Senior forward J.P. Moorman II just met some of his new teammates on Aug 1. They didn’t get a normal summer to bond with pick-up games and tough strength-and-conditioning practices where teammates are dripping in sweat, leaning on one another.
Moorman says Temple’s chemistry isn’t there yet. The Owls’ roster is drastically different. Seven contributors are gone. A four-man recruiting class and two transfers were added.
It’s a tough adjustment for a team and coach in any season, let alone a year where the ability to connect is restricted.
“We were all on Zoom calls [this summer] and you can’t really build chemistry from a Zoom call,” Moorman said. “We tried to do what we could but I mean we were on Zoom looking at each other. You have to hang out with guys, you have to get in the gym with guys to get to know them.”
August 1 was the first time Moorman met freshmen Jeremiah Williams and Nick Jourdain. Players have hung out and worked on building a bond. There is cautious approach with hanging out, too. For the six newcomers, it’s their first experience at Temple, but they have to be more cautious than in most years.
“I know they want to experience Philly, I know they want to do everything that we did growing up our freshman and sophomore years but circumstances are different right now," Moorman said.
Moorman and De’Vondre Perry are returning seniors. Both will play larger roles. While neither player is the team’s returning leading scorer, Temple coach Aaron McKie believes leaders aren’t always the best scorers but are the most impactful everyday.
“[Moorman and Perry] been here before, they understand what it’s like to be in a college basketball game in a late-game situation,” McKie said. “I’m leaning on those guys for experience, but I’m also leaning on those guys to help our younger guys out through those situations.”
Perry’s best game came in a 78-77 neutral-site loss to Miami. He knocked down four threes and scored 18 points. He shot 41.3% from three-point range last season, and a bigger role should lead to more shots.
A bigger role also means the defense will key on Perry more. He made 29 two-point and 26 three-point field goals last season. His shooting ability won’t catch as many teams off guard, but he’s working on other facets of his game.
“I’m just working on playing off closeouts, reading closeouts better,” Perry said. “Knowing when to shoot the midrange, one-dribble pull-up, knowing when to get all the way to the rim and when to take the shot.”
Game day is a little more than a month away. Players and coaches are being tested for COVID-19 daily before practices.
While the team looks different, the scoring contribution may be similar. Don’t expect one player to bust out and average 22 points this season. Instead, expect an unselfish team that doesn’t care who’s the leading scorer.
“It doesn’t matter who takes the most shots or who scores the most points, we’re just trying to win,” Moorman said."We feel like we’re kind of like the Miami Heat in a sense. We don’t care who gets the shot, who gets the credit."
“We did it by committee [last year], and we’re probably going to do the same thing this year," McKie said.
McKie is embracing coaching a different-looking group, but it’ll be no excuse, nor the restrictions every team is dealing with.
One uncontrollable disadvantage for Temple has been the ability to get in the gym. Other American Athletic Conference schools in different cities with lighter restrictions practiced in the summer. Temple couldn’t.
“Their regions are a little bit different than ours," McKie said. "We have to follow the protocols of Philadelphia. We have to work from behind, which is okay. As long as we get the opportunity to get out there and be able to play, I think everybody is going to be happy.”
Transfers Khalif Battle and Sage Tolbert are waiting for results on their waivers to see if they can play this season. NCAA rules mandate Division-I transfers sit one season unless they get a waiver to play immediately.
Battle, who transferred from Butler, is a 6-5 point guard who was ranked 82nd overall in the 2019 ESPN 100. Tolbert is 6-8 who averaged 7 points on 49.5% shooting last season for Southeastern Missouri State.
It’s a lot of new faces and new policies for Temple in 2020. Time will tell how the team manages them.
“I feel like we just need more time to keep connecting and keep getting comfortable with one another," Moorman said. "It won’t happen overnight, in a week, month, whatever. It’s just going to happen over time and we got to make sure that time happens before our first game.”