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Temple has soared under Chaney's patient tutelage

If you get a rush watching genius at work, John Chaney is whom you're looking for.

To win this big in college basketball, you have to pipeline a bunch of All-Everythings into your program. Then you have to bend your beliefs to keep them happy and save your job.

You are not supposed to want the unwanted for your basketball team, because that would force you to teach them something.

Chaney, who learned the game growing up in Jacksonville and later gained fame playing at Bethune-Cookman College, does all that. He stakes his reputation on the prospect that his teams will improve year by year, game by game.

He is 60. Too old for pop psychology, too energetic to mellow out. He coaches the way he played, and it has been said that he had few rivals as a player.

Under Chaney's leadership, Temple has advanced to post-season tournament play in all but one of his nine previous seasons as coach at the school, including two quarterfinal appearances. After posting a 14-15 record in his first season in 1982-83, he guided the Owls to five 25-win seasons in a row. Last year Temple lost to North Carolina in the East Regional final.

This year the Owls enter Sunday's intersectional game against No. 5 Arizona at the Florida Suncoast Dome with an atypical 13-9 record. Not just unranked, they have been uncharacteristic underachievers and unusually unproductive.

"It's been very, very painstaking and somewhat frustrating," Chaney said of the season to date. "I just thought we'd get a lot better response in terms of our older kids."

Temple has not recovered from the loss of Mark Macon, who led the team in scoring four consecutive years. The record shows that Macon is one of the few Temple players who had to say "no" more than once to persistent recruiters from the Big Ten, Big East, ACC, SEC, Pac-10 and Big Eight.

The record also shows that Chaney will make the necessary adjustments and move on. In recent years he has had to replace Terence Stansbury and Nate Blackwell and Howie Evans and Tim Perry and Donald Hodge and now Macon. Temple had just better hope it doesn't have to replace Chaney anytime soon.

"I've seen progress in terms of poise. We've done an excellent job of growing in that area," he said. "I've seen some of our younger players beginning to surface."

This is all wrong, of course. Chaney is known as a screaming, challenging, authority figure who stalks the bench with no jacket and his tie loosened. But he'll be the first to tell you that he's quieter when trying to figure things out. He understands that all players want to win, "but they don't know what makes winners."

He'll have plenty of support Sunday. His wife, Jeanne Dixon-Chaney, is a Clearwater native who said there will be close to 50 friends and family members attending the game. Jeanne, who met her husband when they were both attending Bethune-Cookman, is one of 13 brothers and sisters.

"John is completely different away from basketball. He's so relaxed," she said. "I don't usually go to the games because I want to be in position to walk away from the TV. But coming home is different. He is really looking forward to playing in Florida."

John Chaney is one of the best-kept secrets in the history of Florida college basketball.

At Bethune-Cookman, he was a NAIA All-American and was most valuable player of the NAIA national championships in 1953. He was a teammate of current B-CC coach Jack McClairen.

Chaney received feelers from NBA teams and he also turned down an offer from the Harlem Globetrotters, for whom many of the top black players had to play in the 1950s.

"He could have played anyplace for anybody," McClairen said. "He was a heck of a ballplayer who could dribble the ball with both hands. He could shoot the same layup six different ways."

Once during a heated contest against Florida A&M, Chaney convinced his coach to allow him to dribble out the clock with B-CC holding onto a slim lead.

"He dribbled around that team for five minutes. They couldn't catch up with him," McClairen said. "He was a once-in-a-lifetime player.

"I wish I could find a John Chaney to play for me."

The facts

Who: No. 16 Florida State vs. DePaul (1:30 p.m.), No. 5 Arizona vs. Temple (follows), Sunday at the Florida Suncoast Dome.

Television: Live on ABC-Ch.10.

Tickets: Prices range from $5 to $50, plus a service charge. Capacity is 28,000 and about 10,000 tickets have been distributed.

Information: Call the Dome at 825-3100.