Of the seven players on the men’s basketball team who saw action in the NCAA tournament, two will be on the team’s roster next season. Perhaps more troubling is the degree at which the team will be different when the opening tip occurs in approximately seven months.
Temple will be losing five players from its team that was within two minutes of a Sweet Sixteen berth this season. Those five players accounted for 4,665 of the 6,800 minutes played this year, and 1,787 of the 2,456 points scored, good for 69 percent and 73 percent, respectively. Most significantly, the Owls will be without the Atlantic 10 Conference Player of the Year, Khalif Wyatt.
“You really don’t replace those guys,” freshman forward Daniel Dingle said. “You just try to go out there and play your game and do the best of your ability. Maybe your best ability is better than what they had done.”
Redshirt-sophomore forward Anthony Lee and sophomore guard Will Cummings will be the only returning players next year that started more than one game this season. The other six returning players combined for one start, 580 minutes and 159 points – 6 percent of the total – last season.
“People are already doubting us, and it’s cool. It doesn’t faze us at all,” Dingle said. “No one on the team is a proven player, no one dominated. Anthony and Will, they contributed, but no one has carried the team like Rahlir [Hollis-Jefferson], Jake [O’Brien], Khalif and Scootie [Randall].”
“We will be ready to pick up the pieces,” coach Fran Dunphy said. “That’s the great challenge in college basketball is that you are going to lose some really good players from year to year.”
Lee and Cummings will most likely have to come into different roles next season. The tandem will be the only returning starters and must go from following the lead of five seniors, to guiding a team of talented, yet inexperienced players.
“I pretty much control the game and control the tempo,” Cummings said. “Everything is pretty much on my shoulders now as far as controlling the game and being a leader; providing leadership to the young guys and different things to expect when playing basketball at this level.”
Cummings, who started at the point guard position last year, frequently split time with T.J. DiLeo in addition to Wyatt who frequently carried the ball up the court. Cummings said he knows his game must change next season as he prepares for more responsibility and playing time.
“I expect to play a lot,” Cummings said. “Just knowing that I am the only one with that experience, it’s all about preparing myself and getting in shape and having more stamina to be able to last that long in the game.”
Lee will also be asked to anchor an inside game that was aided by the presence of O’Brien, Randall and Hollis-Jefferson. With less big bodies and a smaller team, he said he expects the pace and tempo of the game to change.
“The pace last year was catered toward how Khalif was able to manage the game his way,” Lee said. “A lot of people that are on the team now are people that like to run the floor. Obviously you have to control the tempo and be under control, but we are going to get out in transition.”
The returning players are not without talent. In one of Dunphy’s most highly-touted recruiting classes, the three freshmen all were rated as 87 or higher by ESPN recruiting, with Dingle being a three-star prospect.
The freshmen played limited minutes, with guard Quenton DeCosey receiving the most time with 195 minutes converted into 53 points. Dingle and forward Devontae Watson played 38 and 12 minutes, respectively, and scored 13 and 9 points on the year, respectively. None of the freshmen elected to take a redshirt before the season and retain a year of eligibility.
“I actually thought I was going to play more,” Dingle said. “Things didn’t work out how we planned. It was definitely a good year and I decided I wasn’t going to redshirt. Somebody could have gone down and an opportunity could have come up.”
When a player elects to take a redshirt for the season, he has the option of un-redshirting and playing the rest of the year, however this uses a year of eligibility. While some players do this in the event of a player being injured, it is uncommon and results in lost playing time.
“It’s a combination of everybody involved, whether it is the family, the student-athletes, the coaches,” Dunphy said. “If that was something where they came to me and said that is what they wanted to do, then that would have been fine by me.”
In addition, Temple will bring in Josh Brown, a recruit from St. Anthony High School, who has already drawn praise from Dunphy.
“Josh Brown will be as ready to go as any freshman that we have had in quite some time,” Dunphy said.
While NCAA rules prevent players and coaches from speaking on behalf of players that have not yet committed to a school, guard Rysheed Jordan is still reportedly considering Temple. Ranked No. 22 on the ESPN 100 list, the five-star recruit would likely be the most notable recruit of Dunphy’s career. Jordan is also considering St. John’s, who was unable to make the NCAA tournament, and UCLA, who recently fired coach Ben Howland.
Ultimately, Temple is also a team in transition. The Owls will be changing conferences and headed to what was the Big East Conference, amid questions regarding not only what the conference will be named, but how they will fare against teams they haven’t faced before.
“It is going to be a big adjustment next year,” Cummings said. “Coming from the A-10 we had a good knowledge of teams and the kind of offenses they ran. It is going to be a different experience playing teams for the first time not really knowing what they like to do on the court and not really knowing how their coach coaches and things like that. It is going to be a learning process and we will watch a lot more film than we normally do for A-10 teams so that we can prepare better.”
While Temple has months before the season starts, many practices and pickup games separate the team from the season opener. Who will be starting and how the players adjust to playing with each other is still yet to be determined.
“I know my guys and I know myself and we are working hard,” Dingle said. “We are going to be ready.
Ibrahim Jacobs can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ibrahimjacobs.