Perhaps only John Calipari’s defending national champion Kentucky squad has lost more starters than Temple, with three of them gone. But the cupboard’s not completely bare for the Owls’ final season in the Atlantic 10 conference, before shifting over to the Big East next year.
Not only are second-leading scorer Khalif Wyatt (17.1, 3.3 apg) and versatile forward Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson (9.3, 6.6 rpg) back, but Owls coach Fran Dunphy has no fewer than three players who didn’t play at all last year.
How well Scootie Randall, Dalton Pepper and Jake O’Brien fare could determine Temple’s fate.
“While we’ll miss Ramone [Moore], Juan [Fernandez] and Micheal [Eric], we’re happy to have these three guys,” said Dunphy, hoping to get the Owls back to the NCAA tournament for a sixth straight season. “But they haven’t played in a year. It’s a hard thing for kids to sit out like that. There’s no instant gratification. But the good thing is we do have depth. It’s the deepest we’ve been since I’ve been at Temple.”
Randall was forced to red-shirt last year coming off knee surgery, after averaging 10.7 points and being named the A-10’s Most Improved Player in 2011. Pepper, a big-time scorer at nearby Pennsbury High, sat out the season after transferring from West Virginia. And O’Brien (1,020 points, 444 rebounds in three seasons at Boston University) missed his senior season due to an injury. He’s at Temple now as a graduate student.
How well — and how quickly — they mesh with holdovers Wyatt, Hollis-Jefferson, center Anthony Lee and guard T.J. DiLeo, is the key.
“I think we still can be great,” said Randall, who is expected to fill the leadership void. “We have a lot of interchangeable guys who can do the same thing. I think we can be one of the most special teams Coach Dunphy has had. I just have to make these guys have confidence in themselves.”
Meanwhile, Wyatt (who was involved in an off-campus incident with a prostitute) needs to do his part. No doubt he’ll be the focal point of opposing fans.
“We want to leave our mark on the league,” said Wyatt. “I know Scootie and those guys have been nipping at the bud to get back out there. It should be exciting.”
Fast start key for Dunphy’s Owls this year
The general rule of thumb for Fran Dunphy teams is that they’re much better at the end of season than at the start. That may never be truer than now, as Temple tries to rebuild from within.
Depending on how quickly and how effectively Scottie Randall, Dalton Pepper and Jake O’Brien make the transition, along with an intriguing freshman class that includes 6-foot-10 Devontae Watson and 6-foot-6 swingman Daniel Dingle, will help determine how much better.
For the first time in years the Owls aren’t one of the favorites in a loaded Atlantic 10 that now includes VCU and Butler, in addition to preseason favorite Saint Joseph’s and UMass. That doesn’t mean they won’t be a factor. Dunphy will just have to work his magic to get Temple back to the Big Dance.