SAN DIEGO — Games have always come easily to Lincoln High product Joe Temple. He could pick up a bat or a ball, lace up running shoes, jump on a bike or swing a club and he became the single best argument against organized instruction in sports.
"If I ever need another guy to go golfing with, I'd call Joe," said Lincoln basketball Coach Ron Loneski. "He can play something once and he won't embarrass you. He has that kind of physical talent."
It was the rest of the equation that, after his high school glory days, didn't fall so gracefully into place.
Temple, a junior redshirt, is four games into his third basketball season at the University of San Diego and two years removed from the doubt and frustration that plagued him his first two seasons.
The 6-foot-3 swingman is the Toreros' third leading scorer (9.5 points per game) and third leading rebounder (3.3 average).
Temple already has equaled last year's career best 13 points against Cal State Hayward. His best game was the Toreros' season opener against San Diego State, where Temple scored 13 points, grabbed five rebounds, had three steals and made two assists and an impression on USD Coach Hank Egan.
"That was more intense than I've ever seen him," Egan said. "That's what he needs to do, assume that high intensity level."
It took some time for Egan to assume that Temple could start. Temple played 52 minutes his freshman year, redshirted his sophomore year (1990-91), then started to come into his own last season, when he appeared in 22 games.
Temple's redshirt year was a big reason he got where he is now, a starting position.
"It helped him an awful lot," Egan said. "You can't solve a problem until you face it."
During a final-exam study break, Temple talked fondly about his redshirt season.
"It was kind of humbling, but it was a decision Coach Egan and I agreed upon," he said. "I looked at the team and didn't think I'd get to play much. It was a way to get a better understanding of the game."
Temple and Gylan Dottin, the Toreros' leading scorer and rebounder and co-captain, would sit in the stands and try to figure why offensive schemes that worked so well in practice weren't successful in games. It was a different perspective on a game still relatively new to him, and Temple gained a new appreciation of it.
"That was big for me, it made me learn to concentrate more," he said.
Had Temple dribbled a basketball before the ninth grade, he might have procured the skills fundamental to the game. But he didn't start to play until his pal Aaron Wilhite encouraged him to try out for Lincoln's team.
"We made the team and the rest, as they say, is history," Temple said.
The years at Lincoln were punctated by the 1987-88 season, when the Hornets were 26-3 and lost in the Division III state final to San Francisco Skyline. Life was almost as good a year later. In 1988-89, Lincoln was 27-2 and was a victory short of its second consecutive state championship performance before the Hornets lost to Inglewood Morningside in the regional final.
Wilhite, the San Diego Section's 1989 2-A Co-Player of the Year--a honor he shared with SDSU's Tony Clark--was not only Temple's buddy but his partner in success.
"They were best years we had (at Lincoln) and I attribute that to those two kids," Loneski said.
But what some big-time recruiters saw in Wilhite--who plies his trade at North Carolina Charlotte--was lacking in Temple.
"He's learned everything in high school and college," Loneski said. "He didn't have the fundamental skills to be a highly recruited player. He didn't have an outside shot and no great defensive skills. Hank recruited him, probably because he saw potential."
Said Egan: "He's a terrific athlete who has some skills. His progress is only limited by the fact that he hasn't been a basketball junkie. He played football, basketball and ran track in high school and he wasn't in the tough L.A. summer programs like some of the kids. He hasn't been there enough, but he has been there now."
It's no secret that Temple's backdrop was Lincoln, where structure is sacrificed for savvy.
"Everything at Lincoln was a dunk. I didn't have a lot of the skills I needed," Temple said. "What we did was go up and down the court, no half-court sets, no screens. That puts you behind when you get to college."
In college, Temple discovered, dunks are not free.
"No one does that," Egan said. "People wouldn't give you that kind of a game. In this league you have to have a lot more skills. Joe was hard to convince of that."
Egan stressed that the ability of a player to reach his potential is dictated by the player, not by the program, and the same applies to Temple, who agreed.
"This system is good for the way I play," he said. "At (Loyola Marymount) and UNLV, everyone's really athletic. Here, we have a couple of guys like that, but we have more role players. (Egan's) system allows for everyone to get involved. I can work out of that."