Dec. 03, 2016
Taking A Look At The Temple Owls A Decade Plus After "Goon Gate"
The final matchup of the 2004-05 season between Temple and Saint Joseph's at the Liacouras Center was almost symbolic as Temple was in yet another war with longtime bitter rival Saint Joseph's. The Owls were trying to hold onto their almost two decade spot as the top team in the Big Five but the ascending Hawks were coming off some impressive runs of their own -including an undefeated regular season and #1 ranking the past season- and were a serious threat to the success that had been enjoyed for so long on North Broad. Temple was very much in the race for the Atlantic Ten crown as the records of the two schools were almost identical yet the Hawks could clinch it with a win. Towards the end of the game, it became beyond clear who the better team and rising local power was, and it was not Temple. As if sensing it was over, legendary -and notoriously fiery- head coach John Chaney sent in Nehemiah Ingram and others to foul Hawks players hard enough to send the message that his team wasn't going down without a fight. Saint Joseph's senior John Bryant ended up being seriously injured on the play, sprawled out on the floor for several minutes with a broken arm, and the incident would forever be known as "Goon Gate".
Suddenly in the blink of an eye, all of the success and everything John Chaney had built at Temple was tainted, and the incident and the outrage that followed would result in calls for Temple to fire Chaney and the downfall of Temple as a major national basketball program.
When Fran Dunphy took over in the 2006-07 season, he was taking over a program that was in transition even before "Goon Gate". Star guard Mardy Collins had graduated and would go on to be drafted in the second round -some speculated he only fell that far because his play was overshadowed by "Goon Gate"- that June by the New York Knicks. Luckily, he had guards Mark Tyndale and Dionte Christmas waiting in the wings, who both enjoyed breakout seasons during an otherwise disappointing first year for the former Penn head coach. This duo would go down in Temple and Big Five lure as among the best scoring guard tandems in history.
With Christmas and Tyndale sharing the scoring load and young big man LaVoy Allen emerging as a dominant inside presence, the Owls would regain A10 prominence the very next season, and would win the Conference Tournament three years in a row. After Tyndale graduated, athletic junior guard Ryan Brooks of Lower Merion HS would emerge as Temple's next big wing player next to Christmas. The unselfish, do-it-all guard was a major change from Tyndale and Christmas who were always looking for their own offense. Unfortunately point guard Juan Feenandez was not quite so unselfish, and his play would cost the Owls in an easy first-round matchup in the 2010 NCAA Tournament that they should've won by double-digits. However, that season saw the Owls ranked for the first time in the post-Chaney era -they would finish the season ranked 12th in the nation- and the team was ranked in the Top 25 before the 2010-11 season for the first time since 2001-02. Though the 2011-12 team didn't quite live up to expectations, that season would see Fran Dunphy have his best team to date, as talented and athletic junior big man Michael Eric would emerge as a legitimate secondary post player to stud senior LaVoy Allen -who would go on to be drafted in the second round that June by your hometown Sixers- and one of the best scoring trios in school history would emerge in guards junior Ramone Moore and sophomore Khalif Wyatt and junior forward Scootie Randall, all of whom would average double-digits in scoring that season. Moore was the team's clear offensive star but Randall was the most complete player on the team, not only a fantastic scorer and shooter but the best defender in the starting lineup and a great facilitator. It would also see the emergence of sophomore forward Rahlir-Hollis Jefferson as the perfect do-it-all replacement for the injured Randall. Hollis-Jefferson never became quite the polished scorer that Randall was -though he was definitely no slouch in that department- but he was a much better rebounder and post defender and a much more natural four. The Chester, PA native complimented the very agile for 6'11" Michael Eric and the stout 6'9" LaVoy Allen perfectly, and when he became the starting four for the Owls, he created matchup nightmares for opposing teams. This team would be the first Owls team to make it past the first round of the Tournament in a decade, and would do so again two seasons later. Scootie would come back to play in Temple's two NCAA Tournament games but would end up having surgery on his knee in the offseason and was forced to redshirt the next year. This would prove to be a blessing in disguise, as Hollis-Jefferson would emerge as a major part of the team in 2011-12, and Randall would come back and be a huge part of a team that was struggling to replace the departed Ramon Moore a season later. 2010-11 also saw the emergence of super sub and occasional starter freshmen guard Aaron Brown of Newark, NJ, who would go on to be a major part of the team over his two seasons in cherry and white before transferring out after his sophomore year. Brown was the team's best shooter in a year where it was missing that from injured star forward Scootie Randall, and was a sparkplug off the bench for the Owls. However, it was junior Khalif Wyatt who emerged as the secondary scorer to Ramon Moore, and the talented guard out of Norristown, PA would eventually go down as one of the best scorers the program has ever seen. With Hollis-Jefferson and Ramone Moore permanently sliding over to the four and three respectively, Temple was lacking in both size and defense at the two compared to a year ago but this lineup was incredibly offensively potent. RHJ was not the team's best shooter by any means but he was a true forward who could take you off the dribble, hit the occasional jumper, or use his superior quickness and agility down low against bigger, slower defenders and was an incredibly efficient scorer. Rahlir really doesn't get enough credit for just how good and important a player he really was but he was the heart and soul of the Owls during his two seasons as a starter. Unfortunately, big man Michael Eric would never really live up to his potential and blossom the same way LaVoy Allen did, and Temple would go on to lose in the first round of the Tournament.
2011-12 however did see a very important but possibly overlooked change. It was the first year Temple under Fran Dunphy had brought in two major recruits who were not in some way local, with Aaron Brown and Juan Fernandez being the only other two and being years apart. These two recruits were future star point guard Will Cummings and athletic and talented big man Anthony Lee. Both players would emerge as major parts of the program as sophomores -with Lee starting eighteen games at Center as a true freshmen- and this is really the recruiting class that started Temple on its trajectory towards regaining its status as a major basketball program nationally. More on this later.
Unfortunately, despite the regular season success and ascending status nationally, Temple would see its postseason success continue to trend downward. After winning the Conference Tournament three years in a row from 2008-2010, Temple would miss out on playing in the final round in 2010 by single digits against emerging power Richmond -who they defeated a year prior to claim their third straight A10 Championship- and wouldn't make it past the second round the following two seasons. Fortunately, the return and re-emergence of Scootie Randall as a secondary scorer and facilitator as the Owls' starting small forward along with the emergence of Will Cummings as a future star guard in his own right propelled the Owls past the first round of the 2013 NCAA Tournament before losing to a stacked Indiana team that featured future lottery picks Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller, among others. Star guard Khalif Wyatt was a huge ballhog -though the fact that Temple was able to win like it did is itself a testament to just how talented Wyatt really was- but that season would see the emergence of future star point guard Will Cummings, who was much more of a complete player and facilitator despite being a hell of a shooter and scorer in his own right.
After what some considered an improbable run the season before, Temple began the 2013-14 season as a new member of the American Athletic Conference -formerly the Big East before the departure of the Catholic Seven. The Owls were brought in specifically to strengthen the conference in basketball but struggled mightily in what was a transition year from having the likes of Michael Eric, Scootie Randall, and the aforementioned Wyatt to having Anthony Lee, Cummings, and emerging star wing Quenton DeCosey on top of playing in a much tougher conference. I think people really underestimated just how strong the AAC was from the beginning but newcomers like Temple and UCF found out real quick just how big of a leap they had made in joining the conference. For the second straight season, Temple was a team with a talented guard as the focal point of the offense -though sophomore small forward DeCosey would prove himself to be the team's next great player as the year went on- and for the second straight year, they would prove to not have enough size to contend with the other teams in the conference. This combined with an off game from star point guard Will Cummings would result in Temple exiting its first AAC Tournament in the first round, losing a very close game to the bigger and slightly more talented UCF and star Knights guard Isiah Sykes. However, the program would take a major leap the next season with the help of three very important transfers with local roots. More on that later.
Every major Big Five program has had a recruiting class that establishes it as a regional power and emerging team on the national scale. Villanova had the recruiting class of 2003, which saw the additions of projected lottery pick out of HS big man Jason Fraser, crazy talented, athletic combo-forward Curtis Sumpter and star swingmen Allan Ray and Randy Foye. Saint Joseph's had the 2001 recruiting class of Pat Caroll, Dwayne Jones, Jamal Nichols, and of course Delonte West. 2012 was that recruiting class for Temple, as they signed highly regarded 6'7" wing Daniel Dingle of St. Raymond's in the Bronx and under the radar 6'6" wing Quenton DeCosey of St. Joseph's in Metuchen, NJ as well as 6'10" Devontae Watson. In addition to this impressive recruiting class, Temple added guard/forward Dalton Pepper as a transfer from West Virginia, a solid rebounder and facilitator whose outside shooting helped him become not just a starter but Temple's leading scorer in the 2013-14 season. However, it was three transfers with local roots a year later who would go on to help propel the program back to national prominence as sharpshooting guard Devin Coleman -formerly with Syracuse-, scoring swingman Jesse Morgan -formerly with Boston College-, and stud forward Jaylen Bond -formerly with Texas- all decided to transfer out to play on North Broad starting in 2014-15.
Jesse Morgan would give the Owls the kind of complete offensive forward they hadn't had since Scootie Randall graduated and would combine with senior star guard Will Cummings and emerging junior star forward Quenton DeCosey to form a potent offensive lineup, and Jaylen Bond would give the Owls the kind of tough, talented big they hadn't had since LaVoy Allen as Temple would see a major jump in the conference standings in 2014-15 but would just miss out on the NCAA Tournament after losing to Larry Brown's SMU Mustangs in the second round of their second AAC Tournament. However there were other bright spots on the season as young bigs freshmen Obi Enechionyia and sophomore Mark Williams would emerge as legitimate frontcourt pieces in their own right, and sophomore guard Josh Brown would become the kind of super sub the Owls hadn't had since Aaron Brown transferred in 2013-14.
2015 was the best recruiting class Fran Dunphy has had to date as the Owls signed four star guards 6'5" Trey Lowe out of Ewing HS in Ewing, NJ and 6'4" guard Levan Alston of The Haverford School, as well as four star 6'10" forward Ernest Aflakpui of Archbishop Carroll in a case of the biggest Big Five team outside of Villanova getting even bigger while other schools failed to sign even one big man. Led by star forward Quenton DeCosey, star combo forward Jaylen Brown, junior point guard Josh Brown, and emerging forward Obi Enechionyia, the 2015-16 Owls would send a message to the rest of the Conference that they were a rising power in the AAC, as they notched big win after big win en route to claiming the regular season crown and were oUnfortunately, the lack of experienced useful size inside after Bond and the inconsistency of DeCosey would see the Owls lose a heartbreaker of a game to the likewise ascending Iowa Hawkeyes in the first round of the 2016 NCAA Tournament. Still, the message had been sent to the rest of the country that Temple was for real again.
2016 was another strong recruiting class for the Owls, as 6'6" three star guard Quenton Rose of Rochester, NY, 5'10" three star point guard Alani Moore of Washington, DC, and 6'11" three star Center Damien Moore of Vaughn, MS all committed to don the cherry and white. This would prove especially crucial as along with emerging sophomore guard Levan Alston, Moore has been forced to pick up the slack offensively as senior point guard Josh Brown recovers from an Achilles injury that could potentially cost him the entire season.
The Owls are in a transition year as they seek to replace two of the best players in program history in star swingman Quenton DeCosey and star forward Jaylen Bond but this is one of the most deep, talented young teams Fran Dunphy has ever had, and one that certainly has the most experienced useful size of any Temple team during his tenure. With a finally fully healthy forward Daniel Dingle and emerging sophomore shooting guard Levan Alston complementing returning talented and versatile double-digit scorer Obi Enechionyia and talented and tough senior big man Mark Williams in addition to multiple talented underclassmen, this team has enough to potentially put together a run in the Tournament if everything can come together for them. Don't let their early struggles fool you. This Temple team can be a dangerous one, and they could easily be even better next year.