PHILADELPHIA -- John Chaney, the coach who has transformed Temple University from a member of the Big Five to a member of college basketball's elite, is a man who believes in discipline. To put it mildly. There are many stories here on the city's north side that illustrate his penchant for cracking down on those who do not do as they are supposed to do.

His early morning practices are legendary; players go to bed hearing that foghorn voice ringing in their ears and wake up at 6 a.m. hearing it all over again. His disdain for those who do not take care of the basketball is such that Owls forward Mike Vreeswyk claims that Chaney will not even speak Isiah Thomas' name since the gifted Detroit guard threw The Pass that Larry Bird intercepted last May.

To understand what Chaney has done in taking Temple to the No. 1 ranking in both wire service polls for the first time in school history, one has to know just how seriously his penchant for discipline is taken by everyone at Temple. That's everyone, starting with the man who hired him six years ago, Temple President Peter Liacouras.

"Last year, we were on the bus riding from the hotel to the arena at West Virginia," Liacrouras remembered, "and the bus caught on fire."

Chaney has a strict rule against talking on his bus en route to games. The players are supposed to be concentrating on the task that lies ahead of them and anyone else riding the bus, president or passerby, also adheres to the Chaney edict of silence. "The bus is on fire," Liacouras said, "and John is up front and doesn't notice. The players are coughing, I'm coughing, but no one would dare say a word. If John hadn't noticed the smoke finally, {point guard} Howard Evans might have choked to death because no one was about to open their mouths."

Chaney laughs with delight when he talks about the incident. "Now that," he said gleefully, "was concentration."

And discipline.

To people here, Chaney's story is now a familiar one. He was the Public League player of the year here in 1952 and went on to become something of an NAIA legend during his college career at Bethune-Cookman and still tells stories of those days barnstorming through the south playing teams with players old enough to be his father, then getting on the bus to ride six hours to another game.

Chaney was 50 before he got a chance to coach Division I. He had built a Division II power during 10 years at Cheyney State, winning 225, losing 59 and winning a national championship in 1978. Liacouras had been Temple's president only six weeks when, to the surprise of most people, he named Chaney to replace Don Casey as the basketball coach. Chaney promptly went 14-15 his first year, the first -- and last -- time one of his teams finished with a losing record.

The next year, Nate Blackwell arrived as a freshman guard and the rebuilding process began. Like Chaney, Blackwell was a city kid, a Public League player of the year. One year later, Howard Evans won that award and also decided to go to Temple. One by one Chaney put the pieces together and the victories began to pile up: 25, 26, 25 and then 32 last year. Blackwell has graduated but in his place in the lineup is freshman Mark Macon, as gifted a freshman guard as you are likely to find in this or any other year. The Owls are 19-1 and, in this season when everyone is beatable, losses by the top four teams last week landed them suddenly and stunningly at No. 1.

"I realize this is a great thing for the school," Chaney said after Temple had made its debut as No. 1 a dazzling one with a near-perfect 98-86 victory over Villanova on a night when the Wildcats would have beaten almost anyone else. "But the last couple of days I've been hiding out. I can't get any work done because the phone won't stop ringing. I can't go home because all my neighbors want to congratulate me. It's been impossible."

He grinned, loving every minute. "We won tonight, so maybe we'll get to stay No. 1 for one more day."

Actually, the Owls may retain their ranking for a while. One major roadblock remains on the schedule -- next Sunday's game at North Carolina -- but beyond that Temple should not lose before the end of the regular season. Which brings up a sore point with Chaney and his team. "People don't want to give us respect," Evans said, "because they say we play a bunch of hash house teams."

Better known as the Atlantic 10. Although Rhode Island and West Virginia have glossy records, those records have been built largely by beating up on other league teams such as Rutgers, Massachusetts, St. Bonaventure, Duquesne and George Washington. Temple cannot be blamed for the imbalance of its league; but the time to silence critics is March. The Owls have yet to do that.

March has been a difficult month for Chaney. For four straight seasons the Owls have lost in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. The first three losses were understandable: top-ranked North Carolina; top-ranked Georgetown; second-ranked Kansas. But last year's 72-62 loss to Louisiana State, a team with 14 losses, was both frustrating and baffling. No one at Temple wants a repeat.

At least partly because of that, Chaney cut his team off from the media as soon as it became apparent this week that the Owls were going to ascend to the No. 1 spot. He felt they had become a little bit of the media darlings last season and didn't want a repeat. After Wednesday's victory, he lifted "the gag order," as he put it, for everyone but the freshmen. At Temple, "the freshmen" means Macon.

"I have a responsibility to Mark," Chaney said. "He is an immensely talented player but I don't want someone coming in and dragging him off in left field somewhere."

Actually, Macon may be better equipped to handle the ballyhoo than most seniors. He is a remarkably poised player, mature beyond his years in every way except for his baby face. "He uses screens like a pro," Villanova Coach Rollie Massimino said after Macon had buried his team with 31 points. "I can't ever remember seeing a freshman have a game like that. He's good but I didn't think he was that good. But then, I didn't think anyone was that good."

Chaney has pieced this team together carefully. When Blackwell graduated, he called Evans in and told him after three years as a shooting guard he would have to become a point guard. "I didn't give him any choice," Chaney said. "I figured it was him or Mark and since Howie's heard me scream for three years, he could handle it better."

Everything with Temple starts with the point guard, so Evans' transformation was important. "He had to learn not to act like a bumper car," Chaney said. That is a Chaneyism, one of dozens the coach uses. A bumper car is a player who gets so shot-hungry that he starts bouncing off walls to try to get a shot off. The former bumper car has responded by averaging 8.7 assists a game. Wednesday, he had 20 -- two shy of the NCAA record -- and one turnover.

"You had a turnover?" Chaney said to Evans in mock horror. "That's ridiculous, Howie. What the hell is wrong with you?"

Chaney regards the turnover as something approaching sacrilege. Temple had six in a run-and-gun game Wednesday and averages less than nine a game. In this day and age that is nothing short of amazing.

The guards run the game under Chaney's baton. Vreeswyk is the third outside shooter and shot-blocker Tim Perry and wide-body Ramon Rivas supply the power inside. The question mark is the bench, young and thin.

But that is a month away. Chaney knows that is when his most serious work will come. But for the moment, the school on the north side is in the midst of a celebration. After the victory Wednesday, the PA boomed a tape of the song "Celebrate," and students and alumni lingered long into the night to sing it again and again. McGonigle Hall has become THE place to be on North Broad Street so much so that Liacouras' dream of a 12,000-seat arena (McGonigle seats 4,500) might come true.

But, although everyone around them basks in all this, the coach and the players change nothing. Practice is still at 6 a.m.; the foghorn voice booms when someone makes a mistake and no one talks on the bus, fire or no fire.

"Coach Chaney is never done," Evans said. "He never relaxes. You do one thing, there's always something else to do. Now that he's seen that we can be No. 1, he's going to want it again and again."

Evans paused and smiled. "What's really going to be bad is next year. I really feel sorry for those guys. After this, Coach is going to want it all."

Right now, for Chaney and Temple, it isn't that far away.