When Owls’ sophomore guard Tiarra East started taking basketball seriously, her only goal was to follow in her older brother’s footsteps, who plays basketball at the University of Missouri, and leave her hometown of Louisville, Kentucky, and pursue her dreams of competing at the highest level.
When Temple offered East a full scholarship in 2020, it was an easy decision for her to leave home and head to Philadelphia to make her dream a reality.
“I always wanted to leave home,” East said. “When I was younger I used to get homesick but as I grew up I wanted to get away more and coming to Philly was an opportunity to do so. After seeing what my brother went through, and his struggles to get where he’s at, it made me want to fight more.”
East, who was named the Temple Athlete of the Month in December, has quickly emerged as a key piece for a Temple team searching for an identity under first-year head coach Diane Richardson. Despite being a guard, East leads the team in rebounds per game and steals per game and ranks second on the team in points per game.
East is able to use her 5-foot-10 frame as an advantage, allowing her to drive to the basket and fight for rebounds that most guards wouldn’t be able to collect. She has already recorded double-digit rebounds in four games this season, including three double-doubles.
“When I was younger I didn’t play guard, I played the post,” East said. “Me being, of course, taller than everybody and stronger than everybody, I’m able to get in there to the post and do a good job of rebounding and just fighting in there with them.”
During a two-game stretch against Big 5 rivals La Salle and Penn on Dec. 5 and Dec. 11, East dominated in all phases of the game. In the two games, she scored a combined 48 points, 15 rebounds and eight steals while playing like the best player on the floor. The performances gave Richardson a glimpse of the type of player East can become and displayed the guard’s importance to the program’s future.
“She had some games where she wasn’t doing very well and so she made a switch,” Richardson said. “She just uses her size and her strength to get to the rim.”
When East was originally recruited to Temple by former head coach Tonya Cardoza in 2020, the Owls were looking to build a roster that could score without the help of the program’s all-time leading scorer Mia Davis, who graduated in May 2022.
Despite playing just one season under Cardoza before the university decided to part ways with the former head coach, East has not lost any playing time under Richardson. In fact, she averages 27 minutes per game and has appeared in all 19 of Temple’s games this season.
“It was a pretty smooth transition,” East said. “After the big change we got right to it, we got right to work. [Richardson] puts a lot of belief and confidence in us so I think that’s a big plus and harking down on each of our players, especially me.”
For much of the season, the Owls had a rotation of five guards who received regular playing time, one being junior transfer Tarriyonna Gary, who followed Richardson from Towson University to Temple.
Although it can be difficult for Richardson to give both players consistent minutes, East and Gary do not view working to earn minutes as a competition. Instead, they bring out the best in one another when they are on the floor together, Gary said.
“She does it all,” Gary said. “She can score, she can score from the guard position, the post position, she does it all and she does it well. Whatever the coaches ask of her, she is always gonna do that, like getting rebounds, scoring and that is a good piece that we can rely on.”
It hasn’t been the season anyone on the team had hoped for, but the Owls are going through important growing pains during Richardson’s first year at the helm and East has proved to be a key piece to the Owls both in the present and future.
“I [want to] accomplish a conference win and get to the NCAA tournament,” East said. “I just want to keep earning accolades and continue to improve on my game more than previous years, that’s my main goal, to just keep improving.”