At first glance, Temple University men’s basketball’s season is a total disappointment.
The team was eliminated in the first round of The American Athletic Conference Championship on Thursday and never found their rhythm this season because so many games were postponed or canceled after suffering from a lack of summer practice due to COVID-19 protocol.
However, the Owls’ (5-11, 4-10 The American) younger guards and recruits for next season provide an exciting solid foundation for the team to build a consistent AAC championship contender capable of earning NCAA Tournament bids.
“I feel comfortable saying we have the pieces in place to really build this thing out,” head coach Aaron McKie said after the team’s game on Thursday. “They got a chance to play, and I got a chance to evaluate these guys because we didn’t have a summer. Just wanna add some other pieces around them to complete the puzzle.”
The top two teams in The American, Wichita State and Houston, both have guards as their leading scorers this season. Sophomore guard Tyson Etienne leads the Shockers with 17.0 points per game, and junior guard Quentin Grimes leads the Cougars with 17.9 points per game.
Needless to say, quality guard play is necessary to succeed in The American.
This season, three of the Owls’ top four scorers were underclassmen guards. Sophomore Khalif Battle led the team in points per game with 15, redshirt-freshman Damian Dunn was second with 13.5 and freshman Jeremiah Williams tied for third with 9.3.
Battle earned a Third-Team All American Conference spot, and Dunn earned a spot on the American All-Rookie team, meaning the conference is fully aware of the Owls’ younger players’ talent.
Each of the team’s young guards provides the Owls with a distinct skillset. Battle is a potent scorer who can create for himself off the dribble and catch fire from behind the arc, Williams is a long and athletic defender capable of running the offense with his precise passing and Dunn is a strong finisher around the rim skilled at drawing contact to get to the free-throw line.
Battle led the team in 3-pointers attempted and finished second in 3-pointers converted. Williams led the team in assists and steals while Dunn led the team in free throws attempted this season.
Temple doesn’t have to hope their skillsets develop: they already have them. With a little more game experience, the young guards should help Temple compete with the likes of Houston and Wichita State.
While all three of Temple’s young guards are talented, they still need more support on both sides of the court. The support they need will come from Temple’s 2021 recruiting class, specifically from guard Hysier Miller from Neumann Goretti High School in Wharton and forward Zach Hicks from Camden Catholic High School in Cherry Hill, New Jersey.
Miller, McKie’s first signee from Philadelphia and a three-star recruit, is averaging 18.2 points, 10 rebounds, 6.4 assists and three steals per game this season. Alongside Battle, Miller will provide the Owls with another reliable scoring option in the backcourt.
Miller was also named to the McDonald’s All-American Team, which recognizes the best high school players in the country.
Hicks, also a three-star recruit, is averaging 21.9 points per game while leading the Fighting Irish to a 9-3 record this season. Hicks offers the Owls a scoring option at the forward position, which they sorely lacked this season. His 6-foot-7-inch height and explosive movement skills will give the Owls a versatile chess piece on the defensive side of the court.
It might take time for all the young players to build chemistry and fully adapt to the college game, but the future is undoubtedly bright on North Broad Street.
“We’ll be back next year, ready to go,” Battle said.