Making the grade on and off court

Basketball: Back after a year off because of academics, prized recruit Mark Karcher struggled. Now, Temple's 6-foot-5 forward is showing signs of what the hype was all about.

January 16, 1999|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

Mark Karcher's return to the basketball court this season at Temple has taken place mostly away from the spotlight.

Karcher, who sat out his freshman year after failing to qualify under the NCAA's academic guidelines, had been off-limits to the media in accordance with coach John Chaney's rules regarding first-year players.

But Chaney relaxed his rule, perhaps by accident, Tuesday. While answering a question about the former St. Frances Academy star from his office, Chaney put Karcher on the telephone to answer the question himself.

It had to do with Karcher's physical condition, in particular some tendinitis in his knees.

"Sitting out a year, my body is not used to running up and down the court," Karcher replied. "I'm just trying to get back in the flow of the game."

Karcher is showing signs of becoming the player everyone expected him to be coming out of Baltimore, where he was The Sun's Player of the Year as a junior (1995-96) and senior (1996-97). He finished his high school career with more than 3,000 points and was a McDonald's All-American.

After not being productive as a starter in his first six games this season -- averaging just 7.3 points and 3.7 rebounds while making only 16 of 48 shots from the field -- Karcher was benched. Then he averaged over 15 points in the next four games as a reserve.

"It's a big adjustment, going from high school to college," Karcher said. "You're doing things you never learned in high school."

Reinserted in the starting lineup six games ago, Karcher has scored in double figures four times.

After two games in which he scored 20 points or more, Karcher had only two Thursday night while shooting 1-for-13 in Temple's 62-47 win over St. Joseph's. In Temple's 75-65 win over Fordham last Saturday, Karcher scored 14 of his team's final 20 points.

Karcher is second in scoring (11.6) and third in rebounding (5.6) for the 10-6 Owls, who are 4-0 in the Atlantic 10.

"I'm starting to see the player people who watched in high school remember," Chaney said earlier this week. "But the problem is Mark is still rusty, and that will not change until next year. The other problem is with his knees. Today [Tuesday] he couldn't practice, or yesterday."

Karcher's tendinitis is believed to result from the extra weight the 6-foot-5 forward put on last year, when he wasn't allowed to play or practice with the Owls. He weighed about 230 pounds and has since dropped to 220, with a few more pounds to shed.

But Karcher has no regrets about his year away from organized basketball.

"I'm glad I didn't play," he said, "because my main reason to go to Temple was to sit out and get my academics up to par." Karcher took 24 hours of credits while meeting NCAA and Temple University eligibility requirements. "The hardest part was sitting around in the dorms while the team was leaving to go on road trips."

Karcher has given the Owls an added inside presence to complement sophomore Lamont Barnes and freshman Kevin Lyde, as well as an outside threat to take some pressure off guards Pepe Sanchez, Rasheed Brokenborough and Quincy Wadley.

"He's made a great improvement," said Wadley, who is Karcher's roommate and started in his place during the four-game stretch in which Karcher came off the bench. "I told him what was going to happening, that he just had to be patient."

Wadley, now a junior, went through a similar transition last season after sitting out because of the same academic restrictions.

"You can't sit out a whole year and start where you left off in high school, it's a different level of play," Wadley said. "You have to understand yourself and learn. He's getting where he needs to be. In high school he didn't really have to worry about defense all he had to do was put the ball in the basket."

There have been comparisons between Karcher and former Owls star Mark Macon, who got so much attention as a freshman that Chaney finally banned the media from talking with him. That rule had been strictly enforced, and Chaney had intended to keep Karcher off-limits until the Owls were selected for postseason play.

There have also been comparisons between Karcher and Rhode Island star Lamar Odom, who sat out his freshman year as what was termed "a non-matriculating student." Odom, too, has been inconsistent this season.

Rhode Island coach Jim Harrick said Wednesday that he believes conditioning is a bigger problem for a player who doesn't practice while sitting out, as happened to Karcher and Odom. "It can take a kid like that six weeks to get in shape," Harrick said.

But the buzz around the league has already started about Karcher. "Everyone is saying what a great scorer he is," said Harrick, whose Rams play the Owls today in Philadelphia.

Any advice for Chaney?

"You've got to put some pots in the yard, get them some sun and let them grow," Harrick said.

The sun, or at least the spotlight, has apparently come out on Karcher's college career.

Pub Date: 1/16/99

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