Temple Men's Hoops Preview: The Year Without Christmas

Temple Men's Hoops Preview: The Year Without Christmas

With the upcoming NCAA season upon us, we're happy to introduce some in-depth coverage of at least one of the local teams. Nick Menta, a junior at Temple who has been watching the Owls play on North Broad since he was 10 years old, will be discussing the Owls here and there throughout the season, starting with this preview of what we can expect from this year's team, which is in a major transition period as you'll read below. 

If you'd like to contribute posts on one of the other local teams, contact me or Enrico.  

It doesn’t seem all that long ago that Dionte Christmas was raining down threes on then-#8 Tennessee and projected to be a late first round steal in the 2009 NBA Draft. Unfortunately for both Christmas and the 2009-2010 Temple Owls, a lot has changed. Ignoring for a moment Dionte’s “erratic driving” and the obvious uncertainties about the former Temple standout’s future, his alma mater enters this season with questions of their own.  

Coming off their second A-10 Championship in as many years, the Owls, tied for 5th with Duquesne in the A-10 preseason rankings, are without a clear primary scorer for the first time since head coach Fran Dunphy took over the program in 2006. Led in the past by athletic swingmen like Christmas and his old counterpart Mark Tyndale, this year’s team will need a revamped offense focused more on the execution of teamwork than the takeover of individual talent if they hope to return to the NCAA tournament for the third year in a row. The graduation of key senior starters like Christmas, center Sergio Olmos and guard Semaj Inge leave the Owls with the challenge of replacing valuable minutes, scoring and experience. That lost 34.7 points per game might not come so easy this year without Semaj’s speed, Sergio’s size and, let’s be honest for a second, Dionte’s timely three-parties.   

While it is certainly easy to lament the loss of Christmas, Olmos and Inge, there is also, fortunately, quite a lot to look forward to this season. 

 originally uploaded by abmillerphotography.

Sophomore point guard Juan Fernandez drew immediate comparisons to former Temple guard and fellow Argentine Pepe Sanchez upon his arrival on campus late last December, and made tremendous strides as the season progressed. Though occasionally a bit loose with the ball, Fernandez has unbelievable vision in traffic and such forceful passing that it often took his teammates, especially the unprepared bigs underneath, by surprise.  With a year under his belt and the offseason to work with both last year’s crew as well as the new additions, Pepe-with-a-jumper’s play should prove increasingly dynamic as he gains more confidence.  His continued development figures to weigh heavily on the Owls' success this season.   

At the 4, Craig Williams played (extremely) limited minutes in last year’s out of conference schedule. But, after a 22-minute, 16-point performance against Kent State in early January, Williams cemented his place as important role player for the Owls.  At 6’9, it can be surprising to see Williams spend so much time behind the three point line; but, after finishing the season with 40.4% average from the beyond the arc, he’ll remain a viable threat from the outside.   Point guard Kalif Wyatt and forward Ralir Jefferson are also expected to contribute off the bench in their freshman seasons, as are the returning Luis Guzman, Rafael DeLeon, Ramon Moore, Michael Eric and T.J. DiLeo.   

The true keys to this team’s success, however, are undoubtedly Ryan Brooks and Lavoy Allen. Largely considered complimentary pieces to the bigger part of the Temple puzzle thus far in their collegiate careers, Brooks and Allen now figure to be the team’s leaders both on and off the court.  Averaging 10.7 PPG last season, Brooks remains the team’s best perimeter player at both ends of the floor.  Knocking down 41.7% from 3 and playing Tenacious D at the opposite end, the 6’4 senior is the heart and soul of this year’s squad.  Likewise, Allen, recently named to the A-10 All-Conference team, will be expected to continue the play that led the lineup in both field-goal percentage and rebounding last season.  

Ultimately, as Brooks and Allen go, so go this year’s Temple Owls.   

“It’s going to be tough [without last year’s seniors], but I think we’re up to the challenge,” said Allen when asked about his and Brooks’ expanding roles. “It might take us a little while to find our identity as a team, but we’re working hard and expect another successful season.”   

L.A. and the Owls will take their first step toward realizing that identity this Saturday on the road against Delaware. Tip-off is scheduled for 12 pm. Three days later, Temple squares off against AP #20 Georgetown at 4 o’clock on ESPN.   

10 other games to look forward this season:   

11/21/09    Siena (Home Opener) 
12/05/09    Penn State
12/13/09    Villanova
01/02/10    #1 Kansas
01/13/10    @ UPenn
01/20/10    Xavier
01/30/10    LaSalle
02/06/10    @ Richmond
02/20/10    @ St. Joseph’s
02/24/10    Dayton   

First St. Joe’s game is January 6th at The Apollo. Start Tailgating. 

Thanks Nick!

In long-awaited NBA debut, Joel Embiid treats Sixers fans to a show

In long-awaited NBA debut, Joel Embiid treats Sixers fans to a show

The crowd erupted as Joel Embiid stepped to the free throw line. They chanted a phrase Embiid has been repeating for the past two years, a fitting welcome to his NBA debut.

“That was great,” Embiid said after the Sixers' 103-97 loss to the Thunder on Wednesday in the season opener (see Instant Replay). “That’s my motto, 'Trust the process.'”

After two years of rehabbing foot injuries, Embiid has his first regular-season game behind him. Embiid scored a team-high 20 points, shooting 6 for 16 from the field, 1 for 3 from long range and 7 for 8 from the line. He also recorded seven rebounds, two blocks, four turnovers and four fouls in over 22 minutes. 

“The beginning I was nervous, but once you make that first shot, it just goes away,” he said. “The fans were so into the game that it was fun. I love having fun.”

Sixers head coach Brett Brown enjoyed watching Embiid on the court as much as the big man liked being on it. Brown has seen the 7-foot-2 center grow and develop during his rehab. Finally, he was able to utilize his versatile skills in a real game setting.

“I can't say this loud enough,” Brown said. “For the city to be rewarded with a player that we all understand has unique gifts, special gifts, for him to go through all the things he has been through and play like he did on opening night, the city deserves it. Most importantly, he deserves it.”

Now that Embiid has been cleared to play, he would like to do so for longer periods of time. He began the preseason at 12 minutes and was increased to 20 in segmented spurts for opening night. Even though he exceeded that limit by over two minutes, Embiid is itching to be cleared to play more extensively. 

“It sucks,” Embiid said. “I feel like I could have played more but you know you’ve got to trust the process, got to trust those guys. If I have my minute restriction at 20 minutes, I guess I’m going to go with that. But obviously I want to play more and more and I think it can help the team better. But they have a plan for me and I’ve got to follow it.”

Embiid has maintained he wants to be a clutch player. Brown looked to him toward the end of the game as the Thunder pulled ahead late in the final quarter. He drained a fadeaway jumper to tie the game at 97 apiece with 50.7 to go. 

Later trailing by four with 10 seconds left, the Sixers went to Embiid. While he was whistled for an offensive foul, Brown was glad to have a go-to unlike in years past. 

“You have a target,” Brown said. “We tried to get the ball to him a lot. … By and large, to have somebody like Joel, where the mystery is solved like, 'What do you do?' You get him the ball as much as you can.”

The more the Sixers found Embiid, the more the Thunder had to try to defend him. Thunder head coach Billy Donovan knew what his team was going up against. He watched Embiid as a high schooler and coached against him during his tenure at Florida. 

“He’s gifted and skilled,” Donovan said. “It was probably our guys' first time seeing him … I knew the talent, the gifts. The one thing with him is, he’s got great footwork. He’s hard to guard because he’s herky-jerky. He moves. He’s got a lot of [Hakeem] Olajuwon to him.”

Opening night had been two years in the making. Even though the Sixers didn't win, the significance of the evening didn't disappoint. 

"I thought this moment was going to be special," Embiid said, "and it was just great."

Best of NBA: Davis' 50 points not enough in Pelicans' loss to Nuggets

Best of NBA: Davis' 50 points not enough in Pelicans' loss to Nuggets

NEW ORLEANS -- Jusuf Nurkic scored 23 points, Will Barton added 22, and the Denver Nuggets survived a dominant performance by Anthony Davis to defeat the New Orleans Pelicans 107-102 in both teams' regular season opener Wednesday night.

Davis had 50 points, 16 rebounds, seven steals, five assists and four blocks. His production helped New Orleans trim a deficit as large as 14 late in the second quarter down to two points in the waning minutes. He simply didn't have enough help.

The rest of the Pelicans combined to shoot 21 of 58. Tim Frazier scored 15 for the Pelicans. E'Twaun Moore added 10 points, but missed a 3-point attempt that could have tied it with 24 seconds left.

Danilo Gallinari scored 15 for Denver and Wilson Chandler added 12 points (see full recap).

Celtics top Nets in Horford's home debut
BOSTON -- Isaiah Thomas had 25 points and nine assists, Jae Crowder added 21 points and Al Horford pitched in 11 in his Boston debut on Wednesday night as the Celtics survived a late scare to beat the Brooklyn Nets 122-117 in their season opener.

Bojan Bogdanovic scored 21 for Brooklyn, including a 3-pointer to make it 120-117 with 47 seconds left after the Nets erased most of a 23-point deficit against the Boston bench. But he missed one with a chance to tie it after Joe Harris intercepted Thomas' cross-court pass, and the Celtics were able to hold on.

Justin Hamilton came off the bench to score 19 points and grab 10 rebounds for the Nets in coach Kenny Atkinson's debut (see full recap).

Turner's opening act leads Pacers past Mavs in OT
INDIANAPOLIS -- Myles Turner scored 30 points, tied his career high with 16 rebounds and made a 3-pointer with 1:18 left in overtime to start an 8-0 run that allowed the Indiana Pacers to close out a 130-121 victory Wednesday night over the Dallas Mavericks.

Three-time All-Star Paul George added 25 points, including another 3 with 55 seconds left to seal Indiana's fifth season-opening win in six years.

Deron Williams scored 25 points, while J.J. Barea and Dirk Nowitzki each added 22 as the Mavs lost their fifth straight in the series. They still haven't won in Indianapolis since February 2014.

Dallas didn't tie the score or take a lead until the fourth quarter, yet still forced overtime when Harrison Barnes' open 3-pointer made it 115-all with 2.3 seconds left.

Turner could have won it with a long buzzer-beating 3, but it bounced off the back of the rim (see full recap).