Story lingers without Chaney, Ingram clarity
KINGSTON, R.I. -- Temple can't get away from the story. It remains everywhere.
Owls acting head coach Dan Leibovitz popped in a game tape of Saint Joseph's-Rhode Island Wednesday afternoon at the team's Providence airport hotel, and the announcers were talking about the John Chaney suspension, the "goon" incident, and the broken arm of Saint Joseph's John Bryant.
When they picked up their morning copy of Wednesday's USA Today, there was a front-page article in the sports section on Chaney and the mess that has unfolded from the latest incident.
When they were in Philadelphia, the local newspapers and radio detailed the incident over and over again.
And then, when they got to the Ryan Center Wednesday night for their first road game since Chaney's suspension, they were greeted with a sign that said, "Goons."
The sign was abruptly confiscated by the Rhode Island security detail, and a number of students were cleared out from behind the Temple bench (a Rhode Island spokesperson said they weren't in their assigned seats). Earlier Wednesday, URI officials had let it be known that they didn't want any unsportsmanlike behavior directed toward Temple.
There were a few taunting chants of "we want Chaney," but those were basically harmless. Leibovitz said after the game that he thought the fans were classy.
But this was a road game against a 5-20 team. And even the one sign was telling. So, too, was the body language from Chaney's proclaimed "goon," Nehemiah Ingram.
The word on the hand-made sign was plural. It wasn't just referencing Ingram, meaning the whole team apparently has been tainted.
Sure, Ingram got the brunt of the booing when he checked into the game with 11:38 remaining in the second half. Every time Ingram was near the play, the small but boisterous Rhode Island student section booed. Ingram played four minutes, committed two fouls (one in which he just slapped down at the ball for an obvious whistle), one traveling call (negating a bucket) and no points or rebounds.
During the four-minute stint, official Frank Scagliotta even pulled Ingram aside to tell him a few things (who knows, maybe how to defend without committing a foul).
Ingram had to play because of foul problems for Temple's big men -- Wayne Marshall (three fouls) and Keith Butler (fouled out), but his demeanor looked like someone who wanted to be anywhere but here in Rhode Island.
Ingram started out on the bench next to the coaching staff, but as players checked in and out, he slowly slid down the bench. When he wasn't playing, he rested his head on his hand. Late in the game, when the crowd was jeering the Owls a bit, he had his head down in a towel.
He shuffled off the court with the rest of the team after the 65-57 loss.
Teammate Mardy Collins said afterward that, "we expected them to be on him." He said Ingram is handling it well and that he is a good person.
Ingram was off-limits to the media after the game. Temple spokesperson Larry Dougherty said Ingram had his say after the Massachusetts game last Saturday.
After that game, Associated Press reported that Ingram told reporters: "The toughest part was hearing John Bryant would not be able to play for the rest of the season. I just want people to know I'm a good guy at heart. I was raised in a church all my life. I'm not what everybody thinks I am. I'm a real nice guy."
But from this point forward, Dougherty said Ingram would only be made available if he made a significant contribution (for example, was the star of the game). That seems unlikely in the four minutes of action that he averages on a game-by-game basis.
So, who is Ingram? Well, he actually is a success story, since it took him two years to get eligible once he arrived at Temple. Dougherty said Ingram is on track to graduate and has earned back his fourth year of eligibility. That means Ingram won't be honored at Saturday's senior day against La Salle. He will be back for the 2005-06 season.
But what kind of reception will he have? That remains to be seen, but if the URI game is any indication, then the nickname likely will stick. The Owls could face some jeering at next week's Atlantic 10 tournament in Cincinnati, but that's still largely on a neutral court.
The worst could occur in the postseason NIT on the road (especially if Chaney is allowed to coach. As of Wednesday, Temple athletic director Bill Bradshaw said that hasn't been discussed).
The receptions certainly will be worse next season and probably will reach their zenith when the Owls play the Hawks either at Hawk Hill or at the Palestra.
Leibovitz and Collins said they expect to be taunted when they go on the road, saying they're used to it in the Atlantic 10 since Temple is usually the lightning rod in the league.
That's true, but it could get ugly if and when Chaney returns -- and certainly whenever Ingram checks into a game on the road.
Leibovitz supported Ingram's claim that he is a good person, but it's hard to know exactly who Ingram is since he was labeled a "goon" by his coach and isn't allowed to defend himself.
Because of the earlier academic issues, Ingram is only in his second season of playing. Last season, he averaged 1.9 points, 2.9 rebounds in 13.9 minutes a game. He started five of 29 games. This season, Ingram has played in only 16 games, getting DNP's in the other 10. He's averaging a mere 0.5 points, 0.8 rebounds and has committed 25 fouls in an average of four minutes a game.
Leibovitz is doing his best to keep this team together. He's only 31, and is a "regular guy in an extraordinary situation." For now, he's coaching the team, trying to manage how to handle Ingram and hoping that Chaney will return sooner than later.
Leibovitz and Collins said they missed Chaney's presence Wednesday and could have used his spirited coaching to wake them up from their slumber. They do sense a void. But the vacuum he has left behind, all by his own doing, has created a negative aura around the crew.
This story won't end until there is a resolution on Chaney's status for the postseason and beyond. But even then, as long as Ingram is on the team and the opposing fans want to pick on him, the story will continue to have legs. How long could be up to Chaney and Ingram.
Senior writer Andy Katz covers men's college basketball for ESPN.com.