Study Session: The future of Temple Men’s Basketball

The Owls bounced back from a historic losing streak to rattle off four wins in the AAC Tournament. Head coach Adam Fisher believes that’s just a taste of what his program can do.

Temple Men’s Basketball could be set up nicely for a solid future with head coach Adam Fisher. | ROBERT JOSEPH CRUZ / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Temple Men’s Basketball waited all season to move past its growing pains. The Owls showed flashes of potential throughout the year, especially during conference play, but could never find results in the win column.

Yet, head coach Adam Fisher kept his team fighting through the highs and historic lows. The Owls typically seemed to remain in games regardless of their opponent, and the first-year coach continuously believed in his guys no matter what was thrown their way.

Fisher wasn’t at all surprised when they finally found some success during the last two weeks of the season. In fact, he saw it coming.

“The thing that excited me the most about this team was their belief,” Fisher said. “They were believing in each other, believing if everybody on our team was playing their best, we were really hard to beat. They stayed together, and it never wavered.”

Temple’s season may have ended more abruptly than the team wanted, but the Owls exceeded all expectations in the last few weeks of the season. Fisher has established his own culture on North Broad Street and has the potential to change the trajectory of Temple Men’s Basketball.

That turnaround didn’t even feel possible merely one month earlier. The Owls lost 10 games in a row, their most in about 50 years, and couldn’t put together a complete performance. They finally found a win against UTSA on Feb. 18, snapping their losing streak and validating the work the team put in.

Fisher believes that the UTSA win sparked the team’s final month of the season and helped his roster see they were capable of much more than their record displayed. 

“That was the rock breaking; you keep hitting and hitting the rock until it breaks,” Fisher said. “There were so many mixed emotions after that game, and somebody said to me there was some relief. We did what we kept doing and got over the hump, but we didn’t change.”

That rock didn’t just break — it shattered — and Temple went on the best run in the history of the American Athletic Conference Tournament. The Owls won four of their final six games to close the regular season and then beat four teams in four days to qualify for the championship game.

Their run came to an end against UAB, just missing their chance to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time in five years. But, it created optimism around the program that could help them reach new heights next season.

As Temple kept its season alive, the Owls’ fans showed their support across various social media platforms. People began a campaign raising money for Temple’s third-party NIL collective, the TUFF Fund, which blew up when Klein alumnus and SportsCenter anchor Kevin Negandhi pledged to donate $5 for every point the Owls scored in the semifinals and finals and doubled the total when they beat Florida Atlantic.

Previously, The TUFF Fund couldn’t generate any significant momentum, but Temple’s success sparked the passionate fan base to rally around their season. The organization had a 200 percent increase in funds raised compared to its two years of existence, gained 100 more donors and reached a million people.

“Our fans really stayed with us,” Fisher said. “The amount of texts I got from former players, professors, everybody on campus, that was special. [Executive Director] Andy Carl’s done an unbelievable job with the TUFF Fund, and to see the responses from people, that’s Temple tough. We need the fans, we need the city, we need the alums and faculty to help.”

That support may be more important than ever this offseason. The Owls have already lost five players to the NCAA Transfer Portal, including star guards Hysier Miller and Jahlil White. Temple bounced back from losing five of its top scorers when Aaron McKie stepped down, but losing Miller and White will also be significant blows.

The Owls still have most of their key players from the 2023-24 season, but those pieces will not be enough to compete next year. They still lack a scorer who can create his own shots and a defensive and rebounding presence that can fill Sam Hofman’s shoes, as he has no remaining eligibility.

Keeping guards Jordan Riley, Shane Dezonie and Zion Stanford may not be an easy task as each of them showed they can perform at a high level. Dezonie can step into the starting point guard spot, but the three could draw interest from programs across the country, making their futures unclear.

Temple will have two freshmen joining the fold this summer. Guard Aiden Tobiason was the Delaware Player of the Year, leading Saint Elizabeth’s High School in Wilmington to the state semifinals. Forward Dillon Battie made his own history, winning state MVP and a championship at Lancaster High School in Lancaster, Texas.

Fisher will need to hit the portal but feels confident about his plans. If the end of the season is any indication, Temple is in good hands.

“I’ve said this to every student athlete: ‘If you’re the same player in November that you were during the ACC Tournament, that’s not good enough,’” Fisher said. “We have to learn hard and compete, that’s the base layer, and we’ve already proven that. We’ve got to get more shots up and get better defensively, and we will once we figure out who’s on our team.”

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