Men’s basketball’s opening wins showcased its depth with solid performances off the bench.
The men’s basketball team may have lost senior guards Ryan Brooks and Luis Guzman to graduation, but coach Fran Dunphy might have his deepest squad yet.
Brooks and Guzman combined to average 67.8 minutes per game last season as they helped lead the Owls to a 29-6 record. When the duo graduated from Temple, it not only opened up two starting spots, it also allowed lesser-known players a chance to prove themselves.
So far, through two games, Dunphy has used 11 players, nine of whom have the chance to be regulars in the rotation. Against Seton Hall, a trio of sophomores – guards Khalif Wyatt, T.J. DiLeo and forward Rahlir Jefferson – played a combined 45 minutes in the win. Jefferson in particular was impressive, as he finished with 10 points and 10 rebounds, the first double-double of his career.Jefferson’s stellar defense has stood out to Dunphy.
“We have the benefit of bringing a guy like Rahlir off the bench who can guard threes and fours,” Dunphy said. “He’s probably even better playing a wing guy than he is on a post guy. I think he’s doing really good work for us as well.”
Dunphy’s right. At 6 feet, 6 inches, Rahlir might lack the size to defend some of the nation’s bigger power forwards, but he’s more than adequate against the rest. While his kind of “in-betweenish” size might be a disadvantage against power forwards, it’s certainly an advantage against any small forward that he might face. Jefferson has secured his spot as the first man off the bench for the Owls, something that Dunphy thinks will change next year.
“[Rahlir will] be starting next year, no question about that,” Dunphy said. “To me, he’s a sixth starter [this year].”
While Rahlir saw significant time as a freshman last season, DiLeo did not. That hasn’t stopped the 6-foot, 3-inch Cinnaminson, N.J., native from securing a significant role in Dunphy’s rotation. If Jefferson is the first “big” off the bench, DiLeo is the first “small.” In two games so far, DiLeo has averaged two points, two rebounds, 1.5 assists and 17.5 minutes per game while serving as the team’s primary back-up guard.
In two games, Wyatt has played 22 minutes while averaging 4.5 points and 1.5 steals per game. By comparison, the Norristown High School product played a total of 19 minutes in 10 games last season.
Being able to have reliable bench players has allowed the Owls to rest their starters at times without a significant drop in production, junior guard Ramone Moore said.
“I think it’s real big having T.J., Rahlir and Khalif coming off the bench to help us,” Moore said. “Guys get winded and need a break. Our guys can come off the bench and be trusted to play valuable minutes.”
It’s a little hard to judge blowouts, but in Temple’s 82-49 victory over Toledo on Sunday, nine Owls played more than 10 minutes. In his collegiate debut, freshman guard Aaron Brown scored five points, grabbed two rebounds and dished an assist in 10 minutes of play.
“It was great to have the opportunity to put Aaron in there,” Dunphy said. “He’s a very good basketball player and a great guy. I’ve oftentimes likened what I hope his career will be to that of Ryan Brooks. He’ll come off the bench for a year and change and then all of a sudden blossom into somebody who’s really going to be reliable and really be dedicated to what the game’s all about.”
The other two participants in Sunday’s game, junior guard Jake Godino and graduate forward Dutch Gaitley, recorded five minutes each. Godino scored the first points of his career late in the second half.
“It feels good watching [Godino play],” Moore said. “I see a lot of hard work from somebody like Jake. Seeing him out there, making shots and playing really well, it felt really good.”
The depth of this team should get even deeper as freshman forward Anthony Lee and senior forward Craig Williams return from their injuries. The only issue that the return of the two big men will provide is how Dunphy will manage the minutes of his bench. In the end, though, that’s a good problem to have.
As the season progresses, the importance of the reserves will become even more apparent. Injuries will inevitably happen. Players will go into slumps. Dunphy should feel fortunate he has so many players who can produce, whether off the bench or in a spot-start.
“We are a team right now because everybody’s on the floor,” Moore said. “Everybody got a chance to play.”
That’s something Temple fans should get used to seeing.
Kyle Gauss can be reached at email@example.com.