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May 4, 2013

Chasing a dream

Khalif Wyatt, the engine behind Temple's season, an honorable mention All-American, the Atlantic 10 and Big 5 Player of the Year, the guy that dropped 31 points apiece against North Carolina State and Indiana in the NCAA Tournament, took in the team's basketball banquet last month through a unique perspective.

His iPhone.

While the team celebrated its season, Wyatt did so from far away through Face Time, the popular video call application.

"The guys turned the phone all around for me," Wyatt said in an interview with OwlScoop.com this week. "I felt like I was there."

But he wasn't.

Not long after Temple's season ended just short of the Sweet 16 with a loss to Indiana in the NCAA Tournament, Wyatt made the decision to hire an agent and made the trip to the Impact Basketball Academy in Las Vegas. Save for a trip to the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament, Wyatt has been working out with players like Louisville's Peyton Siva, Florida's Erik Murphy and Iona's MoMo Jones in hopes of putting himself in position to be selected in June's NBA Draft.

Wyatt wanted to be at the team banquet, and it felt a little weird to not be there, he said. But after talking to Temple coach Fran Dunphy, his mother, Gail Clinkscales, and others, he made the decision to head out to Vegas to focus on nothing but basketball. He talked to his professors to get two incompletes and will finish his coursework this summer and graduate with a degree in social work in August.

"Coach Dunphy supported my decision," Wyatt said. "He of course wanted me to stay in Philly and finish up my degree right away and graduate in May, but I talked with my mom and my advisers and with him, and we felt the best thing to do is come out here and get some of the best training in the country and give myself the best opportunity to live out my dream.

"But Coach Dunphy has always been behind me. He told me he loves me and told me to call him if I need anything. It's great to have that support."

And it was great for Dunphy and the Owls to have Wyatt, who played his best basketball on the biggest stages. The 6-foot-4 Norristown native scored 33 points in a win over then-No.3 Syracuse at Madison Square Garden back on Dec. 22, 30 in a win over then-No. 21 VCU March 10 and then tallied those 62 points in the Owls' two NCAA Tournament games.

"They're not going to remember you for scoring 30 points against St. Bonaventure," Wyatt said. "They don't remember those games. They remember games at the Garden, games at the Wells Fargo Center against Duke and games in the NCAA Tournament. It's part of what I am in wanting to play my best in big games and doing what I can to help my team."

Wyatt has certainly proven he can put the ball in the basket. He led the A-10 in scoring at 20.5 points per game, and his seven games of 30 or more points during his senior season tied Lynn Greer's single-season program record.

Now Wyatt has to prove he belongs in the NBA, be it as a potential second-round draft pick or a rookie free agent.

"I think sometimes people wonder and doubt if my offensive game translates to the NBA, but I guess some people wondered if my offensive game would translate from high school to college, and it did," Wyatt said. "But I would just tell NBA GMs that I'm serious about basketball and committed to getting better. I think you can see in college that I got better, and I don't think I'm anywhere near my ceiling yet. I know how to play basketball and have a great basketball IQ, and I'm really confident. I definitely need work, just like everybody else going into the draft, but I'm willing to work at anything necessary to make me better and help make a team better."

Wyatt and other players will have the opportunity to start working out for NBA teams later this month. Until then, he'll be on a stead diet of hoops.

"You do get to eat, sleep and breathe basketball out here," Wyatt said. "You're working out three or four times a day. You're working on cardio, you're on the court twice a day. There's really nothing else to do."

"I don't have that much money out here," Wyatt added with a laugh, "so all you can really do is just get in the gym and just try to get better. You've got some guys out here that are in the same position as you. They motivate you and everybody's trying to make everybody better."

Looking back

When asked what stood out about his fourth and final season on North Broad Street, Wyatt pointed to a critical juncture in the season when the Owls had suffered an embarrassing, one-point loss to Duquesne at home on Valentine's Day that dropped them to 16-8 and very much in danger of heading down a road that would not lead to a sixth-straight NCAA Tournament berth.

"Really what I think about is as a group, how we just came together," Wyatt said. "We weren't playing that good and weren't winning as much as we thought we should have at that one point in the season, but we really just came together once we got up to UMass. Guys were making sacrifices for their teammates and it was really fun to be a part of."

From there, Temple reeled off seven consecutive wins before losing to UMass in the A-10 Tournament in Brooklyn. A week later, the ninth-seeded Owls knocked off No. 8 seed N.C. State, 76-72 in Dayton behind 31 points from Wyatt and 18 from fifth-year forward Jake O'Brien.

Two days later, Wyatt accounted for 20 of Temple's 29 first-half points, and the Owls led much of the way before dropping a 58-52 heartbreaker to No. 1 seed Indiana.

"We know and think we could have made it farther in the tournament," Wyatt said, "but just being part of things with those seniors and the younger guys and how we became closer and grew together, it was great to be part of that."

A future without Wyatt

So where does Temple go now without Wyatt? He will graduate at No. 13 on the program's all-time scoring list and leaves what is undoubtedly a huge void for a team that will only return two starters in rising juniors Will Cummings and Anthony Lee.

Between the departures of Wyatt, O'Brien, Scootie Randall, Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson and TJ DiLeo, Temple will be moving forward without nearly 73 percent of its offensive output and its best perimeter defender in DiLeo.

Temple will be playing in the newly-named American Athletic Conference, which will include the likes of Connecticut, Cincinnati and defending national champion Louisville next season, but Wyatt still thinks the Owls have a bright future - even with the loss of five key players.

"They're not going to have me scoring 35 a game," Wyatt deadpanned, "but I really think they're going to be all right. They'll still have talent, even if it's young talent, and one of the best coaches in the country."

Here's how Wyatt sees the future.

On Temple's trio of promising sophomores - guard Quenton DeCosey, forward Daniel Dingle and center Devontae Watson:

"They should be establishing themselves as leaders now. Will (Cummings), Anthony (Lee) and Dalton (Pepper) are pretty much the veterans. I know Quenton, Daniel and Devontae didn't play as much, but now it's their time to step up, and they will. I think those guys are extremely talented. As long as they want to put the work in, and they will, they'll be fine. The team's going to have a different identity, but they're going to do some different things and it's going to be fun to follow what they do."

On senior wing forward Dalton Pepper, who showed some flashes as a junior but played sparingly down the stretch:

"Toward the end of the season, I just think Coach Dunphy tightened up his rotation a little bit. Dalton showed some flashes last season and he's definitely still really talented. He has it in him. I think the coaches just need to get it out of him, because he's definitely a 12- to 15-point-a-game scorer if that's what they need."

On Cummings:

"I think next year's going to be a breakout year for Will. I think he just needs to step into the limelight, I guess, establish himself as a leader and have a great year. He's going to have to be aggressive. He's going to think of it in terms of he has to score, has to be aggressive. He definitely has the ability to have a good year and be a solid point guard."

Closing thoughts on the coach:

Both Wyatt and Dunphy will readily admit they butted heads frequently during Wyatt's freshman year. But as time went on, Wyatt started to get Dunphy and Dunphy Wyatt, and the rest is history.

"When I came to Temple, I thought I knew everything," Wyatt admitted. "I was really immature and didn't know what it took to be a good basketball player.

"Being around Coach Dunph, he let me know right away that being good aint easy; you have to work at it. He helped me mature as a player on the court and as a person off the court and into a man. The main thing he taught me is that it's not always about you. It's about the people around you and how you affect them and how you can help them. I think I've grown up a lot over the years, and that's a big credit to Coach Dunphy and the coaches."

OwlScoop.com editor John Di Carlo can be reached at jgdicarlo@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @OwlScoop_com or @jdicarlo.

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