Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
Sitting in the stands at Conestoga High School, watching the Norristown Eagles in the first round of the District 1 AAAA playoffs on Saturday night, Khalif Wyatt smiled.
“Trying to bring them some luck,” the former Norristown and Temple guard told CoBL.
In that regard, no success. Norristown lost to the top seeded Pioneers, a far cry from when Wyatt led the Eagles to the District title as a senior back in 2009.
Back then, the guard was an extremely talented scorer who wasn’t known for much else, but he was recruited hard by Temple coach Fran Dunphy and went from being one type of bird to another.
He’s come quite a ways since, then, to be sure. From a little-used freshman to one of the most dominant scorers in the Atlantic 10 conference as both as junior and a senior. From a kid who was in Dunphy’s doghouse early on to a player who the longtime coach couldn’t help but sit back and admire.
To one who nearly found his way onto an NBA roster fresh out of college, and whose dream of playing in the Association is far from over.
On Monday, Wyatt begins a stint with the Springfield Armor of the NBA’s Developmental League, landing in Massachusetts after originally getting picked up by Reno.
Just one day after watching his former high school, Wyatt will be practicing with his new team. The day after that–today–it’s right into the fray, as the Armor host Fort Wayne in the first of 20 remaining games in the regular season.
“I talked to their GM, he said he wants to throw me right out there,” Wyatt told CoBL. “We play Monday, so I have one practice tomorrow and then he’s going to throw me out there on Monday, so it’ll be fun.
“I’m excited, I just want to get back playing again, I haven’t played in a game in two or three weeks, so I just want to get up there and practice with the team and start playing again.”
No NBA team owns his rights, meaning he could potentially get picked up by any franchise for a 10-day contract, or more.
There are still a few things he’s going to have to prove in order to get picked up, of course. His ability to score is unquestioned–he dropped more than 1200 points in his final two seasons as an Owl alone, and more than 1500 for his career. A few big games during the NBA’s Summer League, playing with his hometown Sixers, showed he can do it at the next level.
But concerns about his ability to defend at the next level against All-Pro caliber point guards need to be settled, and he’ll need to show his conditioning has improved as well.
Without Wyatt and the four other seniors he graduated with, it’s been a tough year for Temple hoops. The Owls, despite upsetting No. 23 Southern Methodist on Sunday, have struggled to a 7-17 record, going just 2-10 in their first season of American Athletic Conference play.
But with a trio of transfers–UMass’ Jesse Morgan, Clemson’s Devin Coleman and Texas’ Jaylen Bond, all Philadelphia-area natives–ready to put on Owl uniforms next year, the future isn’t so bleak.
And Wyatt acknowledged the main reason that Temple fans should be optimistic about the future is the man who guided the team to six consecutive NCAA Tournament berths before this season’s injury-riddled disappointment.
“I think they’ve got a lot of guys sitting out, I know Jesse and Devin and Jaylen, so they’ll be fine,” he said. “They’ve got Coach Dunph, too.”
Wyatt is back in the States after a fairly successful stint in China, where he averaged 14.6 ppg and 4.9 apg for the Guangdong Southern Tigers. The Tigers, known as one of the top teams in the very competitive Chinese Basketball Association, featured former NBA players Yi Jianlian, Josh Powell and others.
“China was a good experience, my team was really good and they treated us like an NBA team, really,” Wyatt said. “We traveled really nice and stayed in nice places. It was a good experience, didn’t get a chance to go all the way through with it but it was a great experience for me and I had fun.
“I’m in good shape, I played good in China, just ready to get back to playing again and getting in rhythm and trying to help Springfield win some games.”
So there Wyatt is, one step away from the NBA, a dream that’s closer than it’s ever been but still a leap away.
And yet as he watched his former high school team play, he couldn’t help but wish it could start all over.
“It’s really weird, I’d do anything to be 15 again and out there with my high school friends and stuff like that,” he said.
“They probably don’t know now, but they’re going to remember this forever.”