THE TEMPLE OWLS opened up the last few minutes of practice to the media yesterday. A lot of places, when they do that, you don't see the coaches doing a lot of coaching. It is mostly a photo opportunity, a chance to get pictures and video of people doing basketball things, quick and quiet and sanitized.
This was different, though. This was some real practice. Coach Fran Dunphy was happy about some things and unhappy about some other things and seemingly eager to point out both extremes, loudly.
At one point, he criticized a couple of members of the team playing defense during one sequence because they were playing so well. You read that correctly. Dunphy's point: they should be embarrassed that it took the presence of Scootie Randall on their side to bring out the best in them, that it should have been there all through the nearly 4 weeks when Randall sat out with a stress fracture in his right foot.
When practice was over, Dunphy said, "The team that Scootie went on was much, much better, just because of his presence - because he's loud and aggressive and he lets everybody know that he's back there for them. That's a large part of what defense is, the communication piece, and Scootie's our best communicator. So that's what he injects into our team."
Now he is one step closer to rejoining the Owls. Yesterday's was only a half-court practice and, by all accounts, Randall did fine. Today, the Owls will practice full-court, either in Philadelphia or in Tucson, the site of their Thursday NCAA Tournament matchup against Penn State. After that, Dunphy says he will decide if and how much Randall might be able to play.
For his part, Randall flat-out says he is ready to go. And whatever he might lack in stamina, he has a chance to make up for in bursts of energy. It is March, and every team in the field is tired, and everyone is looking for a lift, and maybe, just maybe, the 6-6 junior swingman from Communications Tech can provide that for a Temple team that has lost in the first round of the tournament the last 3 years.
"Hopefully, we'll be able to say that before we lose, or whenever our season ends," guard Juan Fernandez said. "It's definitely great having him back. You guys saw him at the end of practice today. He brings something, especially on defense, that we're really missing right now. Hopefully he'll be there for us Thursday."
Randall is wearing a pad on the outside of his right sneaker, but he makes it sound as if it is an unnecessary precaution. He says he feels fine, that the foot doesn't bother him. During his layoff, he has been doing some cardio work on an elliptical machine, and after yesterday's practice, he was going for a stationary bike ride before joining his teammates for a quick weightlifting session.
"I'm more definitive than coach," Randall said. "I'm battling with coach to get out there and play. But I think I did a great job today. I think I did a great job on the court and off the court, when I didn't do certain up-and-down drills . . . But me and coach are coming together and I think he's going to let me play."
There are no good times for a college basketball player to get injured for the first time, but Feb. 17 is among the worst - especially for a team that already had lost a significant inside presence, Micheal Eric, for the season with a knee injury.
The uncertainty about the end of the season, and the Atlantic 10 Tournament, and the NCAA reward, can tear at a kid. Randall said he fought it and tried to be the best cheerleader he could. He also said he tried to tell guys things that the coaches were saying, hoping they would listen to him because, as he admitted, "When I was playing, sometimes I didn't listen to the coaches."
Now, he says he feels as if his role is still there, ready to be resumed.
"Basically, to be the leader, the motivation guy," he said. "We've got Lavoy [Allen] and Mike [Eric], who are the leaders, but coach told me that, 'People pay attention to the things you do, so you've got to establish yourself as a leader, on and off the court.' So I think that's my role. I think I'm being positive and taking that role on."
It is more than that, though. It is defense and it is a significant three-point threat. That is what Randall brought this season, before the injury. He was on a nice roll when he hurt the foot, and maybe it would be unrealistic to expect him to resume it immediately. As he said, before heading for the nearest bike, "My stamina is not where it should be."
Still, he seems ready to give the Owls whatever he has.
"I think my knowledge of the game will help me out a lot," Randall said. "And I think my teammates will push me and put me in the right position . . .
"I think those guys respect me a lot. I've just got to keep pushing those guys and doing whatever my role is, and they'll follow behind."
Against Penn State, in a game that has meat grinder written all over it, you never know what might make the difference.
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