In his cozy office overlooking North Broad Street, John Baum is tireless.
As the color commentator for the Owls’ radio broadcast team, Baum readies himself for games by reading and re-reading all he can find on the opposition.
He puts his game notes in manila folders, with some being bulkier than others. His folder for the Duke game, for example, had a clear size advantage over those for any of the Owls’ Atlantic Ten Conference games.
Then there was the folder for Penn. It wasn’t packed full, but certainly it wasn’t compact, either.
A former all-American at Temple, Baum said he’s quite familiar with the Quakers.
“There’s a lot that I know about this team, and there’s a lot that’s going to be written about this game,” Baum said.
When the Owls travel to the Palestra Wednesday to take on the Quakers, Baum will be ready. He said he expects the same from Fran Dunphy, who had directed Penn in the 17 seasons prior to his arrival at Temple. It’ll be Dunphy’s first game against his former team, so excitement – not to mention nerves – could run high.
“I’m sure he’s a little nervous about going
to the Palestra, but that’s natural,” Baum said. “For the first time, he’s going to be sitting on the opposing bench. For the first time, he’s going to be cramped in the smaller of the two locker rooms. … For the first time, he’s going to be coaching against his own team, a team he recruited.
“That’s special. That can’t be replaced.”
In a city rich with college basketball history, Temple and Penn have both tasted success. Behind 1,600-plus wins apiece, the schools have claimed their spots in the top 10 list of all-time Division I victories.
Tobacco Road has Duke and North Carolina.
And Philadelphia has Temple and Penn, which have the seventh- and eighth-most wins, respectively, in all of D-I basketball.
“People always talk about Duke and North Carolina being so close to one another and being so good for all these years, but they always seem to forget about Temple and Penn,” Baum said.
“There’s a lot of history right here.”
Wins have helped, but Temple and Penn have etched their places in history behind strong coaching, too.
Temple advanced to the Elite Eight five times under John Chaney, who coached here from 1983 to 2006. During almost the same period, and with Dunphy on the bench, the Quakers had countless runs through the Ivy League and into the NCAA Tournament.
Much earlier, during Baum’s playing days from 1966-69, Temple averaged 20 wins a season with Hall of Famer Harry Litwack at the helm.
But Penn controlled the 1970s, under Jack McCloskey and the play of his spry point guard Steve Bilsky.
The teams weren’t always evenly matched, but Bilsky, who now serves as Penn’s athletic director, said coaching evened the playing field.
“Even when our teams were supposedly
better, going against [Litwack’s] zone was a great equalizer,” said Bilsky, who captained Penn’s nationally ranked squad in 1971.
The two Big 5 schools are a part of a competitive tradition. Though Bilsky said the Temple-Penn rivalry “doesn’t have quite the emotional energy of some of the others,” he said Dunphy switching benches has changed that.
“Having him now as the opponent will probably add some excitement to the rivalry, but it will be tempered by the fact that he is not the enemy, and we will be rooting for him to win every game but one each year.”
That one game will be Wednesday night’s at the Palestra, where Baum’s fondest Temple-Penn memories revolve around.
Going on the road to play Penn was never the challenge; rather, Penn’s fans were, Baum said.
“They’d get loud, but we knew we could win them over if we played well. Everyone follows a winner,” said Baum, who was a part of Temple’s 1969 NIT Championship team. ” … I remember they’d have those banners, and I’d always look for the most creative one. They always had fun with my last name, like ‘Ban the Baum.'”
That very banner is in Baum’s home now, stored away in his trophy case.
“I liked that one,” Baum said.
Philadelphia likely will always have a place for its brotherly love, but that doesn’t apply in the city’s sports scene – especially when Temple and Penn are involved.Wednesday’s game will have special meaning for Bill and Robert Mlkvy.
Bill is a Temple graduate, a standout for the Owls’ program during its success of the early 1950s. Later that decade, his brother, Robert, was a co-captain for the Penn Quakers.
Born eight years apart, the brothers never played one another on the college ranks, but that hasn’t kept them from some good, clean ribbing.
“I told my brother I’ll be pulling for Temple,” said Bill Mlkvy, whose number is retired in the Liacouras Center rafters.
Robert Mlkvy will be rooting for his alma mater, too.
“I said to him that, if I go, we can’t sit on the same side,” Robert said with a laugh. “I said we can probably meet up at halftime at the hot dog stand.”
Though they ended up at different Big 5 schools, the brothers had similar paths.
Both were heavily recruited out of Palmerton (Pa.) High. And both served in the military before beginning careers in dentistry.
The school names on their diplomas, however, have kept their athletic allegiances apart.
“When he was picking a school, I had no say in the matter,” said Bill, the older brother. “I remember him watching games from our bench, but I let him make his decision.”
Robert said: “I wanted to make my own path, so I went the Ivy League route.”
Like Chaney, Dunphy talks only about the game at hand.
But assistant coach Shawn Trice spoke early last week about the significance of Wednesday’s game. A former player and assistant coach for the Quakers, Trice came to Temple with Dunphy. So it’ll be his first game against Penn, too.
“It’s going to be difficult for everybody,”
Trice said. “It was always a big game on our schedule, and nothing changes this season. “It’ll be good to see everyone again, but that’s not why we’re going to be there.”
Penn senior Ibrahim Jaaber said the same.”I’ll go about it like it’s any other team and any other game,” Jaaber said.
“I’ll greet coach Dunphy in the line for handshakes after the game.”
Jaaber said he last heard from Dunphy via text message following the Quakers’ win last week against Columbia.
“That’s new technology for coach Dunphy,”
Jaaber said. “I still call him ‘coach,’ but I told him that I’ve never beaten Temple in my [career]. So I’m looking forward to Wednesday. I think we all are.”
Christopher A. Vito can be reached at email@example.com.