Cue the credits. The drama of the 2008-2009 men’s basketball season is over.
If you felt the sequel to the 2007-2008 season was an awful lot like the original, well, that’s because it was. The plot was nearly the same – a few big wins, a do-or-die Atlantic Ten Conference Tournament and an NCAA Tournament cameo.
With Temple’s 66-57 loss to Arizona State last Friday, the legacy was set for its lead performer, senior guard Dionte Christmas – two NCAA Tourneys, 2,043 points and too many bad holiday puns (Thankfully, there’s no basketball in July).
But more importantly, the legacies of sophomore forward Lavoy Allen, junior guard Ryan Brooks and freshman guard Juan Fernandez became more defined.
Aside from the senior-to-be Brooks, that core knows nothing but A-10 titles and Selection Sunday parties. And that, in itself, is what makes the 2008-2009 season so important.
The redevelopment of the Temple basketball program has reached a critical point. Just getting to the NCAA Tournament no longer marks progress. Now, only winning there does. That ultimatum is much different than this core group’s predecessors.
The careers of Mardy Collins, Antywane Robinson and Dustin Salisbery are defined by what never was – a trip to the Big Dance.
Mark Tyndale and Christmas brought the Owls back to college basketball’s Holy Land, providing a feel-good ending to their careers. But their careers also prompt some questions of what might have been.
Allen and Co. have the opportunity to leave a much-more remarkable mark on Temple’s basketball history.
Unlike their predecessors, who simply fought to get into March Madness, this group’s goal is winning games there. One just hopes they don’t take getting there for granted. When one hasn’t felt the sting of missing out that could be easy to do.
Make no mistake – this core owes a lot of its success to Tyndale, Christmas, Chris Clark, senior center Sergio Olmos and senior guard Semaj Inge. But several years from now, if this core adds two more NCAA berths and maybe a Sweet 16, Allen and Fernandez and others will be the names cherished.
They might not join Eddie Jones and Aaron McKie in Temple lore, but as coach Fran Dunphy’s initial recruits, they’d go down as the key players who kick-started a new era.
This group has great potential, but it must be noted that simply returning to the NCAA Tournament is no small task. And for as much as this group has proven itself, it still has a ways to go.
Allen is no longer a secondary star. He is now the Owls’ premier player. As Dunphy has noted all season long, Allen has the capabilities to dominate the A-10. For this team to take the next step – getting back to the NCAAs and winning a game – he has to decide he wants to be that player.
Ahmad Nivins made that decision for Saint Joseph’s this season, morphing himself from a third-team all-conference player to A-10 Player of the Year.
Brooks is no longer just a clutch shooter. He is the shooter.
But Brooks shouldn’t try to fill Christmas’ enormous shoes. He simply can’t. Christmas was too special. Rather, Brooks needs help from Craig Williams and others. Ramone Moore, anyone?
Fernandez will no longer be a learn-as-we-go point guard. He’ll have a half-season under his belt, but Inge won’t be around to spell him if he struggles.
How well these players transition into their new roles will determine whether Temple gets a chance to prove itself in the NCAA Tournament again.
The fate of Allen and Co. is up in the air. But one thing is for sure – their careers won’t be judged in the same light as those of Tyndale and Christmas.
They’ve got to overcome their biggest struggle, which isn’t beating St. Joe’s or getting into the NCAA Tournament. They’ll be judged on whether they can win there.
John Kopp can be reached at email@example.com.