Sometimes you don’t know how much you love something until it is taken away from you.
Dalton Pepper can relate to that.
The Levittown, Pa., native sat helplessly on the sideline last season, biding his time while being forced to sit out one year as per NCAA mandate after transferring from West Virginia to Temple.
“It was tough,” Pepper told Philahoops earlier this month. “It shows you that someday you won’t be able to play. It kind of (stinks) sitting on the bench, but it shows you what you’re missing when you’re not playing.
“It was a good experience for me because I’m hungrier right now and want to get out on the court and just compete really.”
A prolific scorer in high school at Pennsbury, where he tallied 2,207 points in four years as starter, Pepper spurned offers from Temple and other schools to sign with the Mountaineers.
But he never quite found his game or his place in Morgantown under coach Bob Huggins, averaging 3.5 points in 10.1 minutes in 62 games.
Following a WVU game against Villanova at the Wachovia Center during his sophomore season, Pepper told Philahoops he intended to stay at West Virginia. But he didn’t sound all that convincing and it wasn’t surprising that he chose to return closer to home a short time after our conversation.
Now, judging by the excitement in his voice, Pepper seems in a much better place. He looks better on the court, too – at least as much as you can tell in a summer-league game. Pepper, running alongside Temple teammate Khalif Wyatt, showed the deep range, physical ability and close-in finishing skills that led him to be named the 2009 Pennsylvania Big School Player of the Year by the Associated Press as a senior at Pennsbury.
Pepper is ranked as the 135th best Pennsylvania high school player ever by Mark Hostutler, whose excellent book Heads of State ranks the best high school hoopsters ever in the Keystone State.
“Even from high school, he was one of the best players in Pennsylvania,” Wyatt, who competed at rival Norristown High, said. “I’m sure he was way over me. He was the best player in Pennsylvania my senior year in my opinion.”
The duo is developing an on-court chemistry that could give opponents fits this season. During a summer league game recently, it was something to watch Wyatt toss an alley-oop pass from behind the arc that the airborne Pepper caught with ease and laid in.
“To get a chance to play with him now is going to be fun,” Wyatt said. “Playing with him out here (in the Delco Pro-Am League), he’s a good player. He’s probably one of the best guards I played with and I’m real excited.”
Temple coach Fran Dunphy didn’t define Pepper’s role, but said he is counting on him to contribute.
“We’re going to need Khalif, Dalton and Scootie (Randall) to score,” Dunphy told Philahoops earlier this month.
Based on his pedigree, it is somewhat surprising that there isn’t more buzz about Pepper’s debut season with the Owls. And, really, that might be a good thing for the Pepper, who isn’t making any bold predictions about his contributions to the Owls this season.
“Right now just trying to work on my game and get better,” said Pepper, who played two seasons with former Owls star and current Sixers forward Lavoy Allen in high school. “We’ll see what happens. I’m just going to keep on working on my game, work on what I have to do to get better and improving myself.”
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Related stories: Temple coach Fran Dunphy and Owls Khalif Wyatt and Scootie Randall discuss the challenge of playing in the new, improved Atlantic 10 this season.
Also, Dunphy covered various topics earlier this month in a lengthy conversation with Philahoops.