Taking a cue from Fran Dunphy

Temple coach Fran Dunphy during practice this week, as his team prepared for another appearance in the NCAA tournament. CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer
Temple coach Fran Dunphy during practice this week, as his team prepared for another appearance in the NCAA tournament. CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer
Posted: March 16, 2012

Temple basketball coach Fran Dunphy earned a bachelor's degree in marketing from La Salle and a master's in counseling and human relations from Villanova, and he has completed his course work toward a doctorate in counseling and student development at American University. He teaches a course at Temple's Fox School of Business.

As "March Madness" kicks off and Temple enters the national championship tournament for the fifth time since Dunphy took over the program, in 2006, high school and college athletes would be wise to take a cue from him. About 1 percent of all the kids playing high school basketball in the United States will be good enough to get a college scholarship in the sport. And about 60 or 70 of those playing ball at the 348 Division 1 colleges will make it to the NBA.

Dunphy knows this. He himself was a terrific player at Malvern Prep and La Salle, but he knew he was not good enough to play in the NBA. So he put his chips on education. And unlike many coaches who simply run basketball factories, Dunphy passionately pushes his players, from the stars to the last guys on the bench, to get their degrees.

Last year, Dunphy promised a former player that if he came back to school and earned a degree, he would shave off the mustache he had grown and groomed for 40 years. The kid came back this year and finished; Dunphy slashed his 'stache.

Dunphy also demands responsibility from his kids; there are consequences for breaching one of his rules. In last Friday's quarterfinal Atlantic Ten playoff game against Massachusetts, Dunphy benched perhaps his best player for the first 10 minutes for being several minutes late for a team meeting. The Owls lost, perhaps costing Temple a No. 4 seed in the NCAA tournament, but Dunphy treated the life lesson as more important.

Dunphy has been a vigilant caretaker of the long-standing philosophy of the Temple basketball program: If the education is good, the program will be good and the basketball will be good. Hall-of-Fame coach Harry Litwack, for whom I played, would tell recruits, "I won't promise you playing time, but I will promise you a good education and a chance to win." It works: Temple ranks sixth all-time in college basketball victories.

Victories and a place in March Madness will become more difficult for Dunphy when Temple joins the much tougher Big East Conference next year. Victories and tournament appearances, though, will not be Dunphy's lasting legacy. The wisdom he communicates to his players - thanks partly to all those classes he took in counseling, human relations, and student development - will trump any of his on-court achievements.

B.G. Kelley is a Philadelphia writer. He can be reached at bgklly@yahoo.com.

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