the 2009 class was 2013 Camden Catholic graduate Kyle Green, and Green withdrew from Temple before playing a game. Dunphy said he doesn’t think the scarcity of Philadelphia recruits in recent years is for lack of effort.
“We’ve tried,” Dunphy said. “We go after the Philadelphia kid often. It just hasn’t resulted in them coming to Temple most recently.”
In the Class of 2014, Temple has gotten one high school commitment – Obi Enechionyia, a power forward from St. James School in Maryland. Enechionyia has a three-star ranking on Rivals.
Per Rivals, every team that will play in The American in 2014-15 has at least one three-star recruit or higher. Of those 10, six have multiple recruits with a three-star or higher rating. Temple, Tulsa and Southern Methodist are the three schools with one Class of 2014 recruit – although SMU’s is Emmanuel Mudiay, who is widely regarded as one of the 10 best players in his class.
During the past few years, Temple has lost more players than it has brought in, leading to depth issues. The team entered the 2013-14 season with nine active scholarship players, with some scholarships open and others used on ineligible transfers.
However, Dunphy said he likes the direction the team is headed. Although the Owls are losing Pepper and Lee – the former to graduation and the latter to transfer – they will bring in three or four new players, depending on if Jesse Morgan is eligible.
“I don’t think our effort has changed,” Dunphy said. “I’m not going to compromise my principles. I’m not going to lie to somebody. I’m going to tell them honestly how I feel and tell them the truth, that their time is going to come.”
Sometimes, the staff’s work takes longer than expected to pay dividends. Morgan, Jaylen Bond and Devin Coleman – the three transfers that sat on the bench last season – were all recruited by Temple when they were in high school.
“You just work hard,” Dunphy said. “That’s all you can do. That’s the only thing that you can control. Whether or not a kid in the end decides he’s going to come, there’s a lot of things that go into that process that these young people are going through to make their final decision.”
Evan Cross can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @EvanCross.
CORRECTION: In a version of this article that appeared in print on April 15, John Chaney’s last name was spelled wrong on one occasion. He is Chaney, not Cheney.