Temple men’s basketball coach Fran Dunphy often says that he grew up at the Palestra, and it isn’t far from the truth.
As a high school player at Malvern Prep he often attended Palestra doubleheaders. He played his college basketball at La Salle, which at the time scheduled its home games at the Palestra.
Dunphy’s first head coaching job was at Penn, where he stayed for 17 seasons. Now in his 13th and final season as Temple’s head coach, Dunphy has coached 19 games at the Palestra with the Owls. He will be in the storied arena in that role for a 20th and final time when Temple (9-2) meets Drexel (6-6) in Saturday’s 1 p.m. game.
After this season, Dunphy, 70, will be replaced by Temple associate head coach Aaron McKie. According to the Owls' sports information department, Dunphy’s coaching record at the Palestra is 175-56 (.758) which includes a 15-4 mark since arriving at Temple in 2006.
“Growing up, I would go with guys in the neighborhood and we had a great time attending doubleheaders at the Palestra,” Dunphy recalled in a phone interview earlier this week. “I was lucky enough to play college ball there and then I had the key to the front door basically for 17 years (at Penn). I have fond memories of what it means to Philadelphia and to college basketball in general.”
Asked for a notable memory of the Palestra, Dunphy told a story he often has: about his Penn’s team 50-49 loss to Princeton on Feb. 9, 1999. The Quakers had led 33-9 at halftime.
“My most vivid memory may not be a pleasant one, but the season turned out well,” Dunphy said. “That same Penn team won the last seven games [of their Ivy League slate, including a 73-48 win at Princeton] and went to the NCAA tournament. They never hung their heads and kept plugging away, and the leadership within that group wouldn’t allow us to stay down.”
Dunphy says he won’t get too nostalgic about his Palestra finale as a Temple coach. He’s simply worried about getting a W.
“Drexel is a talented team that can really score,” said Dunphy, whose career record at Penn and Temple is 566-317.
Drexel coach Zach Spiker, like Dunphy, is not worried about the setting. He is just attempting to beat an Owls team that has won five of its last six games.
Spiker understands what Dunphy has meant to the game, though.
“There are not enough superlatives for me to talk about coach Dunphy,” he said.
Dunphy says Saturday’s won’t be a time for reminiscing.
“I will be so caught up in the game,” he said.
After the game, he might take a longer stroll through the building, and take in the atmosphere of a place that has provided so many memories as a fan, player and coach.