It’s pretty easy to list what Temple senior guard Khalif Wyatt is not.
“He’s not the fastest guy you’re ever going to find,” coach Fran Dunphy said.
Okay, so he doesn’t have every physical tool in the book. But he has to at least look the part, right?
“He hides his 6-foot-4 frame in a T-shirt,” Deadspin.com’s Matt Giles wrote. “Like the biggest kid at the swimming pool.”
Well, then, what is he? What has caused the man they call “Leaf” to explode onto the national scene, establishing himself as the best college player in the city and maybe, just maybe, setting himself up for a shot in the NBA?
Wyatt can see — and run — the floor just as well as any guard in the country right now, and it’s shown up in his statistics. Wyatt has improved his assist per game numbers by half a point from last season, leading the Owls with 3.8 per game this season.
But crisp passing isn’t what has given Wyatt his time in the national spotlight.
Perhaps you remember his “welcome-to-the-world” moment, a 33-point evisceration of then-No. 3 Syracuse and Naismith Award hopeful Michael Carter-Williams that led to an 83-79 upset win at Madison Square Garden in his first time stepping foot in the world’s most famous arena?
Or maybe it was his follow-up act, a 26-point explosion in a losing cause against then-No. 6 Kansas that caused Bill Self to throw up his hands in frustration and describe Wyatt as playing “an old man’s game”?
But for all of the accolades that Wyatt has received for his big-time performances, he hasn’t let them affect him.
“I don’t pay that much attention to it,” Wyatt said. “I just try to go out there with my teammates and win some games.
“It’s been cool, it’s been pretty cool and I just want to keep it up and get some more wins.”
And win he has. The Owls currently stand at 12-5 and have received plenty of AP Top 25 votes throughout the season, though they haven’t managed to crack the rankings just yet.
It has been a season of defied expectations for Temple, which many predicted to regress after losing star guard Juan Fernandez and forward Micheal Eric to graduation.
Instead, Wyatt has stepped up and supplanted Fernandez as the emotional leader of a group that boasts five seniors, galvanizing his squad and leading them to wins over some of the best teams in the country.
“We’ve got a lot of experience,” Wyatt said. “As far as nervousness and stuff like that, you really don’t see it as much because guys who have been there have seen the [pressure] situations a lot.
It’s just about going out there and trying to get it done.”
For Wyatt, this season has been the sweet culmination of a career that has seen some dizzying highs — second team All-Atlantic 10 last year, two NCAA Tournament appearances — as well as some lows that would crush a mentally weaker player — 19 total minutes of playing time his freshman year, an arrest on his 21st birthday last year for soliciting a prostitute in Atlantic City that made headlines for all the wrong reasons.
But through it all, Wyatt has pushed forward, elevating himself as a person as well as a player.
You can see it in his dead-on free-throw shooting — 15-for-15 from the line against Syracuse — as well as his frequent talk of his desire to get into social work once his playing career comes to a close.
“He’s a good man,” Dunphy said. “And I am very happy for his success. He will continue to grow as a player and hopefully have the opportunity to play professionally very soon.”
Ah yes, the NBA. As Wyatt hits clutch shot after clutch shot for the Owls, the rumors have gotten louder that he could be worth using a second-round pick on.
But true to form for Wyatt, those rumors have fallen on deaf ears.
“You really don’t focus on that stuff now because you really can’t control it,” Wyatt said. “[You] just [have to] focus on what you can control and that’s just going out there and playing every game.
“Just control what you can control.”
And if Wyatt keeps up the way he’s been playing, he won’t have any time to even think about his draft stock.
He’ll be too busy with the NCAA Tournament.
Sports Editor Allison Bart contributed reporting.
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