Sanchez Not Sitting Well Temple Guard Misses Action

Posted: December 16, 1999

The warmups were nearly complete when Pepe Sanchez walked onto the court, a solitary figure dressed in a black T-shirt, gray sweat pants and tennis shoes. He had a white sock on his left foot, a black brace on his right ankle.

He took his seat on the bench, but couldn't stay still. He just had to stand under the hoop and encourage his teammates. And then it was time.

Temple vs. Villanova at the Apollo. The Owls had a fifth coach on their bench. Which figured. Sanchez, the point guard, sees the game through a coach's eyes.

But he wanted to play. He wants to play desperately. His ankle, sprained in preseason, then reinjured in the final seconds of the first game on Nov. 21, just won't let him.

Sanchez watched a terrific game, a game that came down to the very last shot, his kind of game. It reminded him of games in his native Argentina - rivalry games played with passion.

For much of the game, Sanchez clapped politely, sort of as if he were at an opera. Until the very end. Then, with the outcome seeming to ride on every dribble, Sanchez was up, cajoling and hoping, but somehow calm and controlled.

Temple gave up all but one point of a 13-point, second-half lead, but held on to win, 69-66, when T.J. Caouette's three-point attempt at the buzzer bounced away. Pepe Sanchez could breathe again. One more game was won without him. And, perhaps, he was one game closer to getting back.

The waiting is difficult. Not knowing is worse.

"It's hard," Sanchez said outside the Temple locker room. "The first few games, it wasn't that tough, because I knew I was hurt, but I thought I would come back soon. Now, it's getting tougher. These are the kinds of games that I would really like to play. Things happen. I just try to be as positive as I can because I don't want my injury to be a weight for the team."

Sanchez is the returning Big 5 Player of the Year in the year the Big 5 came back. Last night was going to be just his second game against Villanova. Now, he'll have only the one - unless the injury just doesn't get better and he decides to redshirt.

"To me, that's like a bad dream, redshirt," Sanchez said. "In my mind, it's the last possibility. Also, if I don't play this year, it doesn't mean that I have to redshirt. I'm [a senior]."

Sanchez has had professional opportunities to play in Argentina for several years. He's passed on them and come back to Temple to play for John Chaney. Even that loyalty, however, has limits.

"You can't predict the future," said Sanchez, who wishes so much he could. "Right now, I'm trying to get better. And, if I don't get better, then we've got to make a decision."

Sanchez wants to finish his college career with this team. If it's mid-January or early February before he returns, that's what he wants.

He knows the games will get more and more important, the point guard's role more and more critical. Sanchez is the master of the late-game situation. He wants the ball and the game in his hands. Without his direction last night, the Owls had three turnovers and attempted a couple of wild shots in the final 41/2 minutes.

"It's good for our other players to learn how to finish the games," Sanchez said.

But it would be better if Pepe finished.

"I'm trained to do that," he said. "Coach trained me to play the last two minutes of the game. I see the game. And it's hard [to watch it]."

Meanwhile, he waits.

"Today I saw the doctor and he said it's getting much better," Sanchez said. "I'm feeling better. I had two great days doing rehab.

"The third day, I got inflammation again, so I had to slow down the process a little bit. I'm going to try to jog a little bit [today] to see how it responds. Right now, I'm just waiting to see how the ankle reacts."

And the games go on.

"These kinds of games remind me of the games I played back home," Sanchez said. "In my city [Bahia Blanca], there is a lot of rivalry between teams in a very good way. The kinds of games where you see one side's Temple and the other side's Villanova. It's pretty exciting."

And it's excitement Pepe Sanchez wants so much to feel again.

Send e-mail to jerardd@phillynews.com

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