For much of his life, Jack Tempchin has been told he's simply too short to put together a successful career in the game of basketball.
For some, those types of doubts can end lifelong dreams.
But for the 5-foot-9-inch Tempchin, the naysayers and cynics have just fueled him to work harder and push further as he's realized his goal of playing Division I basketball.
The role of a walk-on is often a thankless job.
With no scholarship money and limited playing time in games, a walk-on makes his mark in practice, where digesting the scouting report and challenging the team's starters and key reserves in reps is vital to a team's overall success.
It may be a thankless job, but Mason student-athletes and coaches are thankful that Tempchin is around to push the Patriots as they prepare for the 2018-19 season.
"A lot of what Jack does won't show up in a box score, but every person in our program knows the value he provides," head coach Dave Paulsen said. "He's a great teammate and our guys love him and respect him. He fits in seamlessly and embodies the values we try to teach here at Mason."
Tempchin's path to Fairfax has been all about proving the doubters wrong.
The Silver Spring, Md., native first picked up a basketball at the age of five. His father served as his coach when he began playing, and his mother provided the competitive edge and boost which helped him fall in love with the game.
Tempchin also began to play soccer in middle school, but his priority continued to be basketball as he approached high school. At 4-foot-10 going into his freshman year, many urged him to invest in soccer, where his quickness and agility would be an asset and size would not be a detriment. But Tempchin was up for the challenge that basketball would provide.
"People counted me out because of my height, so I felt like I had more to prove in basketball," Tempchin said. "Soccer may have been the easier path because I had the speed, but I liked having that chip on my shoulder."
Tempchin knew that because of his size disadvantage, he would need to work harder than everyone else to hone his skill set and develop the talent necessary to be successful. Heading into his freshman year, he was up at 7 a.m. every day working out at Blake High School. While many of the school's potential varsity players came in early that summer to prepare for the season, Tempchin was one of the few there daily putting in the effort.
Varsity coach Marcus Wiggins noticed and loved Jack's competitive drive. That stamp of approval would prove critical, as the school's JV coach didn't feel Tempchin could make the team on account of his smaller frame.
However, Wiggins pushed back and ensured Jack would have a spot on the end of the JV bench as a freshman at Blake. The Bengals put together a great season, and Jack played the final minutes in almost every game, as the team often would be up by 20 or more in the closing seconds.
Heading into his sophomore season, he continued to work as hard as he could, but the attitude from the JV coach remained the same.
"It was frustrating, because I felt I was one of the better players on the team and I wasn't being given a fair chance," Tempchin said. "I wasn't even allowed to do drills because I was so small. But I was going home and doing extra drills, pushups and whatever else I could. I wanted to be a difference maker."
The hard work paid off, and Wiggins continued to believe in Jack. He called him up to the varsity team for his sophomore season. Tempchin led the team in 3-pointers made that season and served as a key role player on a team that won a lot of games. Then, as a junior and senior, Tempchin was named team captain and started for the Bengals.
During a successful senior campaign, Tempchin fielded offers from a number of Division III programs. He would be able to play a lot and potentially make an impact on the court right away.
But Tempchin also was intrigued by the prospect of walking on to a program at the Division I level, where he may not see a ton of action, but could play big time college basketball while helping the team in other ways.
A close family friend, Walt Williams, played at Maryland, and told Tempchin he would have a chance to walk on for the Terrapins if he enrolled at the university. He jumped at the chance, and prepared for the short trip to College Park to begin his collegiate experience in 2016. Unfortunately, he found out before arriving on campus that all of the walk on spots had been filled. It was disappointing, but he liked the business school at Maryland and decided to try out life as a regular student.
The experience marked another bump in the road that might derail the hopes of a less determined person. But Tempchin again took it in stride and promised himself he'd work even harder to eventually play college basketball.
He received an opportunity shortly after, albeit in a different way than he initially expected when he became a Maryland student.
The women's team had an opening for a male practice player and head coach Brenda Frese wanted Jack to be a part of the program. Tempchin greatly enjoyed the year with the elite Terrapins squad, which posted a 32-3 record (15-1 Big Ten) and advanced to the NCAA Sweet 16.
At the season's conclusion, he had the opportunity to reprise his role for his sophomore campaign, but he couldn't shake the itch of playing college basketball.
Tempchin missed being a part of the team and the sense of belonging that came with it. He applied to transfer to a number of Division III programs, but also sought to walk on at a series of Division I programs.
Mason assistant coach Dane Fischer was one of the first to respond to Tempchin after he distributed his resume and film to staffs across the country. The Patriots needed a walk on point guard to run the scout team during the 2017-18 season, and that role would be the perfect fit for Tempchin's attention to detail, work ethic and drive.
"I went on a visit to Mason and loved it," Tempchin said. "I loved the coaches and the players. It was a great fit. I didn't even want to go to the other schools."
He enrolled, and quickly developed a gritty reputation with the Patriots. Diving for loose balls and going hard every play, he often would help set the tone needed for the types of hard-nosed practices Paulsen looks to facilitate each day.
"All of our scout team players have a huge role, but for Jack as the point guard, it's even bigger," Paulsen said. "The effort and energy he brings to practice every day is critical. A lot of the success we've been able to achieve is based on the ability of that scout team to replicate the other team's offense at a high level."
On a typical two to three day gap between games, Tempchin will work with the Mason assistant coach responsible for scouting the next opponent. He'll take on the role of the opposing point guard, such as Louisville's Quentin Snider or Massachusetts' Luwane Pipkins. He'll study the player's tendencies, then aim to replicate them in practice while matching up against Mason starting point guard Otis Livingston II, as well as Justin Kier, Javon Greene and other Patriot guards.
With Pipkins, for example, Tempchin learned that the UMass star favored the rocker step, liked to shoot off the dribble and was tasked with taking a high volume of shots. So he'd aim to create that type of player for Livingston II to compete against in practice. He'd then go back to the film room to watch more tape, and bring back a more complete look at the next practice or pregame shootaround.
Tempchin performed the task admirably and had the Patriots ready to go when the ball tipped in the actual games during the year.
"Jack pushes us to play defense and challenges us in every drill," Greene said. "He helped us out so much last year. He shoots the ball so well – we'd have to do our part against him. That made us better and it translated into the games."
With Tempchin's help, Mason posted its highest-ever A-10 finish (fifth) and won nine league games, despite being one of the 12 youngest teams in the country. Mason also had only eight scholarship players, making the roles of the team's walk ons even more critical.
"I have other friends that are walk ons at other schools, and they don't get a lot of reps,
Tempchin said. "They were impressed with how much I practice, and it made me realize how big of a role I had. With less players, you have to be ready because there's no one behind you to step up and help the team. You really have to be locked in and I definitely cherished that role this season."
Tempchin himself saw action in four games for the Patriots and scored his first career point against NC Central on Dec. 9. In the final minute of the game, he was fouled and approached the line for the first of two free throws.
He missed the first, which he blamed in part on nerves, and also on his height, as Tempchin could actually see himself from the reflection of the video board. That was a touch freaky, but he shook it off, and sunk the second.
The Mason crowd erupted, commemorating the moment.
"It was just one point, but it was one of the best feelings I've ever had," Tempchin said. "It was really awesome to see how much the fans were behind me."
In addition to his work on the court and in practice, Tempchin also cemented a reputation as a "locker room guy." He picks his teammates up during periods of adversity and is relentlessly positive as the team pursues its goals and objectives each season.
"He provides a lift for our team," Greene said. "He's always smiling and joking around. That helps us after a bad game or a tough practice. He teaches me a lot. He's a great student, and I've learned a lot from him on how to balance studying, basketball and school work."
How does Tempchin stay so consistently positive?
He points to some necessary perspective learned over the past year while dealing with a personal tragedy in his life.
During the 2017-18 season, Tempchin lost one of his best childhood friends. It reminded him of basketball's place in the grand scheme of life, while also creating a sense of gratitude that he has an opportunity to live life and do what he loves.
"This game is so much fun, but it's still just a game," Tempchin said. "You're literally just losing a game. You're not losing a loved one, or an arm or a leg. It's a game and you get another shot at it. I stay positive because I know this group and I know that we can always get the next game. We always have a chance to win when we're on the floor together, no matter what. When we bring that focus and energy, we can be successful. It's almost hard to be negative with this group because everyone's so uplifting."
Tempchin has played basketball since he was five years old, but feels this Mason group is the closest team he's ever been a part of. Whereas teams can develop cliques, where certain players hang out with only a select few other guys, he feels this Mason roster is one, tight-knit unit.
"I've never been a part of something like this," Tempchin said. "Guys in high school play with each other for seven to eight years growing up, and they still have issues. That's never been a problem here. I love my teammates and our coaches are so good at what they do. You want to work for them and you want to work with them. You have that common goal and you want to help the team anyway you can. I feel like I belong and I want to help as much as possible."
He relishes his place within the Mason program, but also can look forward to what's sure to be a bright future in the financial world. He carries a 3.8 GPA at Mason as a business major and he's leaving himself open to a number of potential interests in the industry. He will graduate early – in December 2019 – and has the opportunity to exhaust his eligbility from there while potentially pursuing an MBA or putting credits toward a CPA designation during his time at Mason.
"I want to own my own company one day," Tempchin said. "I'm really into capital venture stuff and I like stocks. I love investing. I think basketball teaches you so much about investments. You ultimately invest a lot, you put a lot of time in and you get out what you put in."
For now, though, Tempchin is invested mainly in the 2018-19 Patriots, a team that has the potential to build on last year's foundation with every player from the 2017-18 campaign returning. Mason also will enjoy some added depth with three incoming freshmen and University of Virginia transfer Jarred Reuter, who sat out last season.
"The fact that we were so young last year and still achieved what we did shows so much promise," Tempchin said. "The freshmen coming in are very talented and they're great guys that will fit in well. The depth they'll provide is only going to help make us tighter as a team. If we stay focused and lock in on our goals, we have the potential to win a lot of games next season."
Photo and story by Mason Athletics.