Josh Brown (above) returns as a fifth-year senior for Temple after an Achilles injury in 2016. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)
Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
(Ed. Note: This article is part of our 2017-18 season coverage, which will run for the six weeks preceding the first official games of the year on Nov. 10. To access all of our high school and college preview content for this season, click here.)
Josh Brown is entering an entirely different point guard situation as a senior than he thought he would.
Last year, the 6-foot-3 St. Anthony (N.J.) product would have been the clear starter on the ball for the Temple Owls, helped out somewhat by sophomore guard Shizz Alston Jr. and perhaps a bit from freshmen Quinton Rose and Alani Moore II. Brown proved he didn’t need much help in that regard as a junior, averaging 8.3 ppg, 4.9 apg and 4.8 rpg while leading the American Athletic Conference and finishing 10th in the country in assist-to-turnover ratio (3.5:1), playing 36.2 minutes per game.
Instead, Brown suffered an offseason Achilles injury which required surgery, shifting the Owls’ plans considerably. With their captain sidelined indefinitely, Alston spent the entire offseason working as the starting point guard, following up on a freshman year where he played about 10 minutes in 31 contests, averaging 2.0 ppg and 0.6 apg.
Though Brown attempted to return to the court just a shade over six months returned from surgery, playing in five games, he ultimately elected to shut it down and take a redshirt.
Alston handled the role transition well, averaging 13.9 ppg, 4.1 apg and 3.6 rpg while playing more than 36 minutes per game as well. Like Brown, he took great care of the ball, with an assist-to-turnover ratio (2.7:1) that was second-best in the AAC. He was named the Big 5’s Most Improved Player, and was given a spot on its First Team for his efforts.
Rose (9.7 ppg) and Moore (6.5 ppg) both played significant roles as well.
Now Brown is back, (almost) entirely healed from the Achilles injury.
“I’d say he’s 91.7 percent [healthy],” Temple coach Fran Dunphy deadpanned at Temple practice last week when asked about Brown’s readiness. “About that. I think he’s close...I’ll take him at 51.8 [percent], to be honest with you. Just to have him on the court is great, his leadership means that much.”
With his return, there’s a bit of a crowd in the Temple backcourt.
In addition to Alston, who’s entrenched himself as a major piece for the Owls over his upperclassman seasons, Rose and Moore both played around 25 minutes per game as freshmen and are expected to make their own progressions as sophomores. Freshman Nate Pierre-Louis, a 6-4 combo guard, will vie for minutes as well.
But there’s no doubt that it’ll be Brown who will be the team’s primary ball-handler when he’s on the floor, and he'll be on the floor a lot. The others will make the necessary adjustments.
“It’s interesting...Shizz has to change his game a little bit, he’s so used to having the ball last year, that he’s going to play off the ball a lot more now,” Dunphy said. “I think he will, as (will) several others that we have.
“Obviously there will be times where Josh will not be in the game, so their roles won’t change dramatically [from last year] when he’s not in there, but they’ll change dramatically when he has it and when he’s in the game with them,” Dunphy continued. “All they have to do is understand that the ball’s going to be there at the proper moment.”
Shizz Alston Jr. (above) won all-Big 5 Most Improved Player honors after his sophomore season. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
All of them do have experience playing the ‘2’ guard. Alston did it his entire freshman season, as well as on the AAU circuit when he played with St. Joe’s point guard Lamarr Kimble and others for Team Final.
Both Rose and Moore, who played point guard in high school, spent their freshman years alongside Alston. Daniel Dingle, who exhausted his eligibility last season, also played something of a point-forward on the wing to take some ball-handling responsibilities.
As a freshman, Alston struggled with his shooting, hitting only 27 percent of his 48 3-point attempts. As a sophomore, with a much heavier workload, that shot up to a respectable 34.5 percent.
“Going from his freshman year to sophomore year, he was thrown into the fire, and I thought he did a pretty good job,” Brown said. “Now, with all that experience he had on the court, I think he’s ready to take that next step, being a consistent scorer, being a consistent guy on defense, being a consistent guy that we can lean on.”
Neither seem to be worried about their ability to co-exist on the floor. Whether they can thrive will be a major storyline in whether or not a Temple program coming off a 16-16 season can win the extra six or seven games necessary to get back into the NCAA Tournament discussion.
“It’s not really going to change too much,” Alston said. “We practiced together a lot last year and my freshman year, so it’s not going to change much. It just gives us another ball-handler, making it easier for me.”
Brown said the two are constantly in communication about hoops.
“I might see something on YouTube, for example, [a] Tony Allen clip that I saw,” he said. “And I would say, ‘we get two of these steals a game and that helps our team.’ We talk. It’s an ongoing conversation like everyday.”