Fran Dunphy and Khalif Wyatt: A love story

Fran Dunphy and Khalif Wyatt: A love story
March 23, 2013, 4:45 pm
Share This Post

DAYTON, Ohio -- They have “great respect” for each other. Those are Fran Dunphy’s words. He said that’s the way it is now.

The Temple head coach and the Owls’ best player, Khalif Wyatt, have spent a good portion of the weekend complimenting each other. Someone will ask Wyatt a question about his coach, and the senior will fawn. Then someone will ask Dunphy a question about his most skilled player, and he’ll return the favor.

Yes. Great respect. That’s the way it is now -- but that’s not always the way it used to be.

This is how it used to be: “He was a pain in the butt sometimes,” Dunphy said.

The coached laughed and smiled. It was a good line and it was delivered with love. You could see it on his face and hear it in his voice. They can do that now, the two of them, give each other heat and bust chops. They can do that because of how far they’ve come, because it’s easier to joke around and hug each other when you’re willing to admit that, early on, you didn’t do much of either at all.

“In the beginning, he had his way of doing things and I had mine,” Dunphy said. “We were trying to get together on it. But he was a pain in the butt sometimes. And he’ll be the first to tell you. But he’s grown. That’s what happens. When you sign on for these guys, it’s not perfection. You sign on for the good and the bad, for richer for poorer, for better for worse.”

That’s how it’s gone for them. As Dunphy said, there have been “highs and lows, peaks and valleys, fits and starts of high maintenance and low maintenance.”

“Now he’s a low maintenance guy,” Dunphy continued. “Early in his career, he was killing me with high maintenance.”

Another smile. Another laugh. They are in a good place these days. Getting here wasn’t easy, though, and it wasn’t guaranteed.

Wyatt played all of 10 games his freshman year. He averaged 0.5 points per game. That didn’t go over well with the guard, and he let his coach know it. As Dunphy put it, “He was getting used to me and me to him. We didn’t hit it off all that great.”

His sophomore year was better -- for Wyatt, for Dunphy. Wyatt played 34 games and started five of them. He upped his average to 10.1 points. He was named the Atlantic 10 Sixth Man of the Year.

His junior year was better still -- for Wyatt, for Dunphy. Wyatt played 31 games and started 28. He upped his average to 17.1 points (fourth in the conference). He was named to the A-10 second-team.

His senior year, this year, has been the best yet -- for Wyatt, for Dunphy. Wyatt played and started all 32 games. He upped his average to 19.8 points (tops in the conference). He was named the A-10 Player of the Year.

And the relationship between the player and the coach? That’s grown as much as Wyatt’s game.

“I know my coach trusts me,” Wyatt said. “He’s always encouraging me when I miss shots. If I’m not shooting the ball good, he doesn’t get down on me. He trusts me. And as long as I have that, it just makes it so much easier on me.”

A year ago, Duphy didn’t start Wyatt in three games. One of those was in the Atlantic 10 tournament. They were what coaches like to refer to as “teaching moments.”

There haven’t been any of those this season. Quite the opposite. Dunphy lets Wyatt go now, gives him the space and freedom a coach affords a senior he believes in. On Friday, the Owls picked up their second tournament win under Dunphy in large part because Wyatt scored a game-high 31 points against N.C. State. It was the most points by an Owl in a single tournament game in 22 years and the fifth-most ever. As Wyatt goes, so go the Owls. Wyatt knows it and the players know it and Dunphy knows it too.

On Saturday, a day before No. 9 Temple takes on No. 1 Indiana for the right to advance to the Sweet 16 in the East region, Dunphy gushed about Wyatt’s “talent” and “quickness” and how his “IQ is off the charts.”

“I’m glad it all worked out,” Dunphy said.

“I’m glad it all worked out,” Dunphy repeated.

And then, before standing up and walking out of the room to go coach his team, Dunphy added this: “He’s going to be graduating from Temple University in May, and I couldn’t be more proud of him in how he’s turned out as a man.”

More Team Talk