NBA great Hakeem Olajuwon is Nigerian. So is Temple's 6-11 junior center, Micheal Eric.
Until yesterday afternoon, no one had thought to mention Eric in the same breath with "The Dream," at least on offense. It isn't apt to happen often; Eric came into the game against Akron averaging 6.6 points, with a season high of 14. His low-post moves are, shall we say, still evolving.
But in the Owls' 82-47 romp past the Zips at the Liacouras Center, Eric dropped hints that he could yet become as much a factor as a scorer as he is on the defensive end.
Eric - who finished with 16 points - matched his season high in Temple's near-perfect first half, which saw the Owls (7-2) go on runs of 20-4 and 16-0 to take a 40-15 lead into intermission. There he was, tossing in jump hooks, powering inside for easy baskets, knocking down a turnaround jumper in the lane and even wheeling around a startled defender for a shake-and-bake layup along the baseline. For good measure, he also blocked three shots, grabbed three rebounds and handed out an assist in the 16 minutes he was on the floor in the first 20 minutes.
If Olajuwon - "I was a big fan of his," Eric said - had been among the 3,834 spectators, he might have offered his countryman a congratulatory handshake.
Eric was so effective in the first half, in fact, he got the kind of noncall only star players ever seem to receive.
"He did get lucky one time today," Temple coach Fran Dunphy said with a smile. "We'll show it to him on the film. Mike was making one of his patented drop-step moves, and I don't go that far on vacation. But he got away with [traveling] and ended up with a three-point play."
Eric, who admits to "putting in a lot of work with guys on campus, a lot of pickup games" during the offseason, had indicated he was ready for a breakthrough performance at a morning shootaround in which he was smokin' hot.
"For whatever reason, Mike was really focused today at the shootaround," Dunphy noted. "We went through a couple of shooting games and it looked like he made every shot he took. You could just tell he was ready to go.
"That's exactly how he has to approach each and every game."
But Eric wasn't the only Owl to have his way with the Zips (4-3), a good midmajor team riding a streak of five straight 20-victory seasons. Akron is probably a decent bet to crack the 20-win club again, but it wouldn't be if the for-now unranked Owls are locked in and playing like the Top 25 outfit everyone expected them to be this season.
This clearly isn't the Temple outfit that lost two of three games in a tournament in Orlando, Fla., in late November, ostensibly due to untimely lapses of concentration.
"We're human beings," Scootie Randall, the Owls' best perimeter defender, said in explaining the setbacks to California and Texas A & M.
The Owls had no such problems against Akron. Their lead rose to 40 points late in the second half.
Not that Temple is yet as well-oiled a machine as Dunphy would like.
Oh, sure, that 68-65 upset of ninth-ranked Georgetown on Thursday was something to build on.
But junior point guard Juan Fernandez continues to seek the comfort zone that enabled him to top the Atlantic 10 Conference in three-point percentage (.453) last season, when he burned Villanova for a career-high 33 points and was named the Outstanding Player of the 2010 A-10 Tournament, which Temple won.
Fernandez swished his 100th career three with 12 minutes, 28 seconds remaining in the game, but the Argentine sharpshooter's deep ball has largely been missing to date. He was 1-for-3 from beyond the arc against the Zips, making him 9-for-39 (23 percent) on the year. For Temple to be all that it can be, he'll have to rediscover long-range stroke.
"Juan will get better as the season goes on," Dunphy said. "Hopefully, it'll come sooner rather than later.
"He's a scorer, he's a playmaker [he finished with five assists, all in the first half], he's all sorts of things. I'm not overly concerned. Would I like to see him shoot it better? Yeah. But he's a bright guy. He'll figure it out."
Aaron Brown (13), Randall (12) and Ramone Moore (10) also scored in double digits for the Owls. Steve McNees and Alex Abreu led the Zips with 11 apiece. *