Sunday, October 29, 2006

Jonesing for a Place on the List

Would you believe that Mike Jones, frosh forward for the Orange this year, is the first basketball player surnamed Jones in the 107 year history of Syracuse basketball? That’s including scholarship, walk-ons, scrubs, etc. As far as my research shows, he's the first.
There was a Smith (Bill), a couple of Johnsons (Dave & Derrick), a Washington (Pearl), a Jackson (Luke), and a couple of Wrights (Josh & Dayshawn).

The leaders: 5 Lees, 5 Starks and 5 Browns. The Lees were definitely the best of the bunch. There were the brothers Lee of the 70’s: Mike & Jimmy. Matthew Lee who was the star of the team back in 1910. Charlie Lee was one of the Three Musketeers with Vic Hanson & Gotch Carr who won the 1926 National Championship. David Lee who was team manager and star forward back in 1907.

The Starks were most notable because of the Stark Brothers (Mike, Pat and Lou), two of who are in the Greater Syracuse Sports Hall of Fame. Mike for his overall contributions to sports as a player and coach, and Pat because of his football prowess as a quarterback and later as a head coach. The other two Starks were Lou, a football player who played some hoops from 1934-1935, and John, a star player of the 1905-1906 teams.

The Browns had Damone Brown, a solid forward from 1998-2001 who played a little bit in the NBA. William Brown and Mel Brown played a little at Syracuse. Michael Brown was a smooth shooting guard who transferred from Syracuse in the mid 1990s. The fifth Brown? Some guy named Jim who apparently excelled at football and lacrosse.

There have been four Williams (DeShaun, Eric, Jimmy and some guy in 1945… first name unknown), four Scotts (Ollie, Tony, Walter, and H.D.), and four Katzs (Ev, Joel, Larry, Milton).

Even two guys name Suprunowicz (Dick and Bill), two name Baysinger, two named Glacken. Guys named Giusti, Konstanty, Jackimaiak, Simonaitis, Bartholomew and Sidat-Singh.

But never a guy named Jones. At least, not until the 2006-2007 season.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Beasts in the Front Court

The ability to score on high percentage shots near the basket and to pull down errant shots, and to prevent your opposition from doing the same, has long been a recipe for success in basketball. Teams that are very good offensively up front, pay dividends to the perimeter game as defenders must concentrate on stopping the big men freeing up that outside shot. Similarly, if you shut down an opponent’s inside game, then you can force them to take the lower percentage perimeter shots.

So which Syracuse Orangemen teams had the best frontlines? I’ll give you my top five, and one honorable mention.

Honorable Mention: 1956-1957. The front line had seniors Gary Clark (F, 6’4”), Vinnie Cohen (F, 6’1”), and sophomore Jon Cincebox (C, 6’7”, 235 lbs). Senior Jim Snyder (F/C, 6’5”) saw significant action. Cohen was an All American candidate, an explosive leaper and strong to the hoop, led the team in scoring with 24.2 ppg. Clark was a solid shooting forward and strong rebounder. Cincebox, a wide bodied center with a nice hook shot, had 10 ppg and 11.8 rebounds, while splitting time with Jim Snyder (10.2 ppg, 7.9 rpg). This front line dominated team made Syracuse’s first serious NCAA tournament run, losing to eventual champion North Carolina in the elite eight. Honorable mention because this front line was from a different era, when the game was much different; dominant big men were just starting to become relevant in the college game.

Fifth Place: 1976-1977. The front line had sophomore Dale Shackleford (F, 6’6”), junior Marty Byrnes (F, 6’7”), and freshman Roosevelt Bouie (C, 6’11”). Freshman Louis Orr (F, 6’8”) was a significant contributor off the bench. This was a physically talented front line, though more raw than polished. Statistically, the three starting big men were almost indistinguishable, each averaging about 11 points per game and 8 rebounds. Ability, they were much different: Shack was a flamboyant player, great leaper and good ball handler. Byrnes a solid forward with a nice jump shot and moves around the basket. And Bouie was raw talent at that point, with strength and size to dominate inside, and a tremendous defensive presence. Orr would have another 9.4 ppg and 6.4 rpg, from the bench. The team would go 26-4. Despite all the talent up front, it was really a backcourt driven team with two seniors Jimmy Williams and Larry Kelley leading the way, and Ross Kindel providing support off the bench.

Fourth Place: 1977-1978. This was the next edition of my fifth place team, except now you have Louis Orr starting in place of Shackleford, who had move to guard. The front line was not as deep (obviously, no Orr on the bench). But you have a far more experienced Orr and Bouie up front, and Marty Byrnes was a dominating senior presence (and would be a first round draft pick that spring). Byrnes would lead the team in scoring with 16.3, and he would have 6.9 rpg. Orr would have 12.8 ppg, 7.8 rpg, and Bouie would match his freshman year with 10.5 ppg and 8.8 rpg. The Orangemen would go 22-6 that year, as the starting back court from the previous season was gone. The team won several games by sizeable margins, and was capable of dominating most teams. Behind a tremendous effort from Byrnes, they would beat Michigan State and Magic Johnson in the inaugural Carrier Classic.

Third Place: 1978-1979. Now you have the Bouie & Louie show in full force. Senior Dale Shackleford was back at forward, junior Orr at the power forward, and junior Bouie at the center. Sophomore Danny Schayes (C, 6’11”) was talented enough to start for most programs, but could not get enough time on the court. Bouie would lead the team in scoring and rebounding (15.1 ppg, 8.6 rpg), and would shoot a blistering 63% from the floor, all from close range. Defensively he was becoming one of the most dominating presences in college basketball. Orr was running the court well with 13.2 ppg and 7.7 rpg. Shackleford was doing a lot of everything leading the team in assists with 4.1 apg, 14.1 ppg, and 6.4 rpg He would also lead the team in steals. The Orangemen would go 26-4 on the strength of this frontline, winning 19 straight at one point, including a school record 144-92 victory over Sienna. The team could run the court well, big men included, and would score over 100 points nine times.

Second place: 1987-1988. This was a close call with my #1 pick. The forwards were sophomores Stevie Thompson (6’2”) and Derrick Coleman (6’10”), and senior Rony Seikaly (6’10”) was in the middle. Seikaly had matured into a consistent dominating defensive presence in the middle, and had developed into a well rounded offensive center able to score both with his back to the basket and facing it. He led the team in scoring with 16.1 ppg, and had 9.6 rpg. Coleman continued to develop as a tremendous rebounder, leading the team with 11 rpg, and adding 13.5 ppg. And Thompson continued to dazzle everyone with his aerobatics above the rim, scoring 14.1 ppg on a variety of dunks and alley oops, along with having tremendous defensive pressure on ball handlers. All three players would shoot 56% or better from the floor as the team had an excellent fast break, and strong inside game. The team would go 26-9 and win the Big East tournament; when they lost the score was close and when they won, it was big. This team ultimately falls to my #2 because of lack of depth up front (Derek Brower was the only other big man to see significant time, and that wasn’t much), and because of their overall record.

First place: 1988-1989. Thompson and Coleman both had aged one year, and both had improved. Seikaly was gone, but freshman phenom Billy Owens (6’8”, 230 lbs) joined the starting lineup, and Coleman moved over to center. How did this front line do? Coleman would average 16.9 ppg, and have 11.4 rpg; his scoring would only be third highest on the team. Owens would not disappoint anyone as he scored 13 ppg and added 6.9 rpg. Both he and Coleman were excellent ball handlers, and you could not full court press the Orangemen, as Sherman Douglas would just pass the ball over to one of his big men who would pass over the defenders for easy passes and layups. Stevie Thompson would scored 18.0 ppg, and shoot a phenomenal 64% from the floor; he had mastered scoring near the hoop, whether from grabbing loose balls for offensive rebounds or getting the alley-oop from Douglas, Thompson scored very close to the hoop. The bench had 6’11” freshman Richie Manning, 6’7” senior Herman Harried, and 6’5” freshman swingman Dave Johnson to provide significant depth up front. The Orangeman would have runs in each game, similar to the previous season where they would outscore an opponent 10-0, or 15-2, or 18-5, etc. Once or twice a game such a run could be expected, and as a result 12 times the Orangemen scored 100+ points. The athletic ability of the team would allow the big men to block a shot, run the court, and score with ease. The team would go 30-8, losing in the elite eight. As I've mentioned in a previous post, the best teams don't always win (OrangeHoops: Best Doesn't Always Win).

There are other front lines that were dominant, but many of those had a weaker link than the five I selected. Bill Smith and Mike Lee were a strong tandem, but Mark Wadach did not match the rest listed here. Same with Rudy Hackett and Chris Sease; no one would argue that Earnie Seibert was an all-star.

Carmelo Anthony and Hakim Warrick in 2002-2003 deserve some serious consideration; and sophomore Craig Forth was greatly underrated for his efforts over the course of the season. The 2002-03 team did have depth up front with Jeremy McNeil as a reserve center, Josh Pace a reserve do-it-all type guy. But I think even if we combine the efforts of McNeil and Forth, they still come up short at the center position. Without a doubt Melo and Hak were a dominating duo up front.

One thing is definitely clear, when you look back at the dominant front lines Syracuse has had over the years… if you have a strong front court, your team will win. That’s the common thread between all five picks (plus the honorable mention and the 2002-03 teams).

The 2006-2007 team is intriguing. The experience of the team is the three seniors in the front court: Demetris Nichols, Terrence Roberts and Mookie Watkins. Matt Gorman, a fourth senior, provides depth at the forward and center position from the bench. And, depending how the season goes, super frosh Paul Harris could end up playing more forward than guard. This could be one of the dominating front lines in Syracuse history, based on their potential. They’ve all shown flashes before. But they’ve also been maddingly inconsistent. I could see all three starting seniors blossom into their full potential, or two of the three succeeding and Harris moving to small forward. I also could see there being little additional improvement from the group… and so we’ll see how it plays out.

RY


Monday, October 16, 2006

Greatest Orangeman Who Never Played

Syracuse University has a long and rich basketball tradition, starting back in 1901. Early All Americans such a Lew Castle and Joe Schwarzer; uber All American Vic Hanson in the 1920’s, the Reindeer Five in the 30’s; Bullet Billy Gabor in the 40s. Vinnie Cohen in the 50’s, the legendary Dave Bing in the 60s, Bouie ‘N Louie in the 70’s. Pearl, DC, The General and Owens in the 80’s. Poetry in Moten in the 90’s. Melo and GMac this century.

It’s possible, however, if not for a stroke of bad luck, the name people would have had at the top of that list could have been a gentleman by the name of Bobby Thompson.

Who?!

Bobby Thompson was a 6’1” forward from Passaic, New Jersey, who came to Syracuse in the fall of 1922. But Thompson was legendary before he ever came to the Hill. He played for Prof. Ernest Blood on the Passaic Wonders High School basketball team, a team that would go on to win 159 consecutive games.

[Dr. Charles Hess has written an excellent book on the subject of this team, entitled “Prof. Blood and the Wonder Teams”, and he goes into detail on what they accomplished. But we’re focusing on Mr. Thompson here.]

Bobby Thompson was the first high school player to score 1,000 points in a single season, back in 1921-1922, averaging just over 30 points a game. Let’s put this accomplishment in perspective: During this era, a high scoring basketball team would score 25 points in an entire game. There was a center jump after every made basket, so fast breaks as we know them today were non-existent. No college basketball player had even scored 1,000 points for his entire career, yet Thompson was able to get 1,000 in one season!

Thompson was a rangy player, who could run the court well and was an exceptional perimeter shooter. One thing that helped his scoring totals was that he was the designated free throw shooter on his team. In this era, teams could have any player on the court shoot any free throw, and so the best shooters took all the free throws. That definitely helped his stats, but did not account for all or the majority of it. According to his brother Billy Thompson (a Syracuse alumni), Bobby could make five out of six free throws consistently while blind folded.

In Thompson’s senior season, the Passaic Wonders would out score their opposition 2,293 to 612. On January 25th, 1922 he would score 63 points in a game, a New Jersey state record. The record would not last long. In a pace that would be impressive even by today’s standards, Thompson would score another 62 points three days later on January 28th, and another 31 points on February 1st.

Then, the big day came, against Williams Prep on February 4th, 1922. Bobby Thompson would score 69 points that day on 27 field goals and 15 free throws, as Passaic won 145-5. That would be a New Jersey state record that would last until March, 1963… 41 years later. Over the course of four games, Thompson scored 225 points, averaging 56.3 per day.

Thompson would enroll at Syracuse following his graduation from high school, and would lead the Orange freshman team in scoring and to an undefeated season. Unfortunately tragedy would strike Thompson has he would suffer through rheumatic fever that spring, which would damage his heart, and leave him bed ridden for a lengthy time. Thompson had hopes of being able to make it back to play for the Orangemen, but that would never happen. He would end up earning his letter at Syracuse as the team manager for the 1928 Syracuse team. Following graduation he would be a successful businessman in Syracuse for several years before moving to New York City. (cite: Syracuse Post Standard, Frank Brieaddy, December 11, 1985)

How good could Thompson have been? Obviously, high school success doesn’t always translate to the college game.

But consider that Thompson’s high school teammate Johnny Roosma would enroll at West Point. Roosma would become college basketball’s first 1,000 point career scorer and would be inducted into the basketball hall of fame.

Thompson, as mentioned earlier, would lead the Orange Cubs (Syracuse freshman team) in scoring and to an undefeated record, before his illness. He would have teamed with Vic Hanson, being one year older than Hanson. All Hanson did was lead Syracuse to a National Championship in 1926 in what would have been Thompson’s senior season. Hanson of course, became the only individual inducted into the college football hall of fame and the basketball hall of fame.

Thompson clearly would have been part of the 1926 championship team, and if not the team’s leading scorer, definitely #2. Hanson put up scoring marks for Syracuse that weren’t broken until the 1940’s. The 1924-1925 Syracuse squad went 15-2; the two losses were by 3 points and 2 points. It’s quite conceivable with a healthy Thompson on that team, they would’ve gone undefeated with back-to-back championships.

Thompson’s kid brother, Billy Thompson, was a scholarship player at Syracuse from 1937-1939, lettering three times, and a prominent scorer on those teams.

So, when you consider what Bobby Thompson accomplished in high school, plus evaluated what his high school teammate ended up accomplishing, factoring in what Thompson did as a freshman at Syracuse, and considering who he would’ve been teamed with for two seasons on the varsity at Syracuse, he would definitely at the minimum have been a superstar player… and maybe, possibly, the greatest basketball legend ever at Syracuse. Instead, he rightfully earns the distinction as the Greatest Orangeman Who Never Played.

Bobby Thompson would pass away in January of 1985 at the age of 82, long outliving the damage to his heart.

RY

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Who'll Start At the Point?

Lot’s of discussion among the Syracuse faithful this year on who will play point guard for Syracuse. Candidates range from Josh Wright to Eric Devendorf to Paul Harris. Practices haven’t started, so who knows how well anyone is going to play or fit in with their teammates. Maybe Wright has improved over the summer. Or Devendorf has worked on his ball handling. Or Harris is so multi-talented he can handle the point. I don’t really know.

I do know the following however.

While I think Jim Boeheim prefers to have a strong point guard on the court, he has more than a couple of precedents over his career where he's tried playing with no true point guard, in favor of putting more overall talent on the court. He’s always been a big fan of putting the best five players on the court, whenever possible. That doesn't mean it always works out, but it has been tried.

In 1989-90, he tried starting the season with Stephen Thompson at the point so he could get Dave Johnson into the starting lineup. That did not work out well; Thompson was far more suited to playing above the rim, then 20 feet away, and by mid season, Johnson had to be benched so that Michael Edwards (a pure freshman with significantly less overeall talent than DJ) could start.

In 2001-02, DeShaun Williams was the starting point guard at the season’s beginning, so that Boeheim could insert Hakim Warrick at the power forward, and also play Preston Shumpert, Kueth Duany and Craig Forth. By mid season, he inserted James Thues at the point, shifting Williams over to the shooting guard, Duany to the small forward, and Shumpert to power forward (hard to believe!). Warrick, who would eventually end up being an all-time Syracuse great, ended out of the starting lineup; and the 2001-02 team ended up being so fractured, that I don't know if any move would've salvaged the team.

Last season (2005-2006), he continued to start Gerry McNamara at the point and had Eric Devendorf as the two guard, benching Josh Wright, clearly because he wanted the overall skills of Devendorf over Wright. Boeheim never made a switch there, either because he was happy enough with GMac at the point or unhappy with Wright's development and ability to take over at the point. As much as the team struggled at times late in the season, I’ve got to believe it was more of the latter than the former.

In 1978-79, he started Hal Cohen and Marty Headd at guards in order to get more perimeter shooting, while having Eddie Moss, a better defender and ball handler come off the bench. Late in the season, he swapped Moss for Cohen. Not a big change there as Cohen/Moss/Headd where splitting time fairly evenly regardless of who started

So looking at past seasons, it’s clear that Coach Boeheim could well start both Harris and Devendorf (I imagine it really doesn't matter which is the point). If it gels, he’ll stay with it... if not, he'll put one on the bench and start Wright. If he benched a young Hakim Warrick and a young Dave Johnson (both eventually drafted in the first round of the NBA), it's not unfathomable that Devendorf or Harris could be benched. Or that Harris would move to small forward and Terrence Roberts or Demetris Nichols would be benched.

Of course, the bigger point is which five finish the game, not who starts it. Starting is for pride, but finishing is for victory.

Graduation Rates - Kudos to SU

It looks like the NCAA has made a move in the right direction on at least one thing: evaluating the graduation rates of schools. While I understand the need for the NCAA to have very rigid rules… if they did not, schools, coaches, and boosters would be taking advantage of every loophole they could to get around them… it is good to see some common sense come into play.

To punish a school for graduation rates because a player, in good academic standing, left early to go pursue a multi-million dollar career in the NBA is ludicrous. Likewise, similar consideration needed to be taken for players who transferred. Yes, some players transferred because they were academically in trouble; others transfer because the coach ‘runs him out’. But many transfer simply because they are not enjoying the lack of playing time they are getting or they are homesick and want to go to school closer to home. In the later two cases, schools were being punished for their graduation rates, when it was an apples and oranges comparison.

Syracuse is doing pretty well now under the new standards, at 75% graduation rate (Post Standard Article, September 29, 2006). That’s not to suggest that Syracuse is now an Ivy League school, or even giving high academic standards to their athletes… but they at least are giving them a good sound education and helping them get to their degree. And for 99% of the players out there, that is what they’ll need following college.

Embarrassing is the graduation rates for UConn and Louisville. I know you really need to look at each individual player’s situation case by case to really understand what is going on, but given the more lenient standards being used by the NCAA, having graduation rates of 30% and 33% respectively is flat out terrible.

By the way, I’ve seen chatter on places on the internet inquiring if Syracuse was ever invited to be in the Ivy League. I know from my research into the newspaper archives, that they were denied in the early 1900’s because of a conflict with Cornell. Unfortunately, I have been unable to find that story; if I do, I will post it. Back at that time, the Ivy League was not ‘official’; that wasn’t until 1954. But the current schools in the Ivy League were known as such, and Rutgers, Navy, and Army were included in that grouping. Syracuse athletically was involved in football, basketball and crew extensively with those schools, and that is why the opportunity was there (you must remember that in the early 1900’s, Crew was probably the biggest sport of those three, and Syracuse had one of the best programs). Anyhow, if … when, I find the article, I will post a link to it. If anyone wants to help, please do.

RY

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Quote for the Day

"Optimism is not a four letter word".

- origin: author of this site

Monday, October 09, 2006

Best Doesn't Always Win

One great thing about college basketball, unlike college football, is they determine the championship on the field of play. One downside is that people tend to measure success and greatness, based on what you do accomplish. And in college basketball, it is very difficult to win that championship; they don’t call it March Madness for nothing. Only one team can make it all the way through the tournament undefeated, and that requires tremendous skill, poise, and some good luck (the right bounces, no injuries, no illnesses, no bad calls, no lucky shots by the opposition).

The 1986-1987 Syracuse basketball team was somewhat of a surprise… at least from the perspective they were not expected to do anything before the season began. As it played itself out, it became evident that they were a very good team; young and somewhat inexperienced, but very good. Their run through the NCAA tournament was magical, exorcising many past demons for Syracuse basketball. The win over Florida sent a signal that this team was indeed ready to play, and the win over North Carolina made them legit.

In the final against Indiana, Syracuse had the lead for a good portion of the second half, but the deadly accurate three point shooting of Steve Alford kept Indiana in the game. And the Orangemen followed their own pattern of missing free throws. Here’s where those lines between greatness and being good are marginal. With less than a minute to go, Derrick Coleman missed the front end of a one-and-one free throw; that left it a one point game, and allowed Keith Smart to hit his corner game winner over an outstretched Howard Triche (fittingly, 16 years later, in the same corner of the court, Hakim Warrick would block the same last second result, giving Syracuse a much happier outcome!). If Coleman had made both this free throws, Syracuse would’ve led by three with little time remaining; Indiana could have come back and tied, but things would’ve been different. If Coleman makes that free throw, he becomes Carmelo Anthony 16 years before Anthony does… a freshman leading the team to the national championship. Rony Seikaly, Sherman Douglas, Stevie Thompson, Greg Monroe, and Howard Triche all get their rings. But the factor of one missed free throw, in one game; a game where Coleman had 19 rebounds as a freshman… that should tarnish his legacy? Stop him from being considered Melo before Melo? Perhaps it should be that way. Seems to me, a whole seasons’ body of work is more important than one basket. But as strong argument for not stepping up at THE moment of the season could be made.

Now, after my long prelude, let me segue into my actual article content. The Best Teams Don’t Always Win. I think, in the history of Syracuse basketball, the 1987-1988 Syracuse squad was the best team ever assembled. 1986-1987, and 1988-1989 need some attention; 2002-2003 with their championship must be noted. But I think, on any given night, the 1987-88 team would be the team to beat.

The team would go 26-9 over the course of the season, definitely a flawed record, far more losses than the ‘greatest’ Syracuse team should have had. But the components of the team were superb, strong teamwork existed, and the team won, and won big. And when this Syracuse team went on a run, teams knew about it.

Their trademark all season was letting the games stay close, until that one big moment where they would go on a 18-2 or 13-0 run, and just blow their opposition away. They had nine losses, but only one was out of reach, a 80-69 loss to Arizona in the Great Alaska Shootout. Otherwise, all other eight losses would be by four points or less, five decided by two points or less.

The team had its Achilles heel, which led to those close game losses: they could not make free throws. Not just in the crunch time, but anytime in the game. Four of the five starters shot less than 70%, and Rony Seikaly, the team’s most prolific free throw shooter was the worst at 57%. Matt Roe, the only starter to shoot more than 70%, shot at a 79% clip… but he took only 38 shots from the charity stripe all season, so he was non-factor. A couple of the bench players, Derek Brower (39%) and Herman Harried (27%) were some of the worst free throw shooters in school history.

The team could dominate a game. Led by the General, Sherman Douglas, they were extremely explosive on offense. Douglas was developing a style of point guard never seen before in the NCAA (and possibly hasn’t been seen since), where he seemingly could effortlessly throw up an alley-oop pass from any area of the court, and a fellow Orangemen would bring it home with a thunderous dunk. Other players could do the alley-oop, but Douglas made it seem routine. Stevie Thompson was the most common recipient of those passes; at 6’1” (listed at 6’4”, but definitely closer to the shorter height mentioned), Thompson have explosive leaping ability and could jump and grab virtually any ball up near the rim.

Derrick Coleman was adding to his resume as being the greatest rebounder in modern college basketball history, averaging 11 a game; he also showed off his game skills by being able to bring the ball up the court during the press, and passing the ball near the hoop to Thompson and Seikaly. More importantly Rony Seikaly, now a senior, had developed consistency into his game, and had developed several offensive skills allowing him to front the basket when necessary and make that 10-15 foot shot. He could now carry the Orangemen on his back, when necessary, and had a few 30 point game efforts to his credit.

Matt Roe rounded out the starting five and brought a much needed perimeter threat, hitting 40% of his three point efforts. He would split time with Earl Duncan, a flashy guard, who was better at driving the paint, rather than Roe’s jump shot from the perimeter.

Keith Hughes, an outstanding sophomore prospect, was buried deep on the Syracuse bench behind the talent on the court. He would later star at Rutgers.

The Orangemen played a lot of full court press, with Seikaly in the back to clean up any missed traps. Stevie Thompson was always pressing the opposing point guard with his lightning speed.

And it was foolish to try to full court press this team. Douglas was very adept at breaking the press on his own. But with the ball handling of Coleman, at 6’10”, he would help bring the ball up the court, and could easily see over all the defenders.

The Orangemen would finish the Big East regular season 11-5. But in the tournament they turned it up a notch, a fairly easily disposed of Boston College, Seton Hall and Villanova, to win the Big East Championship.

The NCAA tournament looked very promising. The Orangemen took a while to heat up versus North Carolina A&T, but then got on track and ended up making it an easy game. Part of the problem was that Sherman Douglas was fighting off a terrible cold, and NCAA restrictions prohibited proper medication.

While that was not a problem against NC A&T, it did become a problem against Rhode Island in the second round. Rhode Island stepped up the pressure, and made the Orangemen run… normally a bad move. But in this case, a great one, as Douglas was definitely struggling with his cold. Without their brilliant playmaker to get them the ball, the rest of the team struggled to score. The team tried to ride the shoulders of Rony Seikaly. He did fine with 27 points, but it wasn’t enough. Douglas, despite his woes, still had 12 assists, but it wasn’t enough as the Orangemen would lose to Rhode Island 97-94.

Now in my opinion, if Douglas was healthy, the Orangemen would’ve easily dispatched of Rhode Island. We’ll never know, because you can’t replay it… and Rhode Island does deserve the credit for winning; I don't mean to demean their accomplishment, though I guess I am (my appologies).

How far would’ve the Orangemen gone? I’m guessing they couldn’t have won it all… the lack of free throw shooting by any of the primary shooters was going to catch up with them if any of the games ever got tight. It’s quite possible they could have destroyed all their competition, and made free throw shooting a moot point. But we’ll never know.

It’s also possible that the following season’s team was even better… but that’s for another time.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

High School Recruiting & the Orangemen

I hope Paul Harris is half as good as most Syracuse fans seem to think. You get the impression that anything less than a national championship, and Harris will be considered a failure (or more likely, many Syracuse fans will point at Jim Boeheim and say “See, with a great talent like Harris, and he still can’t win”... but that's another article for another time).

But this will probably be the last time you see me comment on Harris, or any other Syracuse recruit, prior to this upcoming season. For one thing, speculating on a high school kid, or a college frosh who has yet to see any court action has very little interest to me. Another is that its highly speculative, and history has shown me that there’s a lot of hype out there that doesn’t necessarily translate to success at the next level. And finally, I really only care about what a guy does accomplish, not what people thought he would do. There's already enough trash talk and hype in the media; I want some basis in reality.

Sure, a lot of fans will say that Harris is different. His credentials are impeccable. He’ll be the next Carmelo Anthony. Well, two comments there.

First, Harris does have amazing credentials, and some amazing physical capabilities. But then, so did Tony ‘Red’ Bruin, one of the top recruits out of high school, and an amazing vertical leap. Bruin was the MVP of the AAU Men’s junior championship before coming to Syracuse. Amazing credentials. There was talk of him going directly to the NBA, at a time when nobody went to the NBA from high school (unless their name was Darryl Dawkins). Red had a solid career at Syracuse, but never the career expected. Detractors will say that Bruin didn’t have a perimeter shot. Right, he did not and he never developed one. But you know what, Paul Harris doesn’t have one now either. That doesn’t mean Harris won’t develop one, but it doesn’t mean he will.

Or how about McDonald’s All-Americans Rodney Walker who did little at Syracuse before transferring? Or Billy Edelin, who’s off the court issues destroyed his career on the Hill. Ernie Austin was the top rated high school player in the country before coming to Syracuse, was outstanding on the freshman team, and yet off the court issues and injuries hampered his career.

Harris could be the next Dave Bing or Pearl Washington or Carmelo Anthony or Billy Owens. Guys who were as good as advertised (in Bing’s and the Pearl’s case, both were probably better than the hype… if that was even possible). But you just don’t know.

Which brings me to the second point. I see many references of Harris to Carmelo Anthony. I can understand why… high profile players coming to Syracuse, and Melo is in the recent history of SU fans. However, they are much different style players. But more importantly, really think about the SU team that won it all in 2003. That team was good, no doubt about it. Had tremendous poise, tremendous character. Perhaps more character than any Syracuse team I’ve ever seen; an unbelievable ability for a team to come back from behind, and to hold onto leads late in the game. And Melo was a big part of that (as was Gerry McNamara, Hakim Warrick, Josh Pace, Kueth Duany, Craig Forth and Billy Edelin). But the 2003 team rarely blew its opposition out; it was not a dominating team. The 2003 team was not the Big East #1 seed after the regular season; they went 13-3, but Boston College was better . The 2003 team did not win the Big East Tournament; they lost to UConn by 13 in the semi-finals, and Pitt won the tournament. The Orangemen made a fantastic run through the Big East tournament, playing tremendous basketball, outwitting, outplaying all their opponents, and baffling them with tremendous defensive efforts. And they deserve all their accolades.

But, its not as if the 2003 team was unbeatable, or that Melo made them the greatest team ever. They probably weren’t the best Syracuse team ever (I think the 1988 and 1989 teams were probably better, but had bad breaks / bad luck in the post season); they did win SU’s first tournament championship, and for that they get a great nod towards greatness. But if you want to talk about a collection of players and teamwork, well, some other SU teams could have been better. But we all know the best teams don’t always win the NCAA (North Carolina State and Villanova are the obvious answers there).

So, I’ll stop my digressing, and get back to the point. Even IF Harris was the next Melo, its not as if Melo made SU a dominanting team that scared the rest of the nation. If Melo didn’t do it… then why should you expect Harris to? Unfair to Harris isn’t it?

Two more comments on high school recruiting. Lawrence Moten, generally recognized as one of the best all-around players at Syracuse, a tremendous player from the first day he stepped on the court, was basically unknown to most fans before he played. All he did was become SU’s all time leading scorer and the Big East’s all time leading scorer.

It’s well recorded that Sherman Douglas had only one scholarship offer to a major division 1 school. He didn’t have too bad of a career at SU. One jump shot away from a National Championship; at the time of graduation, SU’s all time leading scorer, and the NCAA’s all-time leading assist man (since broken).

And of course, there are high school legends who go on to infamy. Wilt Chamberlain and Lew Alcindar were legends early in high school, and never disappointed anyone. But it’s a short list of players who were Parade All-Americans and eventually made it to the national basketball hall of fame (and John Thompson made it because of his coaching, not his playing).

So best of luck to Paul Harris. I hope he turns out to be a great player. But, I’ll be celebrating him for what he does do at Syracuse… not for what he might do, or what he could have been.

If you are interested in recruiting news, my blog won’t be the place to go. Try sites such as RivalsHoops.com or ScoutHoops.com. I rarely go there, but it could be for you.

Let’s go Orange!