Says Lear, Chaney's boyhood opponent, "John is basketball's Knute Rockne. Such a motivator and competitor. He couldn't stand to lose the race to the water fountain."
Possession is ten tenths of Chaney's law. Ball possession. "Control is my opiate," the coach says. "It's like I'm driving my car [the ball], and I'm not letting you steal it. You're not even going to dent it. I'm driving it into my garage [the lane]. And then I'm going to park it [score]."
Such homey analogies endear him to his players. As a junior at Buena Vista High in Saginaw, Mich., Macon saw a videotape of one of Chaney's practice lectures. "I fell in love with him," says Macon. "Coach Chaney and my high school coach [Norwaine Reed] were so much alike it was eerie. And when I visited Temple I was even more impressed. I wanted to leave the Midwest and see the world, anyway. This place has the same family atmosphere as high school. The guys on the team just grabbed me, took me under their wing and walked me through. I do everything they tell me."
They must have told him to take over. Seldom has a freshman guard on such a good team been given the respect and responsibility that Macon has gotten at Temple. "People ask why we allow Mark to do so much," says Chaney. "No one asked why Kansas threw the ball to Wilt the minute he stepped off the plane. Mark's our breakdown guy. He can beat you creating, with the dribble or the pass. He knows the game. He's simply the best at his age I've ever seen."
Macon is Chaney's first national-marquee recruit and the coach couldn't have fashioned a truer model of his ultimate Temple weapon if he'd molded it himself. Macon's defensive fundamentals are sound: He covers his area within Temple's shifting, matchup zone with rare man-on-man skills. He's composed under pressure: His more seasoned teammates confidently went to him with the Jan. 14 game against La Salle on the line and he scored the winner with 18 seconds left. Macon plays with virtually no emotion: Chaney has stringent rules against high fives, woofing, pointing or flashy dunks.
"You can't play on a high all the time. Handshakes are as good as high fives. Emotion isn't lasting," says Macon, sounding a lot like the boss.
At one of those ungodly dawn practices recently, Chaney was all set to get started when Evans, Temple's senior co-captain and the Owls' career-assist and free-throw-percentage leader, asked if they might wait. "Mark hasn't finished stretching," Evans told Chaney. "He thinks we all should stretch some more." They did.
"We could see Mark was a great player the first week," says Evans. "He sees the game in slow motion, like a pro in a college situation. The best part is he's humble and team-directed. Everybody here knows his own role; as Coach says, we 'stay at home.' We do what's best for Temple. Mark picked that up quick."
Moreover, Macon brought his own motivational tools with him, along with an almost mystical serenity. Since the ninth grade, Macon, the son of a Saginaw autoworker, has collected philosophical sayings—example: "Obstacles are what you see when you take your eyes off the goal"—that now adorn his dorm room wall. "I tap them every night before bed," he says. "It's a ritual. To give me a boost, keep me on track, remind me of the way to go in life. Like my stretching time. Coach calls it meditation but it's more visualization. I want to keep it confidential, to maintain the upper hand. Mental is four to one over physical. When your mind runs out, your body's gone."
But this body has only just begun.