Temple's prize for winning its opening-round game in the NCAA tournament each of the last two years has been the right to play the No. 1-seeded team in the field.
Last year, after upsetting St. John's, the Owls got North Carolina. This time, after eliminating Virginia Tech, Temple gets Georgetown, in a second-round game of the Eastern Regional that begins at noon (WDVM-TV-9) Saturday in the Hartford Civic Center.
The Atlantic 10 Conference's record is 0-12 against teams from the Big East this season. It would be a major upset if Temple, the Atlantic 10 champion, were to break that streak against top-ranked Georgetown.
That Temple still is playing at this stage of the season and has a 25-5 record is surprising to some, considering that the team lost six seniors, including three starters, from last year's squad.
As Coach John Chaney said, "We've managed to win somehow. Just how, I haven't managed to assess yet."
Chaney is the primary reason. His peers say he is one of the most fundamentally sound coaches in the nation. Temple has the lowest shooting percentage (44) of any team in the tournament. But the Owls rarely make more than 10 turnovers a game.
A teacher by trade, Chaney keeps it simple. "I learned my basketball in the schoolyard," he said this week. "This is a very simple game. You'll notice I will never have eight or nine coaches on my bench. Even with all the sophistication that's come into it, this is still a schoolyard game. I never try to make a mystery out of it."
Chaney's story is both refreshing and sad. He is 53 years old, and for the longest time it appeared he would never get a chance to coach at the Division I level.
He was public league player of the year 34 years ago in Philadelphia, but did not go on to the school he desperately wanted to attend -- Temple.
There were only "one or two" black basketball players in Philadelphia's Big Five schools in 1951, by Chaney's count. " . . . No scholarship was offered to me," he said. "I don't know why and I wouldn't want to speculate as to why."
Instead, he went to predominantly black Bethune-Cookman in Daytona Beach, Fla., played 10 years in an Eastern professional league and wound up rebuilding every high school program he touched.
Then, for 10 years he made Cheyney State (now University) one of the nation's most successful Division II teams, winning a national title in 1978 and making the Final Four in 1979.
A fanaticism for teaching and being with his students and players seems to drive Chaney. During the championship year, he stayed with the players on campus during a Christmas tournament and cooked all their meals in the gymnasium because there wasn't enough money to keep the dormitories open.
When a flu epidemic swept the campus, Chaney put the players in a hotel before they could be quarantined. When cooks refused to return to campus because of the illness, Chaney went back to cooking.
"I was happy at Cheyney State," Chaney said. "I gained a wealth of knowledge and stability at that level, to work from the earth up. I would hope something would strike me dead if I ever forget where I came from."
Chaney says he never would have left for Temple, but after he received the State of Pennsylvania Distinguished Faculty Award in 1979, Cheyney State balked at upgrading him from assistant professor (where he had tenure in the health, physical education and recreation department) to full professor.
"I was just looking to be recognized as a professor in my field," he said. "I would have stayed, no question."
Instead, Chaney applied for the job at Temple, and sought the advice of the three coaches he respects most in the business: Clarence (Big House) Gaines of Winston-Salem State, Tom Young of Rutgers and John Thompson of Georgetown. At 50 years old, he would start a career in Division I.
"I was concerned with the fact that at age 50, I was leaving a situation where I'm settled, stable, comfortable, my own boss," Chaney recalled. "You ask yourself, 'Why? Why go through this madhouse of Division I . . . when you've already recognized in your own world as someone who's done a fine job?' "
In only his third season, Chaney has established himself as stable and comfortable in Division I.
Constantly, he is asked if he is bitter about having to wait so long to get a shot at the big time.
"Athletics has a way -- for those in this business who have a little bit of class -- of making you rise above some things like that," Chaney answered. "If you dwell in that kind of house, it will consume you."
Right now, Chaney is consumed with Georgetown. Temple has a stellar player in 6-foot-8 Granger Hall (18 points per game), and Chaney plays three guards, which could help the Owls handle the Hoyas' pressure defense.
Chaney says Georgetown is the "best taught/coached team in the country."
He has talked this week of his affection and respect for Thompson, and further demonstrated that by bringing him two gifts today to a press conference.
One gift was an apple, "for John, the teacher," Chaney said. The other, a brass-plated luggage tag, was for the possibility that Temple might win, and Thompson could properly be shipped out of town.
"John Chaney is a competitor," Thompson said, examining his gifts. "This is indicative of that. I'll take the name tag. But you all know how paranoid I am; I don't know what he put in that apple."