The Quakers (3-14, 0-3 Big 5) will be taking on Temple (12-5, 1-0) Wednesday night in their final Big 5 contest of the season. Though this is Fran Dunphy’s seventh year as coach of Penn's Big 5 foe, this will be the first time he takes on former player Ira Bowman, who has latched onto fellow Dunphy alum Jerome Allen as an assistant coach. Both squads have faced a lot of a changes in the past year, but the Owls have continued to dominate. I spoke with Temple coach Fran Dunphy about this familiar matchup and what his plans are heading into this local game.
After your first year as coach of Penn, you lost your top three scorers and struggled the next year. Do you think the situation faced by Coach Allen has any parallels to what you inherited when you took the Penn job in 1989?
Dunphy: I hadn’t given it a lot of thought, but as I go down Penn’s roster and I see the young guys that they have and the hope for the future that they have, I think Jerome and everybody at Penn should feel very encouraged. I think that they are on their way to building a terrific basketball program and I think the future is very bright.
After 7 years, do you still get any special feeling when you play Penn?
Dunphy: You can’t be somewhere for as long as I was — and in this case the University of Pennsylvania — and not feel a special affinity for the place and the program and everything that it is about. Of course, then you add to it a guy that played for me and who I learned so much from as a person and as a player, so that’s a very special feeling for me. And then of course now you have on staff Ira Bowman, who also played for me. They were two great guys to coach and they have become two great friends as well.
I have tremendous memories of my days at Penn. I was the luckiest guy in America then and I am just as lucky now to have an opportunity to coach another team in the city of Philadelphia, so I feel very fortunate.
We just saw a sold-out Big 5 game at the Palestra between St. Joe's and Penn. Though now some of the games have moved to campus sites, do you ever wish that the Big 5 went back to playing all of the games there?
Dunphy: Well that’s certainly how I grew up and how it was when I was a player at La Salle for three years as well. All of the games were in the Palestra, so that’s what college basketball in Philadelphia was all about. Certainly the Palestra was college basketball’s arena. But now, times have changed, and we have all had to adapt to it. We have a very nice arena on campus. For us to go back to the Palestra to play all of our Big 5 games would be difficult for our university and athletic department at this point. Yet, I think the purist in all of us appreciates everything that went on back in the day. Would it be great to go back and do that again? Sure it would, maybe on a one year occasion or something like that if we could interrupt things. A number of years ago we tried to have all six teams play in the Palestra on a given day as a celebration of sorts, but there were too many other complications or things that got in the way to allow that to happen again.
You've had tremendous success at Temple and have won over 20 games for 6 straight years. This year, you lost two very important players in Ramone Moore and Juan Fernandez but still have won 12 of 17, including a win over Syracuse. How have you managed to replace the scoring and ball skills of these two guys?
Dunphy: I gave that some thought the other day actually. Khalif Wyatt is now our leading scorer and leading assist-maker. That’s a hard thing to do, whereas last year he had two other guys with him who could not only score, but make plays as well. Having to do a lot of that on his own, as a result I think our shooting percentage is down as a team. If you’re looking for things to point to as the reason why that may be it, that he’s kind of doing a lot of things on his own and we haven’t been shooting the ball. As a team, we have to improve that. We’re winning some games, although we lost Saturday to a very good St. Bonaventure team. We need to play better basketball. There’s no question about it. We’ve won our share, but we’re not playing great at this moment.
How do you think Khalif has progressed in his 4 years at Temple?
Dunphy: I just spent some time with the coach of St. Bonaventure after we played them, just a debriefing of the game, a very short time, but he was very impressed with how difficult Khalif was to guard. And he is. He can make shots and make plays. He’s got a very intriguing game. He’s not the fastest guy you’re ever going to find, but he’s very intelligent and very crafty with the basketball and really understands the game very well. I think he’s progressed tremendously on the offensive end. As I always bust on him with, I would like him to be a little more progressive on the defensive end — take care of his teammates just a little bit more. But he’s a good man — Khalif — and I am very happy for his success. He will continue to grow as a player and hopefully he will have the opportunity to play professionally very soon.
How do you think Khalif has handled the national attention this year?
Dunphy: He’s done a very good job. He understands the limelight that he’s in and he’s playing well in big games and we need him to continue to do so.
Were there any other gaps or weakness that you saw in Saturday’s close loss to St. Bonaventure that you will be focusing on heading into Wednesday?
Dunphy: I didn’t think our defense was very good. I think we got caught in compromising positions too many times. While they shot the ball extremely well, we weren’t there to contest it quite as well as we had in previous games. St. Bonaventure deserves a lot of credit for how well they played, but we certainly contributed to it by not arriving on the scene quite quickly enough.
What else do you think Temple will have to do to ensure the win on Wednesday?
Dunphy: We have to play as a good a basketball game as we can. We need to really solid on the defensive end, we have to take care of the ball and we need to make shots. I’m sure the Penn Quakers will have a lot to do in trying to impede our progress in those regards, so they’ll be ready and we better be ready as well.
Turnovers, among many other problems, have plagued the Quakers this season. What, if any, strategies do you have planned for targeting this weakness?
Dunphy: We’re not a team that necessarily does that kind of thing where we’ll turn up the heat, lay full-court pressure or any of those things. That’s not what we do. I don’t think we’re going to change our spots for this particular game. We know who we are. We have to play good, solid defense. We can create some turnovers on occasion, but that’s not our game plan and we’re just going to be as solid as we can be.
Last season Penn came close to getting the Big 5 win against Temple, fueled by a 27-point performance by Zack Rosen. Though the Quakers jumped to an early lead, they ultimately lost in overtime. With the loss of last year’s seniors, how will Wednesday’s game plan differ from that of last season? Is there anything that stands out from this year’s squad as a threat?
Dunphy: Were going to play like we play. We’re going to be solid on the defensive end, take care of the ball and we’re a team that really has to do a good job in the half-court and hopefully we will do that.
We’re just who we are and I don’t think they’re going to see a whole lot of difference here. We just have to play better. And again, I appreciate who Jerome is and how his program is and how they play. As I’ve watched their team this year, I think they are getting better. They’re missing a big piece to it in Fran Dougherty, who’s a very, very good player and he will get back soon, but I think a kid like Nelson-Henry is really arriving at this point. He’s a big, big dude and we’re going to have to play our best in order to stop him as well.