Tuesday night reminded him of Westtown School games. That made sense. Temple big man Jake Forrester, new to the squad after transferring from Indiana, was part of something memorable out at Westtown, where two of his teammates are already in the NBA, three more (including Forrester) went Division I, and opponents were often just part of the show.
Sort of like this night on North Broad Street, where St. Joseph’s wasn’t much more than a prop for the all-time Big 5 blowout, as the Owls mixed in a dunkathon with a three-a-thon, while preventing the Hawks from doing much more than hoping more of their own three-pointers would start going in. The rim was closed, the lane congested, star player locked down.
All that was a lot like Westtown, if you ever saw Mo Bamba and Cam Reddish play in high school. Forrester was maybe a supporting player as a junior when that full group was together, except you noticed him. You saw his athleticism, understood why big-time schools were interested in a 6-foot-8 guy who knew how to move and grab the ball when it came his way.
The other thing that caught your eye: the smile. Forrester seemed to always be smiling. Not a bad trait, and checking the rulebook, you’re allowed to have fun playing basketball. The smile didn’t veer into cockiness. He wasn’t laughing at anybody out there.
In a hallway at the Liacouras Center, after Forrester had taken eight shots and made them all for a career-high 17 points in a 108-61 stunner Tuesday night, he was asked about that high school smile, since it wasn’t visible this night.
Forrester smiled at the thought. He chuckled.
“It just comes with maturity, realizing the level of basketball that I’m playing now,’’ Forrester said of the more serious looks he now gives. “It needs a lot more focus, and a lot more respect for the game. I mean, I was smiling and stuff in high school — yeah, that’s just my personality. Out here, I’ve got to be a different type of animal regarding these college guys.”
Realizing that he’s been through things … Former Drexel coach Bruiser Flint is an Indiana assistant. A Bruiser practice was a boot camp. The look Forrester gave at that, oh yeah.
“Although I didn’t play much at Indiana, I still learned a lot from a lot of the coaches,’’ Forrester said. “And just playing in Big Ten basketball practices, it raised my IQ.”
Temple is the beneficiary of that. Who knows why it took until Game 5 to get his NCAA eligibility waiver approved, but he’s been out there the last five games, seeing double-digit minutes off the bench, and he was inserted real quickly against the Hawks.
How do you go 8-for-8? Basically, by getting to the rim each time. A quick spin move got him a short jumper and a foul and a three-point play for a 10-4 Owls lead. He got fouled again, next possession, but missed the free throws. No sign yet that bigger things were coming.
Until he made the Hawks pay after a defender slipped and Forrester’s man had to help, leaving him for a dunk. Then there was a fastbreak dunk. Another turn inside that got him to the rim. Another fastbreak dunk off a Quinton Rose steal. When the Owls get off to the races, the new big man doesn’t get left behind.
“It feels really good,’’ Forrester said of his night. “I’ve been preparing for this every single practice, even in the offseason. … It’s just really good to show what I could do.”
Safe to say, Forrester saw an advantage inside. His teammates saw it.
“I was saying, ‘Yo, they can’t mess with you down there. We’re going to keep getting you the ball,’ ‘’ Owls guard Nate Pierre-Louis said. “I’ve seen him literally work his tail off every day in practice.”
What did Aaron McKie think he was getting in Forrester, and what has he gotten?
“Athleticism, good size around the interior,’’ Temple’s coach said. “He has so much more room to grow as a basketball player. We’re using him inside. He’s in pretty good shape. At some point in his career here, we want to be able to stretch him out a little bit more. He can rebound the ball at a high level. He can defend his position."
Forrester has three seasons of eligibility left, including this one.
“He helps us inside offensively, where we can throw it inside to settle us,’’ McKie said.
Practice experience is great, McKie noted. “You need those minutes out on the floor — competition. Jake’s had that in practice. He’s just scratching the surface, really. He’s not in the kind of shape that I would like him to be in, but he’s getting closer.”
McKie was asked about that impression of Forrester being kind of a smiley guy.
“Well, I get on him about that every day, every day,’’ McKie said. “I like the enthusiasm … but there’s a level of focus you have to have doing your job. It’s something I mention to the guys all the time — do your job. … That’s what I tell Jake, ‘You have a chance to be a really good basketball player, but you have to work on focusing in for 40 minutes, or even during practice time.' ”
Forrester clearly gets this. Check out his facial expressions these days. They matched his performance the other night. A night worth smiling about, afterward.
“Transferring, it’s kind of do or die,’’ Forrester said after his 17 points and 6 rebounds in 18 minutes. “I can’t transfer again really. I’ve got to show everything, put everything I can out there.”