Dionte Christmas poised for next step: NBA

CHICAGO - Sitting in the interview room at the NBA draft combine Thursday, Temple graduate Dionte Christmas recalled his path toward possibly becoming a professional basketball player.

"Coming into Temple, I definitely had thoughts about going to the NBA," said Christmas, 22, who averaged 3.5 points in 11.3 minutes per game as a freshman in coach John Chaney's final season with the Owls.

"It got kind of rough for me, not playing as much as I thought I should have," he said. "But Coach Chaney was not the one who was going to play freshmen a lot."

Evidently, Fran Dunphy did not have a problem using Christmas when the player was a sophomore.

Dunphy, who succeeded Chaney, elevated Christmas to the starting lineup for the 2006-07 season, and the 6-foot-5 shooting guard became the first player in Atlantic Ten history to lead the conference in scoring for three consecutive years.

As a senior, Christmas averaged 19.5 points a game and led the Owls to their second straight NCAA tournament.

"Once Coach Dunph came in, he knew I was a scorer, and that's what he expected me to do," said Christmas, who led the city in scoring with 26.5 points per game as a senior at Fels High before averaging 18.0 at North Philadelphia's Lutheran Christian Academy in 2004-05.

"He wanted me to put the ball in the hoop, and he gave me the opportunity," Christmas said. "I learned a lot at Temple, especially playing under two different coaches. I had the best of both worlds."

Now, Christmas has the chance he thought was disappearing when he did not live up to his own expectations as a freshman at Temple.

Before arriving in Chicago, where the 52 invited players would be doing drills before representatives of every NBA organization, Christmas had already visited nine teams and performed in three-on-three settings.

"I was in nine cities in a week and a half," he said. "Coach Dunph told me to just approach it like it was a game: Go out there and be relaxed, confident, and poised. Don't try to do too much. Do what you can do."

Between his road trips, Christmas has been working out under John Hardnett, a noted tutor who has helped many Philadelphia-area prospects over the years as they prepared for college and the pros.

Christmas left Temple as its fourth-leading all-time scorer with 2,043 points, and the record-holder in three-point baskets in a season with 107 and in a career with 319. But in workouts for NBA teams, he said he tried to show he could play defense.

"I've heard people say that I don't play defense, but I think I've gotten better in that aspect of my game," he said. "I think I am showing teams that I can play defense in the workouts. I tried to go in there with that mind-set."

While he wouldn't mind at all playing for his hometown 76ers - "I go to a lot of their games and I know they need a shooter," he said - Christmas is not entering the draft with any guarantees.

"There are a thousand guys who would want to be in my position right now, and I don't feel any pressure at all," said Christmas.


Contact staff writer Kevin Tatum at 215-854-2583 or ktatum@phillynews.com.