HARTFORD, Conn. - The way Vince Curran remembers, it wasn't a basketball practice. It was a rugby scrum. A 90-minute boot camp because Fran Dunphy, then the Penn coach, was sick of seeing his Quakers getting pushed around.
This was the winter of 1992, Dunphy's third season as a college coach, at some high school gym in Providence, R.I. The Quakers had lost the previous night at Yale to slip to 3-4 in the Ivy. They were slated for a morning shootaround ahead of that night's game against Brown. Routine? No way.
Dunphy rolled a ball out there and made his players go get it. He threw it all over the place and they threw themselves after it. Wanna play at this level? Show me. There were no layup lines or casual drills on how to beat a press. This was man's work.
They banged and jostled and scraped and clawed until the softness was exorcised out of them. The Quakers finished the season winning six of their final seven, including a 19-point win over Brown that night. They ended up second in the conference. The following year they went 14-0, started the historic 48-game Ivy winning streak and went to the NCAA Tournament. The year after that, 1994, the Quakers upset Nebraska in the first round.
"He knew we were not good," said Curran, "and he knew what it took for us to be good."
The primary story line to today's AAC quarterfinal game against Memphis is that a victory would move the Owls (22-9) another step closer to an at-large bid for this year's NCAA Tournament. The secondary plot is that a win would be the 500th of Dunphy's 26-year coaching career. He had 310 wins at Penn from 1989-2006 and has 189 for Temple since taking over for Hall of Famer John Chaney to start the 2006-07 season.
Dunphy generally would rather eat a pound of sawdust than talk about his coaching accomplishments, but he did concede that morning up in Providence was a turning point for his Quakers.
"Something hit me that I could push these guys a little harder and that they will go for it. And they did," he said. "They arrived as a team very shortly thereafter - if not that night. I think it changed our fortunes. You try everything as a coach, but they all don't work . . . It would be great if they did."
At this time last year, the Owls were wrapping up a 9-22 season, the worst in Temple history and the worst in Dunphy's career. The problem was simple. It was a Secret Service keg party. They could guard no one.
"Last year was not a typical Fran Dunphy team," SMU coach Larry Brown said. "Fran is as good a coach as we have in our sport. Anybody that can beat a healthy Kansas team the way they did [by 25 in December] is really, really good."
Dunphy's 499 victories (against 269 losses) is second for coaches at Big 5 schools behind the 516 that Chaney had from 1983-2006. Villanova's Al Severance (1936-61) is third at 413. Among the other active Big 5 coaches, Phil Martelli has 375, Jay Wright 316 and John Giannini 175. Jerome Allen just stepped down at Penn with 65 and Drexel's Bruiser Flint has 239.
Dunphy yesterday was named the American Athletic Conference coach of the year. He received similar recognition in 2010 and 2012 when the Owls were members of the Atlantic 10. The Ivy League did not hand out a coach of the year award until this year.
Earlier this week, Memphis coach Josh Pastner - today's opponent - made a plea for Dunphy to be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame.
"He hasn't been at any [so-called] blue-blood programs," said Pastner, who lost to Dunphy and the Owls earlier this season. "He's done it the right way. We're talking about 500 wins. This guy deserves to be in there . . . But hopefully he gets his 500th next week in the NCAA Tournament."
Therein lies a hurdle. March.
Dunphy was 1-9 during the Madness when he was at Penn, but that's forgivable since his Quakers always were the underdogs. But he's 2-6 at Temple, including a pair of upset losses when the Owls were a 5-seed - one to Cornell, the other to South Florida.
If he can make a March run one of these years, it would open more eyes. But that's the secondary plot.
A win today will help their NCAA Tournament resume. A win in tomorrow's semifinals would make it virtually impossible for the selection committee to exclude Temple, which has that resounding victory over Kansas and would have 24 wins by that point.
At least that's all Dunphy is thinking about. His players, on the other hand, are embracing the extra motivation.
"He's been a great coach for a very long time and to be part of some type of history in his career would be a great, great honor," Owls guard Jesse Morgan said. "That would be a great milestone for me to help him get his 500th win."