ATLANTA, Ga.–Caught in a whirlwind of journalistic integrity and Owls’ hysteria, I found myself suitably hysterical during this weekend’s South Regional games in the Georgia Dome.
Admittedly, as the weekend transpired, my duties as sportswriter almost became secondary to the student and fan in me that wanted to see 69-year-old John Chaney finally get a shot at the Final Four.
After all he has been through, I thought he deserved at least a shot.
This was the same coach that everyone had left for dead just 12 months earlier when his second-seeded Owls were bitten by the upset bug in the second round. This was the same coach that suffered through a seven-game losing streak, the longest of his career, and soon after called this the worst season he has ever had at Temple.
Yet, just last weekend, his team was just one game away from college basketball’s biggest stage.
Unfortunately, Chaney’s attempt fell a little short. But the Owls certainly had a season to remember. This team will go down in Temple lore as “the little engine that could.”
No one outside of Temple’s locker room believed this team would get this far, but we should have known better. Conventional wisdom will tell you that Chaney has a knack for making average teams overachieve, and vice versa.
Nothing has epitomized this more than Chaney’s last two seasons on North Broad Street.
Basketball is a game of constant reinforcement: No matter what happened in the previous season, the previous game or even the previous possession, it is never as important as the current moment.
Temple seized that moment and rode the wave all the way up until the final seconds of the Elite Eight.
For that short period in time, all the hardships the Owls had suffered earlier in the season seemed like a distant memory.
There were no superstars on this team like an Eddie Jones or Aaron McKie, nor was there an unique point guard in Pepe Sanchez, who could take over a game without scoring a single point. But this year’s team went just as far as any other team Chaney has coached in his 19 seasons at Temple.
This team, more than any other, relied on a blue-collar approach of out-hustling and outsmarting its opponents. Most importantly, the Owls played with a desperation and scrappiness that only living on the bubble for months could build.
The Owls played must-win games long before Selection Sunday. So once Temple got into the field of 65, the Big Dance was just a continuation of their steady and increasingly comfortable condition.
Senior shooting guard Quincy Wadley, in particular, realized this. Knowing that any game could be his last in an Owls’ jersey, he saved some of his best basketball for the final stretch run.
Wadley is straight out of Chaney’s mold: a fiery competitor, tough as nails, and absolutely fearless. He attacked you with the same intensity whether you were wearing a Florida jersey or Fordham’s, and on the days when his shot wasn’t falling, you could count on him to provide leadership at the defensive end of the court.
His teammates followed his lead to the tune of 10 straight victories at the end of the season before finally succumbing to the deeper, more-talented Michigan State team.
So we have once again reached the conclusion of another basketball season on North Broad Street, every Temple student’s favorite time of year. The team will reassemble for practice again in October with some old faces and some new ones.
But one thing will be a constant: John Chaney will be there, barking and coaching his way into next year’s NCAA Tournament. You can count on it.
(bold) A measure of justice
On Wednesday, John Chaney was announced as one of 17 finalists for induction to the Basketball Hall of Fame.
For many Chaney and Temple fans, a possible Hall of Fame induction is long overdue for a man who brought five Temple teams to within a game of the Final Four over the past 19 years, and won a Division II national title with Cheyney State.
Among the other finalists are two of this year’s Final Four coaches, Arizona’s Lute Olsen and Duke’s Mike Kryyzewski, as well as current Sixers head coach Larry Brown and current Fresno State coach Jerry Tarkanian.
Two members of the 1983 NBA champion Sixers team, Moses Malone and Bobby Jones, were among the players to make the short list.
Nominees need 18 of 24 votes from the Honors Committee for induction. The committee votes in May and the enshrining will take place Oct. 5.