The departing members of the student body who walked at commencement last spring took with them a wealth of experiences, ranging from forged friendships to internships to lines of red tape at registration.
But none of them – those who graduated in four years, anyway – ever got to root for the men’s basketball team in the NCAA Tournament as Temple students.
For the past four years, the Owls have had a ton of heart, but not enough talent to compete on the national stage. Lynn Greer, Alex Wesby and David Hawkins, the stars of those teams, endeared themselves to Temple fans with their tenacity, but ultimately ended up either playing abroad or fighting their way onto NBA summer league teams.
That led to the Owls making four straight appearances in the National Invitational Tournament. Last season, they posted a 16-14 overall record and fell in the first round of the NIT for the second consecutive year.
This year, things appear to be different.
Senior Mardy Collins is back at point guard following a breakout junior season in which he led the team in points, rebounds, assists and steals. Sophomore guard Mark Tyndale will stick to his singular purpose of lowering his head and driving to the hoop with reckless abandon, and freshman guard Dionte Christmas was nothing short of a steal out of Philadelphia Lutheran Christian Academy.
Gone for good is center Keith Butler, who bolted for DePaul. Gone for an indefinite amount of time is forward Wayne Marshall, who has an unidentified health ailment.
Where coach John Chaney tried to work the offense from the inside-out last season, the personnel at his disposal leaves the 73-year-old coach with little choice but to lean on his perimeter players.
“I’m real excited about this season,” Collins said. “I liked the team last year, too. We had a big team, I think the biggest starting five in the country, but with the players we have this year and the dudes who can shoot the ball, there’s some new things we’re planning on doing this year.
“I’m excited about these new players we have coming in here, Dionte and Anthony [Ivory] and Semaj [Inge].”
Despite three of the five starting positions possibly in flux, the Owls seem surer in their approach this year than last, when all five starters were essentially cemented when the season began. Senior forward Antywane Robinson may move from the three to the four to fill in for the departed big men, while the remaining two positions are up for grabs for a slew of players with differing styles.
True freshmen Ivory and Sergio Olmos can’t be expected to contribute right away, so junior Dion Dacons and senior Nehemiah Ingram, once his obligation to the football team is complete, may get extended minutes.
Collins, who is mentoring freshman guard Inge out of Woodrow Wilson High School in Camden, N.J., tried to stay practical.
“We’ll miss Keith’s size, but when you really look at it, he only gave us four points and four rebounds a night,” Collins said. “Dion can give us at least that.”
Play opens tonight at the Liacouras Center, where the Owls play Army at 7 p.m. The contest is a Preseason NIT first-round matchup, with the winner playing UCLA or New Mexico State on Thursday.
A preseason poll of league coaches predicted the Owls to finish third in the Atlantic Ten Conference, behind George Washington and newcomer Charlotte. Dacons agreed with measured comments made by Collins that the Owls are focused primarily on winning the preaseason NIT before even looking at the regular season schedule.
Bluntness is Tyndale’s middle name, though. In the offseason, according to an ESPN report, he called Butler a “cancer,” and before that hailed Collins as “the greatest player I ever played with.”
Analyzing this year’s team, Tyndale was no less direct.
“My goal was to make it to the Tournament [as a freshman],” Tyndale said. “Unfortunately, we made the NIT. But I’m kind of guaranteeing the Tournament this season.”
Ben Watanabe can be reached at email@example.com.