Duncan-like Dupree turning heads

He's a two-time regular-season MVP who has led the San Antonio Spurs to three NBA titles. But everybody knows about Tim Duncan, right?

But what about Candice Dupree, Temple's standout senior? The best player in America that you've probably never seen play? The one with Duncan's game but no fame?

Dupree, a 6-foot-2 forward, is a big reason the Owls are ranked in the early season for the first time in school history. She is also the reason Temple is embarking upon its most challenging schedule ever, bringing Dupree to a television set near you very shortly.

Temple coach Dawn Staley thinks Dupree is worth checking out. And Staley, a three-time Olympic gold medalist and a good judge of talent, also thinks Dupree's game mirrors Duncan's style of play.

"Like Tim Duncan, Candice is fundamentally gifted," Staley said. "She's composed and poised. She always wears the same face, has the same look. You never know what she's thinking, like Duncan. Some people make the mistake of thinking that Candice is just going through the motions."

Dupree welcomes the comparison, although she says she hasn't tried to model her play after anyone in particular.

"I like Duncan and the way he plays," Dupree said. "He's very composed and so am I. He's Mr. Fundamental and I'm similar. I'm patient, never in a hurry during a game. I like to use ball fakes down low and I developed my outside shot over the summer."

Off the court, Dupree carries herself like Duncan as well. In an era in which many athletes crave attention and the spotlight, Dupree deflects the admiration and accolades. She prefers to stick to the fundamentals and play with a quiet confidence, a style she attributes to her mother, Patty.

"I've learned how to handle myself by watching my mom," Dupree said. "She's a military person and I've been exposed to that way of life. I like things very orderly and very organized. I like being a part of the team."

On the court, she gets plenty of attention, and deservedly so. Double- and triple-teams are not uncommon for Dupree, the reigning Atlantic 10 conference MVP and a candidate for Kodak All-America honors this season. She spent her summer with USA basketball, contributing to the World University Games team that won a gold medal.

"She's in a different place after the USA experience," Staley said. "She saw how others worked and contributed. She played with [LSU's] Seimone Augustus, [Ohio State's] Jessica Davenport and [Duke's] Monique Currie and was able to compete with them. She knew she could do it and she realized she has what it takes to play with the best."

Adds Dupree: "The World University Games were a lot of fun. I played with the elite players in the country. I learned to be patient and find ways to contribute. It set a higher standard for me and raised my expectations."

Dupree is also raising expectations at Temple. Last season she led the Owls to the best season in school history with a top 15 ranking, a single-season wins record and a 25-game winning streak. Temple became the first team in A-10 history to go unbeaten in league play and then finish it off with the conference tournament title.

Dupree wasn't satisfied, however, with just the conference's player of the year honor. She also secured the A-10 defensive player of the year award. Temple held opponents to just 55 points per game, with Dupree blocking 65 shots.

"And I hate playing defense," Dupree admits. "But you see the results we get by playing hard defensively. When we stop people, we feed off of that and it really gives us more energy on the offensive end. It makes you want to score more."

It also makes you wonder just how good Dupree can be. Our ESPN panel of experts has her pegged as one of the preseason's top five forwards in the country. The others come from perennial powers with impressive personal résumés they've been assembling since middle school. Like her male counterpart Tim Duncan, Dupree is a late bloomer with a unique set of skills.

She has the size to be physical and score on the block as well as the mid-range jumper to score on the perimeter. Few of her contemporaries have her finesse, agility and mobility to score in transition. Dupree started this season by garnering MVP honors in Temple's first tournament of the year, which included a 21-point, 15-rebound performance against Oregon.

And to think it almost never happened. Dupree could have easily missed out on her basketball career at Temple.

At Wharton High School in Tampa, Fla., Dupree was more heavily recruited as a volleyball player. In fact, the first time Staley saw her play in person, Dupree was blocking volleyballs, not basketballs.

"One of my assistants spotted her while we were looking at somebody else," Staley said. "So I made a visit and saw her for the first time playing volleyball. But Candice looks like a natural at any sport. She was so smooth with her movements. She had the hands and feet of a 6-7 or 6-8 person."

Dupree says she was more interested in pursuing basketball, though she admits Temple wasn't on her radar.

"Honestly, I didn't know Dawn Staley as a basketball player," Dupree said. "But I liked her as a coach and I liked the school and it was a chance to play."

The chance has paid off for both Dupree and the Owls.

"She's wholesome," Staley said of Dupree. "Candice has left an impression on this program and has set an example for how to lead your life the right way. I don't even want to think about what we will do without her next year."

Next year is a long way off. This year is too tantalizing for Temple to start considering Life After Dupree.

It kicks into high gear in about a month when Temple hosts Georgia, Villanova and Tennessee during a nine-day stretch around Christmas. It is the most anticipated week in Temple women's basketball history.

Before the home crowd, Dupree will go toe-to-toe with Georgia All-American Tasha Humphrey and Tennessee phenom Candace Parker. She'll also have to deal with whatever defensive scheme 'Nova coach Harry Perretta cooks up.

It promises to be a terrific test for Dupree and the entire Temple program. That's why now's the time to get better acquainted with Dupree. Before the holiday rush. When Dupree might start showing up on every WNBA teams' wish list.

Beth Mowins is a regular contributor to ESPN.com's women's basketball coverage.