Temple guard Shizz Alston Jr. attempts a shot against Wisconsin.
(Joseph V. Labolito/Temple University)
Two years ago, Temple wedged their way into the NCAA Tournament, drawing a tough Iowa team. The Owls were led by Quenton DeCosey, their clear number one scoring option, who had put up nearly 16 points per game during the regular season. Coming in as a 10 seed, Temple fell behind early, but roared back, cutting Iowa’s lead to three with less than a minute remaining. The game was on the line and everyone knew that the ball was going to DeCosey. So, with seconds left in regulation against Iowa, and Temple still down three, the Owls turned to DeCosey, who was fouled on a three-pointer. He knocked down all three foul shots. Bang. Bang. Bang. The senior sent the game to overtime.
Five years ago, Temple once again found their way into the NCAA Tournament. This time they would make it past the first round, facing number one seeded Indiana in the Round of 32. The Owls would lead for much of the game, battling Victor Oladipo and Indiana to the final buzzer. Temple wasn’t even supposed to have a shot against the top seeded Hoosiers, but the Owls were led by a clear cut fearless number one scoring option: Khalif Wyatt. Wyatt, even more than DeCosey, had carried his team, averaging 20 points per game on 14 shots per game. The Atlantic 10 Player of the Year was the heart and soul of one of the best Temple teams in recent history.
Even though both Temple squads would lose to the higher seeded teams of Iowa and Indiana, their successes were indicative of a larger trend that goes back years further. Whether it was Ramone Moore, Ryan Brooks, or even Dionte Christmas, Temple’s best teams in the Fran Dunphy era have all had a clear cut number one scoring option. When things went arie, the ball went back to the number one scoring option. When the clock was ticking down, the ball went back to the number one scoring option. There was always an outlet who could score better than anyone else on the court. Every single one of Dunphy’s NCAA tournament teams has had that player.
But does this year’s Temple team have that guy?
Coming into the season, the 2017-18 squad was touted as one of the most deep Temple teams in recent memory. They had steady point guard Josh Brown and sharpshooting guard Shizz Alston. Quinton Rose was the athletic, playmaking 3-man, while Obi Enechionyia could catch-and-shoot, block shots, and jump over everyone. Topped off with two ‘5’ men who could complement each other in Ernest Aflakpui and Damion Moore, along with dead eye shooting point guard Alani Moore and a talented freshmen class, this team looked like the program’s best in a long time. In past years, with their superstar power, Temple had made it to and played well during the NCAA tournament. Still, like as the Iowa and Indiana game show, they always fell short. While the teams’ thrived with a go-to scorer, they could have used more around that scorer. This year might have been that year.
They began the season proving the prediction correct. Dunphy’s squad knocked off the Power 5 teams of Auburn, Clemson, South Carolina, and Wisconsin. But they have also had a few tough spots. Two losses to La Salle (7-10) and George Washington (8-9), put a sour taste in the mouths of Temple faithful. That would all have been easily cured, however, with a win against Villanova at home. Instead, the Owls came out flat, got down early, and finished the game with a 20-point loss, allowing the Wildcats to shoot 60% from the field and 46% from 3.
Three days later they would barely sneak by Drexel, before being handled once again, losing by nearly 20 points to a highly regarded Georgia team. It wasn’t much longer before they would allow 85 points to Tulane and blow a halftime lead against Houston, giving them back-to-back-to-back losses. At that point it became clearer than ever. The Owls were missing a legitimate number one scoring option, someone to take over the game when things went south.
Instead, they have been going with a number one scoring option by committee. Sometimes that means it’s Rose’s turn. Other times it means that it is Alston’s turn. Sometimes it’s even Enechionyia’s or Brown’s turn. It has left the team without an offensive identity and that stems from a lack of identity at the top of the helm.
The team has specifically struggled with organization, especially on the offensive end. When things start to falter it feels like everyone tries to play hero ball. They fail to get good shots and despite the return of Josh Brown, who was supposed to add more “calmness” to the offense, they have had trouble getting into the flow on the offense end at times. Defense is a whole other issue, but if they can’t keep up offensively, which stems from a go-to scorer, Temple will find themselves watching the NCAA Tournament from home once again.
Their go-to scorer will have to come from Shizz Alston Jr or Quinton Rose. Alston is the more polished scorer, with his ability to play out of the pick-and-roll and hit tough jumpshots. He is methodical like a lot of Temple’s most recent go-to scorers, feeling out his defenders and always playing at his own speed. Rose is the better playmaker. At 6-foot-8, with point guard quickness, Rose can cut through the defense, while finish against the trees. Both can settle for bad shots sometimes, but they both present the ability to score in bunches, efficiently, and consistently. Neither have taken the charge, however, and when Temple has struggled, they both have been unable to weather the storm together.
Temple has specifically had trouble scoring early in the game. As a result, they’ve had to claw back into the game from being down early on. They’ve had trouble doing that however, in large part due to their offensive struggles. When they’ve fallen behind, they haven’t been able to recover. In six of Temple’s nine losses, they were trailing at halftime. In all eight of their wins, they were ahead at halftime.
During the times when they fall behind at halftime, Temple has looked disorganized on offense, often settling for quick, erratic shots. In the past, Temple has been able to turn to players like Wyatt or DeCosey to settle the offense. They wouldn’t always be the ones to take the best shots, but there was a sense of security when they had the ball and the game did not feel out of reach. Temple, like mentioned before, has a few players who could serve that role this year. The deciding factor will be making sure that one of them is given the keys. That could be determined by head coach Fran Dunphy himself or that could decision could be a direct product of one of the players distinguishing themselves. That would make the team’s offensive roles more defined, providing more structure to the Temple offense.
In one of their most recent games against number 19 ranked Cincinnati, the Owls defied all expectations and led for most of the game. While they were sparked by their stout defense, they were efficient offensively, owning the tempo of the game. While Cincinnati wanted to get out and run, Temple kept the game slow. After watching the first half it was hard not to wonder that maybe Temple didn’t need a go-to scorer. But when the game was on the line late, the team struggled once again. They sped up, failed to get good shots, and couldn’t find the bottom of the basket as Cincinnati clamped down on the defensive end. In the final five minutes, they would score just three points with zero converted field goals to Cincinnati's 12 points. The game was a pure representation and just reinforced the point that they could not win without a go-to scorer.
At the same time, many of the country’s best teams play without a go-to scorer, instead having multiple options to put the ball in the basket when necessary. The bottom line is that the Temple offense does not have an identity right now. They have trouble getting into the flow of the game, especially early on, where they have really struggled. Having someone to dictate the tempo and command the team will go a long way in weathering the storms when this Temple team gets behind.
Temple recruiting class of 2018 commit Arashma Parks poses for a photo inside the Owls' locker room.
(Temple University Athletics)
Arashma Parks comes from a basketball family. His mother, Teresita Jones-Thomas, received a full basketball scholarship to Youngstown St. University. His older brother Omari Spellman, a star freshman at Villanova University, was ranked as the 18th best player in the country by ESPN. Taiyier Parks, his younger sister, has a load of offers and was given a 90 overall grade by ESPN's rankings of the women's basketball class of 2019.
But Parks didn’t play basketball growing up -- he was a football player.
“His dad played football,” his mom, Jones-Thomas, said. “After talking to him, and I didn't know this until talking to him about a year or so ago, he always wanted to play football because he wanted his relationship with his father who played football both in high school and college. He wanted to be in the area of football to have a bonding experience with him.”
As a result, throughout elementary school and middle school, Parks played football. While his brother and sister played basketball, that was never in his plans. He would still follow his family around to basketball events even though he wouldn’t play. His mother remembers one particular time when, at his sister's AAU tournament, a basketball coach came up to Parks, questioning why he was on the sidelines. The AAU coach wondered, at Parks’ size (he is now listed at 6-foot-9, 245 pounds), why didn’t he play basketball?
That got Parks thinking. So much so that when high school came along, he dropped football altogether. Basketball now called Parks’ name. It was in his family's blood and football's time had passed.
“It just happened naturally,” Parks remembered. “I knew that once I stopped having fun with football, it was my time. I moved on to a different sport. It was so big that I had to sit down with my family and talk it over it with them to make sure I wanted to do basketball.”
Three years later, Arashma Parks is a Division 1 basketball commit. It's not often that a player who only started playing basketball seriously his freshman year of high school is able to earn a scholarship from the fifth winningest program in NCAA history.
Parks was in good hands, however, as his relationship with his brother helped to crystallize his new interest. From a young age, they would go to the park around their house in the Cleveland area of Ohio and shoot baskets, running off the kids who couldn't keep up with the brothers’ athletic abilities. Their relationship also surpassed basketball. Jones-Thomas described them as best friends.
“They look to each other a lot even though Omari is the older brother,” she said.
When Parks fully committed to basketball, he started in Spellman's AAU program, the PSA Cardinals. Past PSA Cardinal teams (formerly known as Team Scan) had featured players like Kentucky freshman Quade Green, Brooklyn Net Chris McCullough, and New Orleans Pelican Cheick Diallo. Now Parks, who had never really played basketball, would be joining a long list of former, present, and future NBA players.
“Before I could score or rebound, I tried to run the floor,” Parks said of when he first joined the PSA Cardinals. “They knew I was a hard worker, so I just stuck with it.”
If Parks was really going to commit to playing basketball at the collegiate level, the family decided that prep school would be the best option. Moving far away from his home in Ohio, Parks had two choices, The MacDuffie School, where Spellman was headed, or Springfield Commonwealth Academy, which had been founded in 2011. Commonwealth had ironically been built over the land of MacDuffie's former campus (it had been destroyed by a tornado, forcing them to relocate) and was intended to serve the “less affluent.” While most prep schools are majority white, Commonwealth was also built to be intentionally diverse, with 61% students of color. The new school was enticing and different.
This time, Parks didn’t follow Spellman to MacDuffie. He would go on his own path, enrolling at the little known Commonwealth Academy to play under the successful high school basketball coach, Tony Bergeron. Bergeron had previously coached at New York City public school, Wings Academy, steering them to a Top 25 USA Today appearance, and American Christian Academy, where Tyreke Evans had flourished under his direction.
When Parks joined Commonwealth, he was the spark plug of something new. Along with the likes of Hasahn French, who is now at Saint Louis University, and Shyheim Hicks, now at LIU Brooklyn, the prep school defied expectations. Despite being only a few years old, in 2016, they would finish 23-5. In 2017, they were granted the opportunity to play in the National Prep Championship, where they were selected as one of the Top 5 teams in the country, giving themselves a first round bye.
All the while, Parks had only been playing basketball for a few years. Even though he was still learning, he was asked to compete on one of the top prep teams and AAU programs in the country. From the jump, Parks would have to fight for every minute against players who had played the sport for their entire life. As a result, he was largely a role player, playing “two minutes here, three minutes there,” he said.
Still however, there was clear potential in the minutes that he did receive.
“6-foot-9, 240-pound wide body, big shoulders, rebounding big guy,” said Brian Shanahan, his new coach at The Phelps School, where Parks transferred to his senior season. “He's a true post player. So for me that's what's intriguing about him. His potential is outstanding. He moves well, he's strong, but he still hasn’t played a ton of basketball so he's still developing.”
He caught the eyes of the Temple coaching staff when they saw him play during his junior season at Commonwealth. In addition to his reported 7-foot-1 wingspan, they noticed the future in the young man's game.
“They saw me at school,” Parks remembered. “The assistant coach, coach [Chris] Clark, he has been hitting me up ever since. He came to the majority of my games during the school year and summer. We have just been talking on a daily basis. He has been a big part of why I committed to Temple.”
While Parks had interest and offers from George Washington, Pittsburgh, Florida, Butler, Massachusetts, and St. Louis, it was Temple who stayed on Parks. They seemed truly interested in having Parks as a part of the program.
“Consistency,” Parks said of what stuck out about Temple's recruitment. “They wouldn’t just talk with me for one day, and then not for the rest of the week. They talked to me everyday. They made sure I was okay and they made sure that if I had a game, they would be there. They really just seemed interested.”
Jones-Thomas saw the same interest from the program. But she was also intrigued by the coaching staff and what they instilled in their players.
“I liked that Temple had a variety of things on their staff,” she said. “They had coach Dunphy, who was like the monarch, the leader. And he personified himself as the leader. He built great confidence when I was around him. Coach Chris was very family oriented... And then I looked at the players they had, they always said hello. They shook our hands when we came on the visit. So all of those things cultivated in my mind that said he's teaching them that it's more than basketball.”
After coach Dunphy saw Parks play, Temple pulled the trigger, offering a scholarship to the young man from Ohio. While he took some time to think about the deal, it didn’t take long for him to make his decision. He knew where he wanted to be.
So he picked up the phone and called his brother Omari.
“When it came for him to make the decision to go to Temple, he called Omari first, before he even told me,” his mom, Jones-Thomas, remembered. “That's a testament to their relationship.”
Prior to Parks even committing to Temple's recruiting class of 2018, he had decided that he wouldn’t be attending his senior year at Commonwealth. Instead, he would be going to The Phelps School in Malvern, Pennsylvania, where he would play under Shanahan, who had also coincidentally walked on at Temple about a decade ago.
When Parks made the transition to The Phelps School, he knew his role was going to have to change. He was no longer going to be the role player that had been asked of him during his time playing for the PSA Cardinals and Commonwealth. As one of few, if not the only one, with a Division 1 offer, at Phelps, Parks would be relied on to score and defend the opposing team's top big man.
“For us, this will be new for Arashma,” Shanahan said. “Arashma has played on some high level teams and been a little bit of a role player for them at times. He's played with some outstanding players. Now, I’m going to ask him to be a starter, play a bulk of minutes, and be a key piece to our success here at The Phelps School.”
Since his commitment and his enrollment at Phelps, Parks has grown both emotionally and physically.
“He's taking more of a leadership role and he's more confident in his talk because before, we used to have to pull it out of him,” Jones-Thomas added. “Now when we talk, he's leading the conversation and he's passionate about how he's going to get better. I think he's taking a weight lifting class this semester at The Phelps School just to work on his body, his core. And that's truly after he went on a visit and saw the collegiate guys at Temple and he's like ‘Ma, they’re big’...When he saw the guys at Temple, he's like, ‘oh, yeah, I need to get in the gym.’ It’s not as far as making layups. It’s the physicality of it all.”
After living in Massachusetts the past three years, Parks’ move to Phelps puts him closer to his brother at Villanova and family in North Royalton, Ohio. While he has always wanted to write his own path, the new proximity to his family cannot be ignored. His mother no longer has to choose between which state she'll go to to visit her kids. For the next few years, they’ll be nearby once again.
“Even his decision to go to a prep school in Philadelphia, he wanted to be closer to his brother.” Jones-Thomas said. “He wants to be his own person and not live in the shadow of Omari, but still live close enough that there's a level of comfort like ‘hey my brother can get to me and help me if I need it because my mom is six hours away.’ So he chose to move closer to Omari and finish up his high school career.”
Now, after Parks’ commitment to Temple, the brothers will be squaring off every year, and maybe even sticking each other, in one of college basketball's greatest rivalries. It's crazy to think that they’ll be going at it at the Division 1 level, just a couple years after Arashma Parks started to play basketball.