Owen McCue (@Owen_McCue)
After taking over the Temple women’s program on April 5 last offseason, Owls first-year coach Diane Richardson has now been on the job for more than a year.
Temple had a tough go of it with a third straight losing campaign, finishing with an 11-18 record overall and 6-10 mark in the AAC, which was the program’s worst finish in the conference since 2017-18.
Richardson revamped her roster with seven newcomers but her squad took hits before the season began with projected impact transfers Kendall Currence and Rayne Tucker going down before the season began and the hits kept coming when two players were suspended and later dismissed and two others left the program, leaving eight healthy Owls at Richardson’s disposal by the end of the season.
Along with several new additions to the roster, she should have a strong core to work with in Year Two as second team All-AAC guard Aleah Nelson (14.4 ppg, 4.4 apg), emerging sophomore guard Tiarra East (12.0 ppg, 5.9 rpg), junior guard Tarriyonna Gary (9.7 ppg, 4.0 rpg) and sophomore forward Ines Piper (3.9 ppg, 4.5 rpg) are set to be back along with a healthy Currence and Tucker.
We talked to Richardson late last month as part of our series of City 6 Q+As; here’s a transcript of our conversation, edited for readability and length:
Temple women's basketball coach Diane Richardson stands on the sidelines during a game this season. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
City of Basketball Love: You weren't even hired at this point last year -- to have this full offseason, you've got your feet wet, so what’s this period like? Or what’s this offseason going to be like for you?
Diane Richardson: Well, it's been pretty busy, to be honest with you because I want to build on and be much better than we were last year. So me and the staff we've been out recruiting and meeting and trying to get this upcoming year solid.
CoBL: What was the biggest thing you learned from the jump up to the AAC level at Temple last year?
DR: Well, it was probably is more of just getting my team together and getting everybody together and playing together was more so than the competitive level because I expected that. We went through the season, we were low in numbers. By the time we got to conference, we were low in numbers, but we battled in every single game. We weren't blown out with the exception of the East Carolina game, and the Ole Miss game. I think we did pretty well. Just couldn't pull it off in the end with only eight players.
CoBL: I was looking back at your, your time at Towson, it looked like Year Two was kind of a big breakout year for you guys, you went to the NCAA tournament. Do you think something similar could happen within that timeline at Temple? Or what is the key for that to happen?
DR: That's what we're planning. Having a year under us, knowing what we need, knowing what we had, what we can build on what we can add, because coming in late last year it was hard to, to kind of put my stamp on it and play the way I want it to play. This year, we'll have that opportunity with getting the personnel and to do that, and then having enough players so that we could run our up tempo style.
CoBL: From the core you had last year. Do you guys know all who's coming back? Obviously, now it’s hard to keep track of everybody’s eligibility nowadays. (Laughs)
DR: Of the players that we finished with, we had eight at the end, so we will have six of those returning. And then we have three freshmen coming in. And then some transfers. Okay. And we’ll also have Rayne Tucker available, and Kendall Currence, (who) were both out this year.
CoBL: I was gonna say, I mean, you know the pedigree of both of those players, especially Kendall. How excited are you to kind of finally see her in a Temple uniform next year?
DR: Yeah, that is pretty exciting. Again, you know, a highly recruited player, and then with Rayne Tucker, played for me at Towson and her being available too. So we'll be filling some of those spots that we needed help with this year.
CoBL: You mentioned the transfer portal -- how much has that changed, even since when you started at Towson? What's kind of the key to navigating that?
DR: The transfer portal has been helpful. Initially when it was started, I was thinking, ‘Oh, my goodness, that's going to be crazy’. But there's circumstances where, we needed to have transfer players, especially me getting a job late last year. We had to scramble a little bit because some of the players that transferred out, we had to scramble and get some players in. And then again, this year with the low numbers, we have to go to the transfer portal. For some coaches, it is very helpful and then for some of them, not so much because they lose them.
CoBL: How do you guys attack that? Do you fall back on some of the relationships you built while recruiting some of these kids? Or is it connections in the coaching community? Or is it all kind of unique situations with the transfers? How does that kind of materialize?
DR: We keep our eye on and a lot of the kids that we were recruiting that chose to go somewhere else, and now they're in the transfer portal. We've established a relationship. That's how we got Aleah Nelson (at Towson), we recruited her and then, she was in the transfer portal and we scooped her up really quick. Some of them are previous relationships that you have and then it's some that you know, the coaches and those are the ones you want most that you know more about the player, you can talk to the coach about the player and see how they fit in. The other way, it's hit or miss. You get a kid in and you don't know what you're gonna get in terms of how they build on your culture or anything like that.
CoBL: Mentioning that culture. How does that build on itself, that culture and that style of play? In the second year, how much does it take — you had some of your Towson players last year to kind of help, I'm sure, spread the message of what you like to do and how you like to do things. But how much time does that take to build up and for that to seep in? Did you see any signs of that as the year went on?
DR: Yeah, we did. And towards the end of the year we saw that, that it was starting to take shape. You want them to play for each other and be familiar with each other and understand the culture, the culture of us playing together and winning together and we started to see that. We saw it in some of the games toward the end as well. It's starting to take place, but it's still a work in progress and of course, we'll have to bring the new players in and get that message across. But yeah, the Towson players help with that because, you know, the Towson players and my staff, who we've been together for a while, so we know what's expected.
CoBL: The roster turnover during the season. How difficult was that to manage and how did your players react to that?
DR: It was unfortunate for us that we lost some players. But you know, I think our team stepped up after that understanding that, ‘OK, this is what we have and so we've got to work together.’ And that's when we started seeing some of the culture change.
CoBL: Is there anybody in particular this could be a really big offseason for in terms of making a jump that maybe wasn't on the radar last year?
DR: I think Tiarra East has constantly improved and will improve a lot this year, her and Tarriyonna Gary will improve. They've been in the gym quite a bit, and they want to elevate and Ines Piper again, has talked about working on her games as well.
CoBL: Anything else that's a big focus as a unit for this group heading into the offseason?
DR: Hopefully, we will be able to run our style, our uptempo style, our defense in your face type style. And I think we'll be able to do that with more people.
CoBL: You were new to the conference this past year, but it's even getting a little bit more of a shake up next year. Any thoughts on how that might impact things? Three teams leaving and six new teams joining the league? How much do you know about that? And what's your thoughts on it?
DR: The league is expanding and you know, of course, we'll have more games in conference. But it's going to be different styles and so with so many teams coming in, there's so many other styles to adjust to. And we've got to be prepared for that just, you know, watching some film of the other teams coming in. There are different styles, and so we've got to be prepared for that.
CoBL: One last question: I was curious, anything that stuck out just about either Philadelphia basketball, or Temple in general, that kind of being ingrained or being part of that this year that you didn't know about that really stuck out, that you really enjoyed or embraced?
DR: I’m finding out Philadelphia is a sports town. People love their sports, they believe in their sports. We just had a meeting yesterday, I was very pleased to see that we ended up third in the conference in attendance at our games. We overshot what the goals were for us in terms of tickets, ticket sales, which is a plus because we moved from McGonigle to Liacouras. My business hat was waiting to see those numbers, and we exceeded expectations, so I was pleased with that. And we're gonna build on that. I want to fill Liacouras, and we want to be number one in attendance in the conference. And our girls feed off of that. It was great to be able to have the fans in the stands and after-game autograph sessions. Those were great and it made them feel good as well.