Tennessee Temple University gets a head start on every other basketball team in the area with a game Friday night in Memphis against Shepherd Tech. The Crusaders then play Saturday afternoon against Victory University, formerly Crichton, the host of the weekend gathering.
Temple's Crusaders also are the tallest team in the area, with two 7-footers among six transfers from NCAA Division I programs. John Riek is a 7-foot-1 junior from Sudan who left Mississippi State in July, and Aron Walker is a senior from Sweden who averaged 11.5 points and six rebounds a game at Weatherford (Junior) College before a lost year of sorts last season at Prairie View A&M.
The Crusaders also have a 6-foot-9 senior starter, Germeil Daniels, who played two years ago at NCAA Division II Clayton State after being juco all-region at Louisburg. And they have 6-10 true freshman Kirian Keith from Hamilton Heights in Chattanooga and 6-9 freshman Mark Oyola from Atlanta by way of Aiken Tech.
Walker, who admits to playing more of the European style of a big man with good shooting and other perimeter skills, has a neck problem that has yet to be fully identified and likely will not play this weekend while awaiting an MRI and its results. But he's glad finally to be on a team coached by Randy Lee, who recruited him five years ago for his Texas-Permian Basin team.
"Coach showed me something that most coaches don't show," Walker, 23, said Tuesday. "We have a professional relationship, but it's a friendship at the same time.
"Playing Division I had its price, and it has its price for a lot of people. Last year when I wasn't able to play I didn't feel like part of the team. I feel more of a family spirit here, and I'm happy here."
Riek, the subject of a lengthy SI.com story four years ago when there was talk of him going straight from prep school to the NBA, was rated by Rivals.com as the top center prospect in the 2008 recruiting class. He first committed to Cincinnati. He also has a history with Coach Lee.
"I met John four years ago. At the time he was bigger and better than where I was," Lee said. "But this summer a friend of his we were recruiting put us on to John when he left Mississippi State. We didn't get the friend, but we got John."
Riek, who turns 22 on Tuesday, said he "just liked it here. And we have a good team with good players."
He had knee surgery in July 2008 and never really got untracked at Mississippi State, but he said the knee "is good now" and he's the healthiest he's been in years. Lee said he's also added to his game.
"John has been known for his defensive dominance, but I think people may be surprised by how his offensive skills are starting to blossom," the coach said. "John is a high-impact player on both ends for us."
Likely starters Friday besides Riek and Daniels are 6-5 sophomore Liberty transfer Brolin Floyd at the 3 spot and junior returner Jarrett Smith and freshman Brewton-Parker transfer Khristian Roberts in the backcourt. Returners Corey Sanders and Joe Quinn and former Duquesne point guard Matt Garth likely will be the top reserves, but Lee expects to play 12 or 13 a game.
Temple will visit Bryan in a women-men doubleheader Monday evening. The Bryan teams play Saturday night at Oakwood in Huntsville.