Sophomore Nate Pierre-Louis was far from an instant success when he began his college basketball career at Temple last season.

His first four games: Did not play – coach’s decision.

“It was a humbling experience,” Pierre-Louis said recently.

The 6-foot-4 product of New Jersey power Roselle Catholic had a lot of thoughts going through his head at that time, but none of them involved transferring.

“A lot of freshmen who are not playing think of quitting or transferring, but I am not built like that,” he said. “My family told me to buckle down and work.”

Eventually that work paid off. By the 12th game of the season, he was in the regular rotation. Pierre-Louis ended up making the American Athletic Conference all-rookie team. He averaged 7.5 points in 16.9 minutes.

As much as he showed, especially toward the end of the season, nobody could have predicted what Pierre-Louis has accomplished just past the midway point of this season.

He is playing twice as many minutes, 34.9 per game for the 14-4 Owls, who are 4-1 in the American Athletic Conference entering Thursday’s key league home game against Memphis (12-6, 4-1). He is averaging 14.1 points and 1.9 steals, but the improvement is in his shooting percentage. A 57.6 percent foul shooter last season, Pierre-Louis is shooting 70 percent from the line. He is shooting 34 percent from three-point range, up slightly from last season (33.3).

“He has made a big step,” an NBA scout said. “He is getting more playing time, and he is taking advantage of the opportunity.”

The biggest improvement has come with his ability to get to the basket.

“He has the ability to get to the rim, and he is finishing plays,” Temple coach Fran Dunphy said. “He is also working on and improving his mid-range game.”

Nate Pierre-Louis slices past Drexel's Trevor John (left) on his way to the basket.
CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer
Nate Pierre-Louis slices past Drexel's Trevor John (left) on his way to the basket.

Yet his biggest contribution comes at the defensive end. If not for the presence of 7-foot-6 shot-blocker Tacko Fall of Central Florida, Pierre-Louis would be a leading candidate for AAC defensive player of the year. He is relentless with the way he pressures the ball.

“He has the potential to be an elite defender,” the scout said.

One reason is that Pierre-Louis plays with an all-out fury.

“If you take his heart and put it in the body of 85 percent of other guys who are better prospects, you would really have quite a player,” another NBA scout said. “There is a lack of shooting polish, but intensity and work ethic that he shows can take you places.”

While he isn’t a pure shooter, Pierre-Louis has improved his shot and is becoming more comfortable from the perimeter.

“When I came to Temple, I was shooting with two hands and had a weird, awkward shot,” Pierre-Louis said. “This summer, I worked on the shot and I continue to try to perfect it, make it more like a jump shot.”

What is amazing is how Pierre-Louis never seems to show signs of fatigue, despite playing heavy minutes at a frenetic pace.

“I am human, but I feel I don’t get tired for the most part,” Pierre-Louis said. “I try to focus on my conditioning, and on off-days, I will go on a bike and work on my conditioning.”

It’s hard to label Pierre-Louis by position. Shizz Alston is the Owls' point guard, but Pierre-Louis often has ball-handling duties.

“He is a combo guard,” the second scout said.

The scout calls Pierre-Louis a developmental player at this point.

“If he stays in school and polishes his game, you can see him continue to grow,” the scout said.

Pierre-Louis said any thoughts about playing at the next level are on hold at this point.

“I don’t think about that right now, but, to be honest with you, it has been talked about,” he said. “I have been hearing things, but I am focused on just getting to the [NCAA] tournament and winning.”

Temple last got to the NCAA tournament in 2016. The Owls still have plenty of work to do, with their final 13 games against AAC teams.

Pierre-Louis has been especially strong in conference games. He is averaging 19.6 points in the five AAC games, and is shooting 7-for-14 from three-point range and 29-for-39 (74.4 percent) from the foul line.

“He is just a high-energy kid,” Dunphy said. “Every single game, you can see the improvement, and he is a guy we rely on greatly at both ends of the court.”