No good could come from this game, and Temple coach John Chaney
knew it. His Owls, ranked seventh in the nation, were playing
Michigan State, ranked fifth, last Friday night. Temple was at
home, in Philadelphia, at the Apollo, its year-old basketball
cathedral, which was packed for the occasion. Digger Phelps was
calling the game for ESPN, the cheerleaders had on their TV
makeup, the band was loud. Not a good situation. Ranked seventh!
Six days before Thanksgiving? Awful. This might be the best team
the 66-year-old Chaney has ever had, his chance to finally make
a Final Four after 16 seasons with the Owls, but there was no
need for his players to know that. A win would only puff them up
even more, make practices impossible. A loss would be O.K.--you
learn from losing--except who wants to lose in front of Digger
Losing, it turned out, was what Temple was doing, nearly from
the start, and Chaney was not even squirming in his seat. The
wise old basketball man did not holler at his players. He threw
nothing. He made nice with the officials. By intermission the
Spartans led by 12, and Chaney was looking placid. When the Owls
called a timeout with 2:07 left, Michigan State's lead was nine.
What could Chaney do at that point? No coach can diagram a
series of plays to make up nine points in two minutes. Chaney
figured the game was over.
That's when the kids took charge. Using a lethal combination of
tenacity and luck, they scored 13 of the game's final 16 points
and beat the Spartans 60-59 to remain undefeated. None of those
last 13 points came on anything resembling a play. It was the
most unlikely win by the Owls that anybody could remember.
You might also say these Owls comprise a most unlikely cast of
characters, except that Temple teams always do. Chaney attracts
players for whom the road of life has been interrupted by speed
bumps, potholes and unmarked curves. If you've had things easy
all your days, you're of no use to Chaney. Don't feel bad. You
probably wouldn't like his 5 a.m. practices and Temple's urban
Rasheed Brokenborough, the Owls' starter at shooting guard,
knows that Temple and its basketball program have given him a
chance to improve his life. He grew up in a grim neighborhood, a
pocket of West Philadelphia known as The Bottom, where crack
vials share the weedy sidewalks with hopscotch outlines. In The
Bottom, kids talk about where they stay, not where they live,
and while Brokenborough was growing up he stayed with his
grandmother more than with anybody else. Beulah Brokenborough is
an uncanonized saint who brought up 11 children of her own and
seven more whom she adopted, and also helped raise about three
Beulah got the kids off to school but couldn't make them stay
there. Rasheed went to University City High for one purpose: to
play basketball, which he did exceedingly well. His course work
was another matter. Naturally, he fell short of the NCAA
academic standards for freshman eligibility, and he had to sit
out his first season and pay his own way at Temple. Naturally,
Chaney was unfazed. Now Brokenborough is on schedule to graduate
in May with a degree in social administration. He'll be the
first of Beulah's grandchildren to receive a college diploma.
Maybe he'll be the first to make it to the NBA, too.
Brokenborough's numbers from last Friday night--nine points,
four assists, 4 for 4 from the line--reveal little about his
play. You had to see the game to know this most salient fact:
Brokenborough was on the floor for 36 minutes and was never out
Then there was the Owls' starting power forward, junior Lamont
Barnes. Could there be anybody with a sadder life story playing
college basketball? He's only 20 years old, but his mother, his
surrogate father and a cousin to whom he was as close as a
brother have died violent deaths. Lamont was seven when his
mother was beaten lifeless during an apparent robbery in the
family's apartment in Lexington, Ky. A decade later, when Lamont
was a senior in high school, his father was shot and killed in
the western Kentucky town of Hopkinsville. "I remember the day
that his father died," Lamont's grandmother, Cornelia
McReynolds, told the Philadelphia Daily News. "Lamont just
looked at me like, What more can happen?" A year later, in
November 1996, Lamont's 16-year-old cousin, Timothy Barnes, died
of a gunshot wound that police investigators determined was
Somehow Barnes has carried on. During interviews he is polite.
Standing before a camera he smiles warmly. But on the court he
looks as if he wants to remove his defender's skin with his
fingernails. He scored 11 points against Michigan State. (He
also had three steals and no turnovers.) Eleven may not sound
like many points, but Temple doesn't need many, not the way it
plays defense. No Owl scored more than Barnes.
Juan (Pepe) Sanchez, Temple's starting point guard and its only
player from Bahia Blanca, Argentina, scored 11, too, and if you
looked at the floor at the end of the game, you couldn't see
him. He was swallowed up by a stampede for which he was
responsible. But Sanchez wouldn't have been there at all were it
not for a suburban Philadelphia schoolboy soccer coach named
Jorge Severini. Severini moved from Bahia Blanca to Philadelphia
in the 1970s to play professional soccer, but he kept up with
his friends Carlos and Lorna Sanchez back home and watched from
a distance as their son Pepe grew up. One day three years ago
Severini, who plays tennis and pickup basketball with Chaney,
gave him videotapes of Pepe playing club basketball in
Argentina. Chaney signed up Sanchez without ever seeing him in
the flesh. No other school had a chance.
Sanchez is somewhat atypical for a Temple basketball player: He
grew up with both his parents. (His father is an engineer, and
his mother is an English teacher.) He has a strong academic
background. (A junior studying history, he has a 3.4 grade point
average.) He also dreams of being the first Argentine to play in
the NBA, and he has a burgeoning vocabulary of American slang
that will come in handy if he makes it. A year or so ago Sanchez
would say, "What does this mean, 'I am chilling'?" Now people
ask how he's doing, and he casually answers, "Chillin'."
Against Michigan State he must have had ice water running
through his veins. With 56 seconds remaining, Sanchez holed
three straight free throws to get the Owls within two. (Later he
said he was thinking of his maternal grandmother in Argentina
while he was on the line. Of course. Every player on the team is
required to have two strong grandmotherly influences in his
life: one a blood relative, the other Chaney.) Sanchez returned
to the line to shoot two free throws with half a second left in
the game and the Owls trailing by a point. Draino, draino, game
over, mob scene. Of Sanchez's 11 points, nine came in the final
127 seconds. He had no turnovers in 32 minutes of play, many of
which he spent handling the ball.
With the win, Temple improved its ranking to No. 6 in the AP
poll. The Owls have defeated Georgetown, Wake Forest,
Mississippi and Michigan State. Still ahead before conference
play gets under way are Indiana in Bloomington on Dec. 5 and
Stanford in the Bay Area on Dec. 29. But it's hard to imagine
them not winning the Atlantic 10 Conference. Two of Temple's
starters are former McDonald's All-Americas: sophomore forward
Mark Karcher, who sat out last year as a Prop 48, and freshman
center Kevin Lyde. There's a good vibe coming off this team. The
win against Michigan State was victory number 1,500 for Temple,
and in the stands people were asking one another what teams have
won more. The answer: Kentucky, North Carolina, Kansas, St.
John's and Duke. Nice company. Chaney may yet make it to the
On Friday night Sanchez was trying to explain the bizarre
victory to reporters when Chaney interrupted him. "Just say
L-U-C-K-Y," he instructed Sanchez. Chaney's candor provoked
laughter, as it usually does. "We were very damned lucky to win
that game," he said. "There was no way we should have."
Well, there might be one way. Chaney and his team were loose.
They never played this game as if they had to win. They never
got tight. The Spartans played Temple as if the national title
was at stake. It wasn't. By the final minutes they were worn out
from a war only they were fighting. Mateen Cleaves, their point
guard, played 37 minutes and scored a game-high 17 points, but
he had 10 turnovers. He wasn't sloppy so much as he was
That was his own assessment. After the game Cleaves saw Chaney
on his way out of the Apollo and said, "Coach, we got too
excited. You beat us last year at our place, and we wanted to
win so bad, we got too emotional. We really learned from you
Later Chaney said to the Owls, "Teams that play with great
emotion are increasing their risk factor. If you play without
your head, you'll lose your eyes." Then he added to a reporter,
"Emotion is fine in football, but you can get emotionally drunk.
When we're losing, I'm very calm, because I'm thinking."
Saturday morning Chaney held a practice, of course. He couldn't
give the Owls a day off after winning a game they had no
business winning. Besides, he had to reestablish himself as the
boss. The previous night the players had won the game on their
own. "I think we need to lose a game, really," Chaney told the
Owls. "I was hoping you would get your ass whipped last night,
so you could smell yourself."
Chaney knows all the old sayings, including the one that goes,
"Be careful for what you wish for--you may get it." On Monday
night Temple played its old cross-city rival, Pennsylvania, at
the Palestra, sweaty and packed. The Owls lost in overtime,
73-70. Sanchez did not play, resting a mildly sprained ankle.
Michael Jordan, number 23 for the Quakers, did play, all 45
minutes, scoring 22 points.
The Friday night Temple-Michigan State game was dramatic. The
one Monday night was even better. Penn had not defeated Temple
since 1982, meaning that no Chaney team had ever lost to the
Quakers. So much for that streak. After the game his wish at
Saturday's practice was a dim memory. "I don't think any loss is
good," Chaney said simply. Still, he was calm. He was placid.
The old coach knows how the basketball calendar works. His team
had lost a game in November. March is still next year.
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY LOU CAPOZZOLA ROCK SOLID Brokenborough and Sanchez (4) totaled 64 minutes with only two turnovers against the Spartans. [Rasheed Brokenborough passing basketball to Juan (Pepe) Sanchez in game]
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY LOU CAPOZZOLA GRAND LARCENY Sanchez, one of the nation's steal leaders, helped force Cleaves into 10 turnovers. [Juan (Pepe) Sanchez and Mateen Cleaves in game]
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY LOU CAPOZZOLA CHILLIN' OUT With nine points in the final 127 seconds, including the last two with less than a second left, Sanchez iced the Owls' win. [Juan (Pepe) Sanchez making free throw in game]
Cleaves told Chaney after the game, "We wanted to win so bad, we
got too emotional. We learned from you tonight."
Every Temple player is required to have two grandmotherly
influences in his life: one a blood relative, the other Chaney.