DENVER (AP)—Fran Dunphy’s Temple Owls look just like John Chaney’s old teams—until tip-off.
When Dunphy succeeded the Hall of Fame coach two years ago, he ditched the half-court offense for an up-tempo style. He threw away the old matchup zone that Chaney used to baffle opponents, and replaced it with a tough man to man.
What he didn’t change was personnel.
Unlike some coaches who chase off holdovers and bring in a bunch of freshmen when taking over a program, Dunphy instilled his style into his predecessor’s roster.
“I’ve been blessed to follow a guy like John Chaney, who really has been a great mentor and somebody who has guided me well in my years as a basketball coach,” Dunphy said Wednesday as the 12th-seeded Owls prepared for their game against fifth-seeded Michigan State in the South Regional.
“I would be foolish not to use those same guys and the same philosophies in many ways, not necessarily on the basketball court, but certainly off the court,” Dunphy said. “I think John Chaney is one of the great human beings of all times. I’ve learned a lot from him. It’s been an easy transition that way. And I would give a lot of that credit to John Chaney.”
So, a roster recruited to play a grinding and deliberate style suddenly was hustling up and down the court on offense and on defense under Dunphy, who took Penn to nine NCAA tournaments before taking the challenge of resurrecting Temple.
It was anything but an overnight transformation.
The Owls struggled through a 12-18 season in Dunphy’s first year and then shook off a 6-8 start to win the Atlantic 10 championship this season, beating rival Saint Joseph’s 69-64 in the title game to earn their first trip to the NCAA tournament since 2001.
The Owls are led by a terrific 1-2 scoring punch of junior Dionte Christmas (20.2) and senior Mark Tyndale (15.9), and the offense runs through senior point guard Chris Clark, whom Christmas and Tyndale call their MVP.
All were recruited by Chaney to play his grinding style. All have flourished under Dunphy.
None of this is a surprise to Michigan State coach Tom Izzo.
“I know John Chaney. I wouldn’t mind inheriting a couple of his kids,” Izzo said, smiling.
Still, it’s one thing to inherit a bunch of good players and another thing to have them play another brand of basketball altogether.
“He’s done an incredible job, because it is a different system,” Izzo said. “And I think when you go and take a different system, it usually takes a little bit of time, which it did. It took last year and it took even the beginning of this year. Now they’re coming on and playing some of their best basketball. That’s a tribute to him. I would think John Chaney in a way should take a little pride in it, too.”
Christmas and Tyndale said they never considered leaving when Chaney retired, and Clark said he didn’t want to miss out on the resurrection of Temple basketball.
“Being a Philadelphia guy, you hear so much about coach Dunphy and his success at Penn. So, I mean, of course you would think he would bring that same success here at Temple,” Clark said. “And he has.”
Dunphy considers himself blessed that he inherited the roster he did.
“They’re just good people. They just want to do the right thing,” Dunphy said. “If there’s any philosophy that any coach has, it’s always just do the right thing out there. If it’s on the court, just make good decisions. Off the court, make good decisions.”
The Spartans (25-8) are making their 11th straight trip to the NCAA tournament, but they haven’t advanced out of the second round since 2005, when they lost to North Carolina in the national semifinals.
Senior guard Drew Neitzel acknowledged he hasn’t won as many Big 10 trophies or national hardware as he anticipated after reaching the Final Four his freshman year, and said he’s determined to go out on a high note.
“We always talk about leaving a footprint of where you’ve been,” Izzo said, “leaving something behind that will make sure 10 years from now or 20 years from now, when you bring your kids back, you say, ‘Yeah, you know, I helped hang that banner, I won that ring.’
“I think he understands that. I think that’s why he’s looking forward to seeing what we can do this week.”