Garrett Temple was about 14 when he asked his father, Collis, why basketball was so important to his family. Collis Temple — the first African American to play varsity basketball at Louisiana State — didn’t really have a response, and his son didn’t need one, because the game had already consumed him.
“It’s always been in my blood,” said Temple, whose older brother, Collis III, also preceded him at LSU. Garrett played four seasons and left as the all-time leader in minutes. “I had no choice, but they never pressured me. This is the game I love.”
The fifth point guard to start for the Washington Wizards this season, Temple has needed a strong affinity for the game and even greater faith to endure the disappointment and rejection that has followed him since going undrafted in 2009.
Temple, 26, has been cut by Houston, Sacramento, San Antonio, Milwaukee. He moved on to Italy last season after Charlotte decided not to bring him back, got cut again by Miami in October and was forced to ply his trade again in the NBA Development League before getting another shot in Washington.
Home in Baton Rouge for a four-day break from the D-League’s Reno Bighorns, Temple received a call on Dec. 22 from Tommy Sheppard, the Wizards’ vice president of basketball administration. Temple said Sheppard told him that he hoped the Wizards weren’t ruining his Christmas but the team was going to need him for practice that evening.
“That’s the present I wanted,” Temple recalled telling Sheppard.
Highly recommended by assistant Don Newman, who worked with Temple for two seasons in San Antonio, the wiry, 6-foot-6 guard has found a spot on the injury-ravaged Wizards.
After signing last Tuesday, Temple not only played his first NBA game in two seasons the next night — announcing his return by driving around Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving and throwing down a thunderous dunk — but he was on the floor in the closing minutes of an 87-84 loss to the Cavaliers, with little knowledge of the offensive and defensive schemes.
Temple then helped the Wizards overcome a 17-point deficit against Orlando and snap their eight-game losing streak on Friday by making his first six shots and finishing with 13 points, six assists and six rebounds in a 105-97 win. He also helped slow down Magic guards Jameer Nelson, Arron Afflalo and J.J. Redick.
“I think I had him on three people at one time,” Coach Randy Wittman said. “A guy got hot, I had the tendency to say, ‘Go guard him.’ ”
His performance helped him earn his first start since he played for San Antonio in 2009-10 on Saturday in Chicago. Wittman played him a team-high 41 minutes during an 87-77 loss to the Bulls.
“I have a lot of confidence in him,” said Wittman, who raves about Temple’s versatility and defensive intensity. “He gives us the ability to defend multiple positions. Very high energy. Athletic. Long. Big size at that position.”
Temple certainly wasn’t expecting to start or play 41 minutes in his third game with the team, and after just one full practice, but Wittman has simplified the offense and calls only the plays Temple knows. Against Chicago, Temple spent some time off the ball as Shelvin Mack, who also signed last week after a stint in the D-League, ran an offense that he’s been familiar with after being with the Wizards all last season and through training camp.
“I’m in a little better situation than him trying to get acclimated, but it’s still kind of difficult,” Mack said. “I think we had one or two practices to get used to one another. I feel like [Temple] is doing a great job at it and I’m doing a great job at it, just trying to get things moving and going in the right direction.”
Temple is grateful for any opportunity after being the final player waived during training camp with the Heat. He went back to the D-League instead of seeking more lucrative opportunities in Europe “because I felt I was that close to getting back to the NBA,” and he learned during his stint in Italy that moves are easier within the states.
“It was most surprising of the cuts I’ve had, because I thought I did do what I needed to do to make the team,” Temple said of the Heat. “But everything happens for a reason. With Miami, I wouldn’t have been able to play. I would’ve been a bench guy. Maybe that happened so I could come here and get a chance to come out and get on the court.”
His nomadic lifestyle warrants patience and positivity, even the situation appears bleak to most outsiders. Temple believes that attitude will help him adjust to the Wizards, who are enduring their worst 28-game start in franchise history and still await the season debut of former No. 1 overall pick John Wall. They will also be without A.J. Price, who started 15 of the first 17 games at point guard, for possibly another two weeks as he recovers from a broken right hand.
Still trying to get comfortable in his new surroundings, Temple is already confident in his role for the team — and that he has no desire to keep testing his love for the game.
“Be a defensive presence, be a leader. Just come in and be a positive influence and try to play hard and get some wins,” he said. “I knew in my heart I was going to get another shot and when I got that shot, I was going to do whatever it took to stick. You always have to stay positive.”