Fran Dunphy said he thought about inserting freshman Juan Fernandez into the fire that is Big 5 basketball.
With the play of his two point guards, who combined for a meager two assists against three turnovers, how couldn’t he?
But ultimately, Dunphy decided it wasn’t fair to send Fernandez, who became eligible on Dec. 26 and has only practiced with Temple a handful of times, into the pressure of facing No. 16 Villanova, which won 62-45, at the Pavilion Monday night.
“He’s been at all of two practices, but his ability to pick a lot of things up and understand the game is very, very good,” Dunphy said. “He’s going to be a good player, but I want to make sure that I’m giving him enough time to get into the flow of what we’re trying to do. Of what I’ve seen so far, I really like.”
The same could not be said for starting point guard Semaj Inge, at least as far as his performance against the Wildcats (12-1) went. The senior picked up three personal fouls in 11 minutes.
“I want Semaj to do as well as Semaj wants himself to do,” Dunphy said. “He made a couple of mistakes that he can’t make if he’s going to help us be the best team. … The Semaj that played against Penn State, I’d like to see him be that consistent every time out. But he’s got to be understanding of what he can and what he can’t do.”
To be sure, Inge and backup point guard Luis Guzman were not the only Owls (5-6) to blame for the team’s third consecutive loss. Lavoy Allen had five turnovers, Dionte Christmas shot a miserable 4-for-19, and Sergio Olmos missed several layups.
But, it’s safe to say the point guard position is among the Owls’ most glaring concerns, and the debut of the Fernandez has been heavily anticipated.
Still, it remains to be seen just how much Fernandez can contribute and how quickly.
“Obviously, a lot of things are going to be determined about our team,” Dunphy said. “For example, how Juan Fernandez is going to affect our team, how our rotations will be.
“We still have a lot of unknowns in our group. We’re still that work-in-progress that we have to figure out over the next week.”
That’s a week of practice that Dunphy expects to be a great learning experience for Fernandez, who only recently joined the team after completing high school in his native Argentina this month.
“It’s not going to be easy, but I’m trying to adjust as fast as possible to get on the court,” Fernandez said. “… They’ve been working out for two months. I’ve got to learn all that stuff.”
Fernandez’s track record suggests he can be a key contributor.
Foxsports.com rated Fernandez as the fifth-best midseason pickup in the NCAA. The 6-4 point guard led the Under-18 Argentina team to a victory over the United States in the World Championship game, while scoring 16 points. He averaged 8.4 points and 3 steals in six tournament games.
“The game that they play here is faster than what I was used to,” Fernandez said. “They’re more athletic. That’s a big challenge for me. I need to get used to that and work on my defense.”
Temple fans will certainly recall the defensive prowess of another Argnetinian point guard, Pepe Sanchez, who led the Owls to the Elite Eight in 1999. While comparisons of Fernandez to Sanchez are premature, the former Temple great played a key role in Fernandez’s decision to play on North Broad.
“I only talked to him by email,” Fernandez said. “At first, I was having doubts about coming. He was the one who convinced me that Temple was the best option, so I [committed].
“He told me how life at the university was, how tough it is, and how it helps to grow up as a person and as a basketball player.”
Time will tell whether Fernandez can help the Owls grow as a team this season.
John Kopp can be reached at email@example.com.