‘Assisting’ the offense
Temple won its home opener over East Tennessee State 68-46 last Friday night, improving its record to 2-1. Temple compiled 25 assists compared to its opponent’s 10. Junior guard Cynthia Jordan had 10 assists and one turnover and senior forward Christena Hamilton finished with 12 points and five assists.
“At [point guard], I’m looking to get everybody the ball,” Jordan said.
“Getting open shots and practicing has helped us get the ball around a lot better in game situations.”
Sophomore center Candice Dupree played a pivotal role in the Owls’ crisp ball movement. A good portion of coach Dawn Staley’s offensive sets position Dupree in the high post or near the free throw line. Against the Bucs Dupree scored 14 points and blocked three shots.
“That’s what we’ve been working on,” said Staley of getting Dupree the ball. “We have to get Candice touches. She’s got to get 20-30 touches a night. It doesn’t mean she has to get attempts but she just has to touch the ball because she does pretty good things. She’s patient, she doesn’t force shots. She just takes what the defense gives her.”
Having the advantage in assists in each of their two wins this season has helped the Owls get off to a smooth start. As a team they had 13 assists in their season-opening win against Florida International, but just six in a lopsided loss to Michigan State. The Owls are confident that the more players that touch the ball on a possession, the more often they will be able to get a good shot off.
“Things do run a lot smoother when the ball gets into the post,” Dupree said. “If the ball doesn’t [get into the post], then the offense will come down and shoot a shot immediately rather than set up a play.”
In previous years, a standout starter had carried the load of the team’s biggest wins; last season it was Stacey Smalls, who has since graduated. Bench play has been one of Temple’s strengths in the early season. Guards Gwen Browne and Britney Jordan and freshman forward Kamesha Hairston have all contributed quality minutes.
Whether it is an outside shot, a burst of speed, or versatility on the defensive end, each have been ready when Staley calls their name.
Browne knocked down her first two three-point attempts and assisted on another in Friday’s win.
“Gwen’s been shooting the ball extremely well in practice,” Staley said.
“We’re going to add that to our arsenal. She may play again the next game, she may not. But she’s always ready.”
Hairston is a true freshman who can play both the small and power forward positions and has introduced a dynamic element to the lineup.
“[Hairston] can make an immediate impact on the perimeter,” Staley said. “She’s the type of player who can rebound and take it the distance.”
And then there is the highly-touted Jordan. A high school All-American, Jordan is currently trading time with Cynthia Jordan at the point guard position.
“I know [Britney] is going to be different than anyone we’ve ever had before,” Staley said. “Sometimes I cringe at how slow she’s moving up the floor but she is decisive and gets it done. She is the highlight of our recruiting class.”
Looking down from above
This is the first team that is entirely Staley-recruited, and she recognizes how close her players are with one another.
“This could be the very best team that ever wears the Temple Owls uniform,” Staley said. With some underclassmen searching for guidance, the four returning starters have helped the newcomers adjust to the collegiate level.
Going from walk-on freshman to senior co-captain, forward Toni Belafonte understands the importance of a leadership presence on a younger team.
“We lead by demonstration,” she said. “Basically, if they have any questions we answer them. When we get on the court we practice hard to let them know that that needs to be transferred over to the game. Our goal is to come out and win every game, so every practice counts.”
Christopher A. Vito can be reached at email@example.com.