Owls' strong Will to return

YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Will Cummings has been out with concussion.
YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Will Cummings has been out with concussion.
Posted: January 22, 2014

AS A COMPETITOR, the only thing Temple guard Will Cummings wants is to be on the court trying to help his team. Especially when the team really needs him. So imagine how frustrating the last week-and-a-half has been for him, when all he could do was mostly sit and watch.

Concussions will do that.

"Knowing you're a leader, you want to set the best example," said the 6-2 junior from Jacksonville, Fla., who took a hit to his head trying to get through a screen early in the Jan. 9 game against South Florida at the Liacouras Center.

"I've never missed two games in a row in my life. I'm a player. It's not a good feeling, knowing you might have been able to do something that could have made a difference. It's tough."

Cummings doesn't remember ever losing six games in a row, either. But that's what the Owls (5-11, 0-5 American) have done, going into tonight's game at Connecticut (14-4, 2-3). It's the longest such streak on North Broad since 2001-02. That team wound up in the NIT Final Four. The season before that, John Chaney's guys lost seven straight. That group somehow made it to the Final Eight of the four-letter tournament.

It was understood heading into this first season in a new conference that depth could be an issue. That was before Daniel Dingle went out in late December with a knee injury. When Cummings and his 16.1 points per game joined him on the sideline, the Owls were down to eight bodies. Cummings, who averages 32 minutes, did play 29 in a 10-point home loss to nationally ranked Memphis on Jan. 11, after he missed the second half of what turned into a seven-point loss to USF.

As a precaution, he didn't fly to No. 19 Cincinnati, where the Owls lost by 11. And he didn't get off the bench in Saturday's six-point loss to La Salle at the Palestra. True freshman Josh Brown had to go the full 40 in each of those two games and scored a combined seven. It makes a difference.

The Owls had led in the second half of each game until the last one. And they only trailed by two with less than a minute to go against the Explorers. Cummings, who has been cleared medically, is riding the bus to Storrs and has every intention of playing.

"They give you baseline tests to pass, to make sure it's not getting worse," said Cummings, who played sparingly his first year before averaging 5.8 points in 23 minutes per game last season for a squad that had five seniors, including three fifth-year guys.

"I just didn't feel well enough to play basketball yet. The easiest way to explain it is just not being able to judge distance, how far the basket is, and knowing my reaction time just wasn't 100 percent. I had to get my feet back under me, so I wasn't going to make a cut and stumble or fall over.

"You don't want to put yourself in a position where something can happen. It kind of hits you eventually that it's your brain. At some point you have to get past that. It was the same when I tore my meniscus [in his right knee] the summer between my freshman and sophomore seasons. I ran into a screen that time, too. But once you get over it, you won't think about it anymore."

Cummings knew that more was going to be expected from him. And he responded. Then the concussion got in the way. He admits he's a "bad" loser. Yet that is what he's dealing with right now. That's where leadership comes in.

"I talked to coach [Fran] Dunphy," said Cummings, who is fifth in the AAC in assists (4.1 average). "During the offseason I had to change aspects of my game. I worked with my trainer, I watched tape. I had to fine-tune some things. I had to make sure I kept the confidence. If you're not confident all the time, then you're going to be an up-and-down player. I kind of watch guys, see how they carry themselves. I had a chance to talk to Chris Paul when he came up here to work out. He gave me a lot of insight on staying focused, knowing your role, getting the most out of yourself. If you put all those hours in the gym, then when you take that shot, you know you've practiced it 1,000 times. You never stop learning."

About yourself, and about your situation. The lessons can sometimes be harsh. About all you can do is face the reality head on and hope it somehow makes you better. The bench isn't getting any deeper, and the schedule isn't getting any lighter. Pity isn't an option.

"We can't get used to losing," Cummings stressed. "Nobody plays the game to lose. The last couple of years, we always thought we were going to win. That's the challenge. We all came here because we wanted to be part of a winning program.

"Maybe things happen for a reason, but nobody wants to go through something like this. It kind of changes your mindset. Maybe we were expecting to win because the jersey says Temple and we've been to the NCAA six times in a row. That's not the way it works. They want to beat us even more because we are Temple . . .

"Nobody's feeling sorry for us. We don't want them to. We're a young team. But we don't want that excuse. It doesn't matter if we're young, or limited [in personnel]. If you've got five players, then I'm expecting to win."

Especially if one of those five happens to be him.

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