Temple's Dunphy likes his hometown team

Lavoy Allen and Temple are off to Tucson for first-round NCAA Tournament game with Penn State.
Lavoy Allen and Temple are off to Tucson for first-round NCAA Tournament game with Penn State.
Posted: March 16, 2011

THIS TEMPLE season really could have spun out of control when first Micheal Eric was lost for the year and then Scootie Randall went down with a foot injury.

It did not, though. The wins kept coming. The team found another way.

Why?

Check out the makeup of the majority of the rotation. It is about the Philly guys, two from the Public League, three from PIAA AAAA powers and one from the wilds of South Jersey.

Ramone Moore (Southern) and Randall (Communications Tech) are in the great tradition of the Pub - big hearts, big shots, no fear.

Lavoy Allen (Pennsbury), Rahlir Jefferson (Chester) and Khalif Wyatt (Norristown) all played in huge games in high school, going for district and state titles. They are in the best tradition of the PIAA, which has produced so many state champions and serious players.

T.J. DiLeo (Cinnaminson) is from just across the Delaware, close enough that he gets city association.

The local ties are not by accident.

"The first thing you do is look at the local guys because it's the easiest thing to do," Temple coach Fran Dunphy said. "It's the guys you can study the most. I think that's what it comes down to is how much you can study these guys, how they interact with their teammates, their coaches, the opponents, the officials, how well they do in school.

"You can do a so much better job of evaluating the character piece to these guys if you can see them more often. If you're recruiting a kid a 2-hour flight away, you don't get a chance to see him quite as much. We certainly start locally, but that doesn't mean we limit ourselves to only local talent as you see on our roster."

They do not. Which is why the point guard (Juan Fernandez) is from Argentina.

Back in the day, La Salle controlled the Public League. The assistant coaches lived in the gyms. In successive years, La Salle got Lionel Simmons, Doug Overton and Randy Woods. And the Explorers won a lot of games. One of those assistant coaches was Joe Mihalich, now the head coach at Niagara. Another was Fran Dunphy.

Dunphy knew the city then, knows it now. And he knows people.

"I think there's been a tremendous resiliency with this group," Dunphy said. "They've found a way to win games and I'm really proud of them for that. We had a fabulous year last year to win 29 games. I made a statement after that season that we could be even a better basketball team this year and not win as many games and I think we approached that.

"The fact that we got hurt late in the season didn't help us in terms of being better, but we've been more resilient and I really appreciate the character of the group."

Randall is back after missing a month. He is expected to play in tomorrow's first-round NCAA game in Tucson, Ariz., against Penn State. Moore, Allen, Wyatt and Jefferson never left. And if the Owls are going to move on, the will of the Philly guys will be front and center.

"It's how we approach the game," Moore said. "We've got that grittiness and toughness. All of our players have it, but growing up in the city, it's kind of different playing against tough competition every day."

Moore grew up in South Philly. He learned what it would take early.

"When I was younger, I stayed on the court from day until night, until the lights went out," he said. "That's how much I loved the game."

It is that love of the game that helped Moore and his teammates get through the injuries to this moment.

"A lot of times coach Dunphy said, 'We'll win the game if we don't let the other team outtough us,' " Moore said. "Losing Mike and Scootie, it was pretty tough. I think everybody came together and said we all have to do more."

So they did.

If you want to know the moment when Temple became Temple again, it was when Allen signed his letter-of-intent. Nobody knew it then, but the three consecutive Atlantic 10 titles do not happen without the big man from Morrisville. His resumé only lacks NCAA success. And if he gets it during his final run, it will be because of the inner strength derived from being one of the Philly guys. A win or two or three will mean everything to him.

"This is probably the most important thing in my career so far," Allen said. "We haven't had success the last couple years. This is my last go-round. This will pretty much define how my career went."

DiLeo is the consummate role player, do whatever is necessary. Wyatt is a cold-blooded shooter/scorer. He won't dazzle with athleticism, but his basketball skill is unquestioned. Jefferson is from Chester, home of so many great players so many years. He is not flashy, just effective.

Just like the rest of the Philly guys, such a huge part of this Temple team as it gets ready for the 2011 NCAA Tournament. *

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