The Temple women’s basketball team was tough to watch last season. The Owls had talent but because of inconsistency, they continually fell short on game day.
In all of the team’s 10 wins and 18 losses the Owls fought hard. Lisa Jakubowicz averaged 10.5 points a game and 6.3 rebounds. The backcourt, led by Nicole Chaszar, was dangerous when hot from three-point land, but often struggled to be effective.
Jakubowicz and Chaszar led the team in scoring with 293 points and 258 points, respectively.
But when the games were over, the majority of the time the team had to add another to the loss column.
1999-2000 was a season with definite low points, like a 79-50 loss to Pennsylvania and an 85-46 loss to Dayton. Conference rival St. Joe’s defeated Temple twice with a combined 135-76 margin of victory.
It was a long year and the last under outgoing coach Kristen Foley, who resigned in March. The void at head coach allowed the return of one of Philadelphia’s most beloved athletes.
In stepped Dawn Staley.
Staley–a former star at Philly’s Dobbins Tech Hish School and the University of Virginia–took over the job and has brought Temple women’s basketball into the limelight. She also brought national recognition, an edge in recruiting, and instant respect from her players.
“I think it’s going to help,” Jakubowicz said of Staley. “She’s been around so much basketball I just think all of her experience is going to make us that much better.”
Staley has been around basketball all her life, from her childhood in North Philly to the Charlotte Sting of the WNBA and the Olympic team in Sydney this past Septmeber.
She made several stops along the way, including one in the American Basketball League franchise, the Philadelphia Rage, which played its home games at what was then the Apollo of Temple.
So the turf isn’t new to her.
But coaching is.
Staley never has been a coach, but as a lifelong point guard, she always considered herself a coach on the floor. Because of her inexperience in coaching, Staley set out to surround herself with a knowledgeable staff as soon as she got the Temple job.
Enter Shawn Campbell.
Campbell, a former assistant coach at Virginia, coached Staley through college. He is widely regarded as one of the top assistant coaches in all of women’s collegiate basketball. At Temple, he is Staley’s associate head coach.
“He’s helping a lot to see different things on the floor,” Staley said. “It’s not always scoring. We’re just breaking the game down to see it as a simpler form. When you see it that way you can see so many other things happening on the court.”
Staley also hired Gaye Chapman and Erin Monier as assistant coaches. The two bring a combined 20 years of coaching experience on both high school and college levels to the staff.
With the new coaching staff come some new players as well. The biggest name on the list of newcomers is Christina Cruz.
Cruz is a sophomore guard and forward who was forced to sit out last season for academic reasons. She played at Southern High School in Philadelphia where she averaged 20.3 points a game in her senior season (1998-99).
Her scoring touch could have been used last season as the Owls were inconsistent with putting points on the board.
“She’s very competitive but she’s easily distracted when she doesn’t feel like the situation is competitive,” Staley said. “She definitely has to come and play every single minute. She is very versatile.”
Cruz will be asked to play both guard and forward and should make an impact at both positions.
“She’s hungry and she wants to be better,” Staley said. “We talk about the things she wants in life. There’s a price to pay.”
Cruz aspires to be an all-American and make it in the WNBA. But first she has to replace Chaszar, who was lost to graduation.
Chaszar was consistent in her scoring through most of last year, but her well ran dry toward the end of the season. Now she’s gone and Cruz will have to help fill the void.
Christena Hamilton and Athena Christoforakis are the two other biggest recruits. Hamilton is another big scorer out of Coatesville high school. She averaged 20 points and 6.8 rebounds per game last year.
Christoforakis, a junior from Port Orange, Fla., will add some height to an otherwise small team. She is six feet tall and also knows how to score.
“I think our incoming class (is) strong and pretty athletic,” junior guard Melissa Dunne said. “They’re going to help us right off the bat.”
The team lost only two other players, Devan Lucas and Kim Martin. Martin began last year as a starter but was moved into a sixth-woman position for much of the season. Even off the bench she provided leadership and seven points a game.
Christoforakis’ height adds to a mostly undersized team. The tallest player on the team is Viveca Williams at 6-feet-2. Jakubowicz is the only starter over six feet and the team has two reserves over the mark.
Because of this, Staley is instituting a full-court offense. Last season the team kept things conservative and went half court. Staley cites the teams’ lack of size and inability to match up well with bigger teams like St. Joe’s as the reason they will switch to the new style.
“I think perimeter-wise we can match up pretty good,” Staley said. “It’s the inside that’s going to be our nemesis. We’ll take it out and we’ll run. Something’s going to have to give.”
The players who will have to get the ball moving will be the guards, most notably point guard Stacey Smalls.
In basketball, the point guard is the leader on the court. It’s a position that Staley excels at and one she intends to improve with the Owls.
Smalls is the top point guard for Staley this season. She averaged 6.8 points a game last season and led the team with 92 assists. She is a bright, young talent on the court and has the ability to open things up. Smalls went coast-to-coast more than once last season and excited the few who attended the home games.
So far in practice this year, it seems that Smalls has calmed down. This is something Staley actually wants to change.
“She doesn’t take risks as much as I do,” Staley said. “For the type of team we have she has the ability but she doesn’t do it. I want her to make mistakes now to see the different options she has. It’s easier to correct mistakes when you take risks.”
Smalls’ backup is Dunne, who improved down the stretch last season.
“I’ve been where they are,” Staley said. “Both think pass first, shoot second. On the floor when people take bad shots you have to get into them…It’s that kind of mentality.”
Melissa Eagles improved remarkably in her sophomore season last year. She was third on the team in scoring with 195 points. Eagles will see a considerable amount of time on the court this season and has a chance to start.
Regan Apo also had a good year as a freshman in 1999. She contracted the flu down the stretch of the season and missed a few games but will contribute this season. Natalia Isaac and Nikki Jones round out the guard spots.
The team is overstocked with players that can play either guard or forward, like Ieesha Turnage and Cruz. Turnage averaged 5.2 points a game and will look to contribute more this year in her senior season.
Jakubowicz is the top returning forward and will get help from senior Elizabeth Bartron, sophomore Lakia Preston and Christoforakis. But Jakubowicz is the best of the bunch, according to Staley.
“She can do a lot of things,” Staley said. “She’s going to keep a lot of teams off-balance.”
Keeping teams off-balance and outgunning them on the court will be the key to victory for the Owls.
Temple has a tough row to hoe in the A-10, but Staley believes the team has a shot. That belief is what made Staley come to Temple.
“They’ve reassured what I thought in taking this position. The A-10 conference is reachable and attainable. I feel it,” Staley said.
“We’re not saying there’s slouch teams out there, but we’re just saying we’re going to play at a level where we’re going to compete night in and night out. If we compete and lay it down there on the line, we give ourselves a chance to win.”
Jakubowicz believes in her new coach.
“We should definitely move up this year,” she said. “We’re stronger every day as the day goes on.”
The team is working hard in practice, preparing for a season that starts with a Nov. 8 exhibition against a team from Norway.
“The hard work they’re putting in, they’re not putting it in to be in the middle of the pack,” Staley said. “I’ve accomplished a lot by working hard. We’re looking to turn around the program today.”