The road to Temple’s fourth consecutive Atlantic-10 title begins tonight.
by Franklyn Calle
Fran Dunphy, Temple’s fifth year men’s basketball head coach, responded softly in a seemingly monotonous manner when he spoke to the media at the Atlantic 10 Media Day in Midtown, New York, last month. He’s been under the same situation for a couple of years now. Coming off an Atlantic-10 title, his third straight, Dunphy has become familiar with how to win in the Altlantic-10, but unfortunately hasn’t had much success once in the Big Dance, getting bumped out in the first round of the NCAA Tourney three years in a row. Dunphy hasn’t won a NCAA Tournament game since in 2001. And although the Owls were selected to finish first in the Atlantic 10, the leadership role is a big question for this group. For now at least.
“We don’t have it [leadership] right now. It’s going to be Ramone Moore. It’s going to be Michael Eric. It’s going to be Lavoy Allen. It’s going to be Juan Fernandez. All those guys who get the most minutes are going to have to provide more leadership,” said Dunphy. “And as we talk about it, when it’s all coming from me – that ain’t a good deal. I don’t want it. It’s not what coaches want. All coaches want to see the leadership coming from the group, you don’t want it coming from you. If you’re in it long enough, there are going to be years when the leadership comes from you. I guarantee it that in those years you don’t have a successful year.”
Those four guys he is referring to combined for close to 40 points per game last season. Allen averaged 11.5 points and 10.7 rebounds per game last season. It was the first time the school had a player average a double-double since Ollie Johnson did in 1971. Aside from leading the team in rebounding, his 50 blocks and 53.6% shooting from the floor were also a team-high. After working out for NBA teams during the spring, Lavoy decided to return for his senior year. Fernandez, a 6-4 wing, averaged 12.6 points. During the A-10 Tournament, his 16.3 points and 5 assists average per game helped him earn the A-10 Tournament Most Outstanding Player. His 45.3% 3-point percentage led the Atlantic 10. The highlight of his season came in a 33-point performance against Villanova back in December. Fernandez has room to grow but can be one of the biggest surprises in the college. Moore and Eric chipped in 7.6 and 5.9 points last season respectively, but are now expected to make major contributions as their minutes of play will go up dramatically.
The disappointing loss to Cornell that ended their season in the first round of the NCAA Tournament also marked the end for their leading scorer Ryan Brooks. The 6-4 guard graduated in the spring, taking with him his team-high 14.3 points per game. But Dumphy went on to say that he isn’t worried too much about the points; he’s more concern about the leadership, something Brooks excelled at providing. He was the “first guy on the court and the last guy to leave,” according to Dunphy. Brooks was also the one that always stepped up and hit the big jump shot at crucial times.
“The guy was ridiculous in how consistent he was. We don’t have that now so it will be interesting to see how we handle it,” says Dunphy. “But I think Ramone Moore will get extended minutes. Mike Eric could be a little better at scoring. Lavoy Allen will be better at scoring.”
The Atlantic as a whole has been landing better players the last few years, and as a result, a much more fiercer competition on the hardwood has been in display.
“In the Atlantic 10 there are some really good programs, really coaches, and in the end there are some really good players in this league. And they may not be as highly regarded coming out if high school as some of the higher level programs are seen as but I think we have really done a great job in getting better,” says Dunphy of the conference. “Sometimes the opportunity is greater in our league than they are in leagues that are picked ahead of us. So with that opportunity comes a chance to get better. I think that a number of players and a number of teams have gotten better because of the opportunity.”
Temple’s Lavoy Allen was chosen to the first team All-Atlantic 10 Conference in the preseason coaches’ poll. It’s fair to say he could be the one to expect the most from this upcoming season. Allen, a 6-9 forward spent the summer competing in two tours of duty with the USA basketball select team. The experience is something coach is hoping to bank on this season. We’ll see where he takes his game after playing against some really high power players in the offseason.
Dunphy reminisced the time when Lavoy (left), a freshman back then, demonstrated how to hatch a ball screen at the top of the key at practice way better than coach did. “I was out there giving my eloquent speech of how we were going to do it, and then Lavoy goes out there and does it much better and easier than I had ever described it,” says Dunphy. “My next instructions to the guys were, ‘you see what Lavoy did? We are all going to do that!’”
A knack for the game he doesn’t lack. Lavoy goes out there without saying much but simply gets the job done and allows his game to do the talking. But Dunphy says people’s expectations for Lavoy are somewhat incorrect.
“Everyone wants Lavoy to be a more dynamic guy off and on the court. They want him to act like he is Tyler Hansbrough and that kind of unbelievable intensity in playing. That’s not him—not him,” says Dunphy.
What you can expect from him is a double-double on the nightly basis. “We need him to pick that scoring piece up even more to what he has in the past,” says Dunphy. “I’m hoping that will be the end result.”
As Temple opens up their season against Seton Hall, questions about leadership cloud over the program. There isn’t really anything in particular that you can point at as the main reason for the team’s dominant success on the conference. It’s not like Temple has been landing Big East or ACC- type players. They’ve recruited mid-major talent, but at the end of the day they always seem to mesh up way better than their fellow A-10 opponents. But one thing is certain, if they want to get over that NCAA First round slump, they are going to have to figure out how to bridge the gap between what has to continuously given them the upper hand in their conference and what it takes to come out on top in Tourney play.
In Dunphy’s words, “Whatever we did was successful, but there is no guarantee that it’s going to remain successful unless we continue to work on it.”
The answer to their questions begins tonight at home against Seton Hall. And history tells us they’ll deliver one.
(Photo Credit: AP)