The Owls were at their shootaround last week, preparing for their exhibition game, when coach Tonya Cardoza made an announcement that shocked Emani Mayo.
Cardoza named the sophomore guard a team captain. Graduate student guard Alliya Butts and sophomore forward Mia Davis are the Owls’ two other captains.
“I’m just going to step up and be a leader for my team,” Mayo said. “I’m going to be more vocal, talk more, keep the guys together, offensively and defensively. It’s so hard because I’m very shy, but I’m going to have to talk more.”
Naming two sophomores in a trio of captains is a rather uncommon occurrence, but Temple’s team is atypical. Ten of the 14 Owls are underclassmen, and are each expected to play a big role throughout the season, Cardoza said.
In Temple’s 76-64 exhibition win against the University of the Sciences, the team’s top five scorers were freshmen or sophomores. Freshman forward Alexa Williamson led the team with 19 points, while freshman guard Marissa Mackins recorded 13 points on 5-of-10 shooting.
“[Williamson] has the ability to do what she did every single night,” Cardoza said. “Marissa can just flat out shoot the basketball, and she’s a great passer. Those two and [sophomore guard] Desiree [Oliver]… If they have good years, we’re going to have a good year.”
Last season, the team went 12-19 and finished 11th in the American Athletic Conference. This season, the Owls are projected to finish sixth in the conference by The American’s preseason coaches poll.
“We have an opportunity, if we come to practice every day and focus on getting better on the defensive side,” Cardoza said. “We have a really good shot of not finishing sixth, but finishing higher than that.”
Butts will return from a season-ending ACL tear for her final year. She is the No. 8 scorer in program history, with 1,481 career points. She still isn’t 100 percent healthy but expects to be by December and will still likely play Tuesday.
In each of her first two seasons as an Owl, Butts led the team in scoring. Her career average is 14.2 points per game, and she is Temple’s all-time leader in made 3-pointers with 236.
“I’m excited to go out with a bang,” Butts said. “Just have a good, winning season [final] year and just pick up where I left off in my junior year. …Every day is a small step for me.”
“[Butts is] someone that has won for us, and she’s been one of the focal points the last three years,” Cardoza said. “She’s capable of making big shots. So that also helps. Last year, we didn’t have a lot of 3-point shooters.”
Last season, the Owls struggled to score. Temple scored 60 points or fewer in 12 of its games and averaged 66.2 points per game. Former guard Tanaya Atkinson led the Owls in scoring with 21.1 points per game. This accounted for nearly one-third of Temple’s scoring average.
The addition of talented freshmen, Butts’s return and sophomore leadership has Cardoza making much higher expectations for the upcoming season.
“Now, we have guys that can actually shoot the ball from the perimeter,” Cardoza said. “We have guys that can score in the post.”
“We’ve never been a good team when we’ve relied on one or two people,” she added. “We’ve been a pretty good team when we have three, four, five guys that can get double figures, and I think we’re back to that.”
In the 2016-17 season, when Temple went 24-8 and earned its most recent NCAA Tournament berth, it had four scorers average at least 10 points per game.
As the Owls seek to return to the tournament, they know integrating their new talent will take time and they’ll gain experience as the season progresses.
“I still think we’re still trying to put it together, but eventually it’s going to all click once the season gets on,” Mayo said. “But right now, it feels good to be back.”