Wizards

Temple up for the challenge of playing at Kansas

Temple up for the challenge of playing at Kansas

PHILADELPHIA (AP) Khalif Wyatt was on a recruiting visit with a prime seat two rows behind Temple's bench.

He was planning to play for the Owls, anyway, but what he saw in that Dec. 13, 2008, game against No. 8 Tennessee only reaffirmed his decision.

``I watched Dionte Christmas go crazy,'' Wyatt said.

Christmas, a former Temple scoring star, had 35 points to help Temple upset the Volunteers 88-72. Owls fans stormed the Liacouras Center court in a wild celebration for what was coach Fran Dunphy's watershed victory of his first three seasons.

Wyatt so badly wanted to join the fun.

``I didn't storm the court,'' a smiling Wyatt said, ``but I thought about it.''

Wyatt hasn't missed much else since Temple proved how formidable a program it can be against basketball's elite.

The Owls knocked off unbeaten No. 3 Villanova the following season, again allowing their students to stretch their legs in a mad dash toward the court. The following season was yet another home win against a top-10 team, this time No. 9 Georgetown.

Wyatt scored 22 points in a victory last season over No. 5 Duke at the Wells Fargo Center. And he dominated for a career-high 33 points last month in an 83-79 win over then-No. 3 Syracuse at Madison Square Garden.

In case you lost track, the `Cuse victory made it five straight seasons Temple has beaten a top-10 team while unranked.

``As a player, that's what you want,'' Wyatt said.

Wyatt, now a senior and Temple's leading scorer, is getting greedy and wants to do it one more time. The Owls (10-2) have their toughest test of the season Sunday when they play No. 6 Kansas (11-1) at Allen Fieldhouse. Not at home. Not at a neutral site. But before 16,300 ``Rock Chalk'' chanting fans at the Phog.

``It's just another game to put Temple on the map,'' forward Scootie Randall said.

Few programs are as ingrained in the hoops landscape as the Owls.

Temple won its 1,800th game last month, becoming the sixth school to reach that milestone. The Owls have had only four coaches since 1953 and two of them - Harry Litwack and John Chaney - are in the Hall of Fame. They've made 30 NCAA tournaments, including the last five.

Not too shabby.

But not quite Kansas, which has a permanent spot in basketball's royal court, along with Kentucky, Duke and North Carolina. Those teams and Syracuse make up the rest of the 1,800 club. All of them have won a national championship - except Temple. The Owls' only two Final Fours came in 1956 and 1958. Chaney came so close, but went 0 for 5 in regional finals. Dunphy has yet to lead Temple out of the first weekend of the tournament.

The common thread among the six has been remarkable consistency and (except for Kentucky) coaching stability.

``I think we're different than most of the others,'' Dunphy said. ``We're an inner-city university that has an unbelievable mission. I think we're as unique to that world as any other program ever.''

Chaney was as responsible as anyone for molding Temple into the program it is today. Yes, he was controversial. You bet he was outspoken. But he won. And he did it against a loaded non-conference schedule that was always among the toughest in the nation. Chaney and the Owls always had a place in the national basketball scene as long as they were playing the kind of teams in the hunt for deep runs in the NCAA tournament.

When Chaney retired, Dunphy kept the same scheduling approach. Duke was back on the schedule this season, along with Syracuse and Kansas. That's three top-10 teams in stand-alone games, not as part of some bracketed fields like at the Maui Invitational.

Kansas played at the Liacouras Center three years ago and returns to Philadelphia in the 2014-15 season.

The only way to start a streak of defeating top-10 teams is to schedule them.

``I would say, `Why not?''' Dunphy said. ``It's a great chance for your players to test themselves at the highest possible level. I think that's what you want for your guys. You do it for recruiting reasons. You do it for the benefit of your fan base, but most of all, you do it for the benefit of your student-athlete.''

Temple AD Bill Bradshaw said before the season the scheduling might change with next year's move to the Big East. But that was before the seven Catholic schools decided to ditch the conference to form their own league. So there could be room yet for a Michigan or Arizona to fill the void.

``We love it,'' Randall said. ``Sometimes you can't win and that's the bad part. But it's a great opportunity to go out there and showcase what you can do.''

No, they can't win them all. Randall, a fifth-year senior, remembers losing by 12 to Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse in 2008. The Jayhawks routed the Owls in Philadelphia in 2010. And Duke took out some frustration from last season's loss with a 23-point victory over the Owls in December.

Pay heed, Temple: Kansas has won 29 straight games at Allen Fieldhouse and 62 straight against non-conference teams on its home floor.

Still, Temple's knack of toppling top-10 opponents like Syracuse has put KU on notice.

``It was a great win for Temple on a neutral court and I think it does, and will, get our guys' attention,'' coach Bill Self said. ``From a selfish standpoint, it gives us a better strength of schedule, which does nothing but help us later on down the road.''

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Follow Dan Gelston at www.twitter.com/APGelston

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Though not a big man, first round pick Troy Brown fills several needs for Wizards

Though not a big man, first round pick Troy Brown fills several needs for Wizards

The Wizards' selection of Troy Brown of the University of Oregon with their first round pick has been met with a strong reaction among fans, many of whom argue he doesn't play a position of need, that it was a luxury pick when other areas could have been addressed, most notably in their frontcourt. Big man Robert Williams of Texas A&M, for example, was still on the board. 

The Wizards, though, did address needs by picking Brown. And really, they arguably filled more pressing needs in the short-term than those at power forward and center.

Though the Wizards clearly need some help at big man in the long-term, as both of their starting bigs are on expiring deals, they need help immediately at both shooting guard and small forward. Brown, though he is only 18 years old and offers no guarantees to contribute right away, can play both of those positions.

Shooting guard is where he can help the most. The Wizards have one backup shooting guard in Jodie Meeks and he is due to miss the first 19 games of the 2018-19 season while serving a suspension for performance-enhancing drugs.

Even when Meeks was available this past season, he only helped so much. He shot just 39.9 percent from the field and 34.3 percent from three. Head coach Scott Brooks often chose to rely more on starter Bradley Beal than go to Meeks as his replacement. As a result, Beal logged the fourth-most minutes of any player in the NBA.

More depth at shooting guard will help relieve Beal of some of that workload. That would be great for keeping him fresh throughout the season and help him be at his best when they need him most in the playoffs.

The Wizards also have some urgency at small forward. It is their strongest position in terms of one-two on the depth chart, but they have no logical third option. That was magnified in the playoffs once Otto Porter got injured. They were left with Kelly Oubre, Jr. and had to trot out Tomas Satoransky, who has limited experience at the position.

Brown can play both shooting guard and small forward, giving them much needed depth. If he can play well enough to earn a rotation spot, the emergency situations the Wizards encountered last season could be avoided in 2018-19.

The Wizards still need to find long-term solutions at power forward and center, but they were going to need to find answers at shooting guard and small forward as well. Both Meeks and Oubre have one year left on their deals. Brown helps solidify the long-term outlook at wing.

Now, there's no denying the Wizards already had considerable talent at both shooting guard and small forward with Beal, Porter and Oubre. That begs the question of how much Brown can offer particularly in the first year of his career. But the Wizards would like to play more positionless basketball and to do that requires depth at wing.

The Boston Celtics have helped make positionless basketball famous and their roster shows that the one player-type you can't have enough of is similar to Brown. Boston has Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Morris. All are around 6-foot-7 or 6-foot-8 and offer versatility on both ends of the floor.

The Wizards also now have four players of that size and with positional versatility in Brown, Porter, Oubre and Satoransky. They can roll out different combinations of those guys and possibly have an advantage on defense with the ability to switch seamlessly on screens.

In the age of positionless basketball, players of Brown's ilk have become major assets especially for teams that have many of them. There is such a thing as having too many point guards or centers because they can't coexist on the floor. Versatile wings, in most scenarios, can play together in numbers.

It's different but in a way similar to certain positions in other sports. In baseball, you can have too many catchers but you can't have too many talented pitchers and utility players. In football, you can have too many running backs or tight ends, but you can't have too many defensive linemen. 

Brown gives them options from a roster perspective in the long-term. Oubre has one year left on his contract and if he continues his trejectory with a strong 2018-19 season, he could price himself out of Washington. Brown could move up the depth chart as his replacement one year from now. The Wizards also now have the option to consider trades at the position given their depth.

The problem, one could argue, with drafting Brown over a Williams-type is that it limits their options at center in particular. Drafting Williams would have made it easier to trade Marcin Gortat, for instance, because they would have had depth to deal from. Now, it's more difficult to trade Gortat, whom they have shopped on and off for months, without a plan to replace him. Finding a Gortat substitute in free agency with the limited resource they have would not be easy.

But big man wasn't their only need and in Brown the Wizards may have found a solution at other areas where they clearly needed help.

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Wizards' second round pick Issuf Sanon will take time, much like Tomas Satoransky did

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Wizards' second round pick Issuf Sanon will take time, much like Tomas Satoransky did

The first round of the NBA Draft played out expectedly for what the Wizards had planned for the night. In Troy Brown, they clearly got the guy they wanted all along, seeing as there were many interesting prospects they passed on to choose him.

The second round was a bit more chaotic. Team president Ernie Grunfeld said there were a few players picked just ahead of them at No. 44 that they had their eyes on. They contemplated trading up, but no perfect deals were presented.

So, they decided to think long-term, like really long-term. In choosing Ukrainian point guard Issuf Sanon, the Wizards understand it may be years before he plays in the NBA.

"We hope to have him developed in a few years," Grunfeld said.

Sanon, just 18, plays for Olimpija Ljubljana in Slovenia. He may stay in Europe into his 20s before he comes to the United States.

The Wizards have utilized the draft-and-stash model with other players. Their 2015 second round pick, Aaron White, has been playing in Europe for the past three seasons.

Sometimes those players never convey and contribute for the Wizards. But sometimes they do and Grunfeld pointed to a player already on their roster as a model to consider.

"We drafted Tomas [Satoransky] at an earlier age, he went overseas [and] he played at the highest level and it got him ready for the NBA," Grunfeld said.

The difference between now and then is that the Wizards have a G-League franchise starting this fall, the Capital City Go-Go. Because of that, it seemed more likely going into the draft that the Wizards would use the second round pick on a guy who can play there right away. 

Grunfeld, however, opted for roster flexibility. By keeping Sanon in Europe, the Wizards can have another open roster spot. They could either fill that spot, or leave spots on the end of their roster open as they did for much of last season.

"We want to preserve a roster spot, so just because you draft someone in your second round, if you sign him, he still has a roster spot even if you let him play for the GoGo," Grunfeld said.

Sanon may have a bright future. He is a 6-foot-4 point guard with impressive athleticism who doesn't turn 19 until October. He said he models his game after Russell Westbrook, as a guard who can score the ball. More will be known about him once he plays for their summer league team in July.

The Wizards passed on several interesting prospects to pick Sanon. Still on the board were Keita Bates-Diop of Ohio State, Hamidou Diallo of Kentucky and Svi Mykhailiuk of Kansas, three players they brought in for pre-draft workouts. But instead, they went with a long-term investment, hoping they found the next Satoransky.

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