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Careful What You Wish For
Michael Bamberger
November 30, 1998
John Chaney wanted his Temple team to lose, and it did—but not before showing that this could he the Owls' year
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November 30, 1998

Careful What You Wish For

John Chaney wanted his Temple team to lose, and it did—but not before showing that this could he the Owls' year

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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 Final Four.

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 overstimulated.

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 tonight."

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. Perm 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.

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