Rhule aims for more mature Temple in 2nd season

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Rhule aims for more mature Temple in 2nd season

It’s the football version of the chicken or the egg.

Do teams change their mentality and then start winning games or does the attitude adjustment come from first getting a taste of winning?

For the 2014 Temple Owls, it’s all about initially changing their frame of mind heading into the new season.

“Obviously, it’s like anything else, faith there’s no belief without evidence. If you start winning, then you feel like you know how to win and it’s easier that way,” Temple second-year head coach Matt Rhule said Thursday inside the program’s revamped locker room during media day. “A lot of programs, they’ve won forever. When you walk in there, kids expect to win.

“I think for our kids, the beauty and what’s been fun about this year, has been that they’ve had to do it the other way. They’ve had to believe they can win when they didn’t win. They’ve had to believe they can win when those last-second touchdowns came in to rip their hearts out. For us, we’ve just attacked the mindset.”

Working on the psyche seems like a good place to start for a team that finished with a 2-10 record a season ago, especially when you consider five of those losses were decided by a touchdown or less.

“I think last year we were pretty much immature. We kind of didn’t value the gift of the game,” senior running back Ken Harper said. “Our mindset, we had a lot of freshmen playing and a lot of them didn’t know how hard it is to win an actual college football game.

“The whole offseason coach has been pushing us to go as hard as we can and play at a championship level. Over the summer we’ve been trying to get that mindset that you’ve got to take every chance you can get. You’ve got to go as hard as you can and do as much as you can to make it count.”

Quarterback P.J. Walker made his opportunity count last season, wrestling the starting job away after coming into the year third on the depth chart.

While Walker may have initially received playing time because of the ineptitude of others, he made sure his own play kept him in the driver’s seat. Walker threw for 2,084 yards and 20 touchdowns in nine games (seven starts) as a freshman to solidify his spot under center.

Now the unquestioned starter, Walker is focused on leading a Temple offense that averaged 24.9 points last season and turning those impressive numbers into wins.

“I definitely stepped up to the plate, not just by being a vocal leader but just leading by example,” Walker said. “Coach Rhule pushed me throughout the whole offseason, throughout the summer to be a leader. I just took what he said as advice and I just ran with it.”

Walker’s progression for the Owls’ weapon-filled offense is key. However, the real test of TU’s success in 2014 will be the ability to bounce back on defense and special teams.

The Owls allowed 29.8 points last season and ranked 90th in total defense. They were particularly brutal in the secondary, rating 120th against the pass and recording just three interceptions.

“It’s been my job this whole offseason, as soon as the last game got over, to get this defense on the right path,” junior linebacker Tyler Matakevich, who led the nation with 99 solo tackles a year ago and enters 2014 on a host of national watch lists, said. “Me and a few guys really sat down and went right back to the drawing board and really tried to figure out what we did wrong last year. Completely change the mentality of no more pointing fingers. If the defense doesn’t let anyone score, they can’t win.”

The kicking game was even worse, with three different players combining to go just 3 for 9 on field goal attempts. The Owls also missed five PATs during the campaign.

“Going through what we went through last year, I’ve had so many people on radio shows and national radio shows say to me they’ve never seen a team that only had three interceptions that they picked off and only made three field goals,” Rhule said.

The young Owls, who were picked to finish eighth in the 11-team American Athletic Conference, are confident they can show improvements in those two areas and get back into the bowl picture.

It all starts with attitude.

“Us going out there each day, it’s not going to happen again. We had a saying on the back of our shirts every time we worked out saying, ‘Never again,’” Walker said. “That was our mentality every day. Never again will we have a 2-10 season.”

Big 5 Hall of Fame inducts 'maybe the greatest class we've ever put together'

Big 5 Hall of Fame inducts 'maybe the greatest class we've ever put together'

About midway through Monday night's Big 5 Hall of Fame ceremony, the oldest inductee of this year's class paid homage to the youngest.

That's how much hoops legend George Raveling, a 1960 Villanova graduate, was blown away by Penn alum Ibrahim Jaaber's impassioned speech that ended with a powerful poem about how basketball saved him.

"It kept running through my mind that you represent everything good about sports," Raveling said to Jaaber. "And I hope you'll continue to use your wisdom, your influence, to make the game better, to make the world better. As a 79-year-old-man, soon to be 80 in June, I want to tell you that if I come back in the next life, I want to be like you."

That touching moment, in many ways, was a perfect encapsulation of the ties that bind the Big 5, from one generation to the next. But aside from Raveling and longtime Philadelphia Inquirer sportswriter Bill Lyon -- who, despite battling Alzheimer's, courageously gave an acceptance speech to a standing ovation at the Palestra -- this year's class was filled with contemporary guards who clashed in some great Big 5 games not too long ago.

Among them were two current NBA players in Saint Joseph's icon Jameer Nelson (class of 2004) and former 'Nova star Randy Foye (2006), as well as Temple's Lynn Greer (2002) and Jaaber (2007). La Salle women's player Carlene Hightower (2008) was the other member of the star-studded class defined by tough, gritty Philadelphia guards.

"The inductees here for the Hall of Fame have got to be maybe the greatest class we've ever put together," said Villanova head coach Jay Wright, who closed the night by accepting the Big 5 Coach of the Year award right after Josh Hart took home Player of the Year honors. "I grew up in Philadelphia and we always talk about what a great place the Palestra is -- and it is. But when you listen to Lynn, Randy, Coach Rav, Ibby, Jameer, you know why this is a great place. It's because of all the great man that have played here -- outstanding, humble, articulate, intelligent men that understand they're part of something that's bigger than themselves. That's what makes the Big 5. That's what makes the Palestra."

Nelson, the National Player of the Year during St. Joe’s historic 2003-04 season, certainly showed what kind of person he is, inviting all of his old Hawks teammates who were in attendance to stand behind him as he accepted his Hall of Fame award. And he even choked up at one point as he described what those teammates, coach Phil Martelli and Saint Joseph's University have meant to him as he's forged a long and fruitful NBA career.

"Without them, none of this would be possible," said Nelson, the Hawks' all-time leader in points (2,094) and assists (713). "These guys mean the world to me."

Nelson, now with the Denver Nuggets, just wrapped up his 13th season in the NBA, calling it an "unbelievable ride" for a 5-foot-11 kid from Chester. That's two more years spent in the league than Foye, who Nelson thanked for forcing him to be better back in their college days. He also called Greer one of his "great friends" and said that Jaaber's speech "touched me in so many different ways, I wish more young kids could hear it."

"I'm very grateful to be inducted with you guys," Nelson said, although he did point out that when he was at St. Joe's, the Hawks had Villanova down 43-9 at halftime one year. 

"But those next couple years, we paid y'all back," said Foye, now with the Brooklyn Nets, during his own speech.

Those rivalries were especially meaningful to Foye, who also played against Jaaber in both high school and college.

"Being from North Jersey, you never hear about the Big 5," said Foye, a first-team All-American and Big 5 Player of the Year in 2006. "For me coming here and witnessing it up close and personal, it's just something truly amazing."

Foye added that everywhere he goes, he tries to embody what a Philly guard is -- "small but play big," as he put it -- while reminding people that he's proud to be a Villanova alum. The same can be said of Raveling, a longtime college coach and executive who was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2015.

"I'm so proud to say I'm a Big 5 product -- and a proud graduate of Villanova University," Raveling said. "I look back many times and realize the wisest decision I ever made in my lifetime was to enroll at Villanova University."

Just as he opened his speech, Raveling also closed it by saying he was "proud" to enter the Big 5 Hall of Fame the same year as Jaaber, whose remarks touched on spirituality, family and a unique journey from Morocco to New Jersey to Penn.

Jaaber also made sure to thank the person who perhaps embodies the Big 5 more than anyone else: former La Salle player, former Penn coach and current Temple coach Fran Dunphy.

"I don't think I could have had a better coach for me in my situation than my Coach Dunphy," said Jaaber, the 2006-07 Big 5 Player of the Year and the all-time Ivy League leader in steals (303). "I'm almost embarrassed to be inducted into the Hall of Fame before Coach Dunphy."

Archbishop Wood basketball star Collin Gillespie signs with Villanova

Archbishop Wood basketball star Collin Gillespie signs with Villanova

Archbishop Wood's Collin Gillespie, the Philadelphia Catholic League's MVP, has signed a national letter of intent to attend Villanova and play for Jay Wright.

Gillespie, during his senior year, averaged 24.1 points per game. The 6-foot-2 guard lead Archbishop Wood to their first Catholic League title in school history and followed that up with a PIAA State Championship game victory -- also a first for the school. Along with the league MVP, Gillespie was named Player of the Year by the Philadelphia Daily News.

"We are excited to have Collin and his family join the Nova Nation," Villanova coach Jay Wright said in a statement. "Collin comes from a great program at Archbishop Wood and has been well prepared by John Mosco. His guard skills, basketball IQ and winning instincts will be a welcome addition to our program."

Gillespie will join previously announced signees Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree (Neumann-Goretti High School in Philadelphia) and Jermaine Samuels (Rivers School, Weston, Mass.) in Villanova's class of 2021.