My thanks to everyone who participated in the poll to determine the greatest player to suit up for the Syracuse Orangemen basketball squad. As of this morning, there were 87 voters on our Rankopedia poll. I was pleasantly surprised by the results. Typically when you run a poll like this, you get a some unusual results with the ‘latest, greatest’ dominating the results, and that was not our case. I can’t disagree too much with the top 10, though I’ll give a few comments and provide you with my own list later in the blog.
The top 10, as of this morning:
The most surprising thing about this top 10 wasn’t so much who was on it, but the clear separation in the results for the top 10 from the rest of the pack. I would not have thought the top 10 was definitive; the separation line for me would have likely be around the top 8. But as a group, we the voters thought that players such as Rony Seikaly, Roosevelt Bouie, Louis Orr, and Leo Rautins weren’t close enough to that top 10 group.
I was happy to see that Dave Bing got his recognition and end up at the top. There’s never been a classier gentleman at Syracuse University, and clearly his Hall of Fame credentials and outstanding NBA career are still getting notice. So often you see players from bygone eras unjustly discounted because they played in an older era, under the mind set that all the greatest athletes have existed in the past 10 years. Legendary players such as Lew Castle, Joe Schwarzer, Vic Hanson, Ed Sonderman, Billy Gabor and Vinnie Cohen really didn’t stand a chance in this poll. Then again, the game has changed so much, particularly prior to the 1960’s, that evaluations of those players can be tough.
Dave Bing has more #1 votes than anyone else with 39. Carmelo Anthony had 25, Coleman 7, the Pearl 2, Douglas 1, Moten 1, Wallace 1. You always end up with some votes that I've got to question with GMac getting 3 first place votes, Warrick 4 first place votes, and Eric Devendorf 1 first place votes.
I do think that Gerry McNamara and Hakim Warrick made the top 10 based on their recent popularity; as time goes by, I might expect to see them drop off. Don’t get me wrong; I’m big fans of GMac and Hak. I’m just not sold that they are significantly better than Seikaly, Bouie, Orr, Rautins, and a few others.
You also question votes at times when players are left off a ballot. 13 voters didn't think Bing was in the top 10. There were 12 who felt the same about Anthony, 15 for Coleman, 17 for the Pearl, and 25 for Douglas. I'm not positive who the best is, or the order of the top 10, but I'm 99.9% confident these five guys are in the top 10. If someone seriously thinks they aren't please let me know; I'm more than willing to hear the perspective. My personal thought is people leave certain players off the list as an oversite and/or in spite of a player (i.e. I don't like Coleman, so I won't put him anywhere on the list).
So having said that, my personal top 10 are as follows:
I realize I might bore you with a complete analysis of all my picks; however, I’ll provide you with some comments on each, in reverse order, and try to keep it concise (yeah, right).
The 10th position was very difficult for me. I considered Hakim Warrick, Leo Rautins, Roosevelt Bouie, and Vinnie Cohen for that position, before settling on Vic Hanson. Hanson did play in a much different era of basketball, 1925 to 1927. It was an era of half court offenses, jump balls after every made basket, and teams had one or two defensive specialists who did nothing but ‘guard’ opposing players (fyi – a history lesson on why two positions are referred to as ‘guards’). Hanson was the best in his era, one of the two most dominant basketball players in college basketball at that time. He led the Orangemen to a 49-7 record over three years. He was an outstanding athlete, being the only man ever inducted in to the college football and college basketball hall of fames. He played for the New York Yankees farm system (this is the Yankees of the Ruth / Gehrig / Lazzeri era). Hanson was 5’10”, 175 lbs, and played forward. Clearly he couldn’t play forward today. But at 5’10”, he’s no smaller than guys like Sherman Douglas or Gerry McNamara, and being a tremendously skilled basketball player and outstanding athlete, I’m sure Hanson could play guard today and still be outstanding.
Rony Seikaly at #9 draws career comparisons very similar to Warrick. Both were struggling players as freshman; both improved dramatically each year, and both were dominant players their senior seasons. These are the types of players very difficult to evaluate in terms of ‘career value’ because clearly they were different players throughout their career. And to be fair, you have to tend to gravitate how they finished their career, when put into this context. For those of you may remember, Seikaly was probably the most dominant center Syracuse ever during his senior season, and he had learned the turnaround jumper at that point in his career.
Lawrence Moten at #8 is probably the Syracuse basketball player with the highest basketball IQ. He wasn’t the most physically gifted player at Syracuse, but always knew where to be on the court, and flowed effortlessly into the offense. And he was that way the day he stepped onto campus. Moten was so effortless, you would watch a game, and when it ended you would be shocked that he had scored 20 points again.
#6 and #7 always create problems for me, and if you asked me to vote again tomorrow, I might flip them again. Pearl Washington and Sherman Douglas were great playmakers at Syracuse, both excellent at breaking down defenses, setting up their teammates, and taking over the scoring in clutch time. Both were great showman, with slightly different styles. The Pearl was all shake-and-bake, and he embarrassed defenders routinely. Douglas could throw a pass anywhere, and it always seemed the Orangemen had five or so alleyoop dunks each game he played.
#5 is Melo. This will probably be controversial with many fans out there. Melo had a great season, one of the best seasons a Syracuse player has ever had (though not necessarily the best… that’s for a later day). The problem with his career value, is that it was only one season. The players I have ranked higher then Melo had at least one season, if not more, equivalent to Melo’s one season. Melo, as a freshman, was not better than Derrick Coleman as a senior, or Billy Owens as a junior, or John Wallace as a senior, or Dave Bing. All of these players took Syracuse to national prominence and strong tournament showings throughout their careers. There are guys who didn’t make the top 10 list who probably had seasons in their careers comparable to Melo (Vinnie Cohen and Rudy Hackett come quickly to mind).
#4 is John Wallace. Wallace is probably the most underrated player on the top 10 list (and I have a list of top 10 most underrated players for a later date). He was considered a lottery pick after his junior season, after what had already been a stellar collegiate career, and he chose to come back for his senior season. All he did at that point was lead the Orangemen through a miracle run in the NCAA tournament, and come within a few points of an NCAA title.
#3 is Billy Owens. Owens was as complete a player as Syracuse has had, a small forward with guard skills in a power forwards body. He could pass, shoot, rebound. His junior season, when he led the Orangemen to a 26-4 regular season record, the Big East Regular season championship, and #6 national ranking is a testament to his ability. His reputation is often tarnished by the subsequent and unexplainable quick exists from the Big East Tournament and NCAA tournament that year, plus an injury plagued NBA career that was disappointing.
It was tough picking between the top two. I have Dave Bing at #2. As I mentioned earlier, never a classier gentleman at Syracuse University. He exploded onto Syracuse on the freshman squad, and more fans showed up to watch the frosh team then the varsity. The Syracuse basketball program was reborn under new coach Fred Lewis, and his star player Dave Bing was the primary reason. The team went from 8-13 to 17-8 in Bing’s first season. Bing would destroy every scoring record at Syracuse, was an outstanding rebounder and a tremendous playmaker. Bing technically was a forward for Syracuse, though he was the primary playmaker, and spent a lot of time in the backcourt. He would go onto a stellar NBA career and was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame.
I had to go with Derrick Coleman at #1. His impact at Syracuse, like Bing, was significant from the first day he stepped on campus. Coleman was 6’11”, with a wingspan that was even bigger. He was a rebounding machine, pulling down more rebounds in the modern era of college basketball than anyone ever. Coleman could run the court, could jump, could handle the ball, and was a tremendous force inside with the ball. He quickly developed the ability to shoot facing the basket, and could make the three point shot (though he was rarely in the position to do that). Jim Boeheim would often have DC help bring the ball up the court to help break the full court presses. If Howard Triche had blocked Keith Smart’s shot like Hak had blocked Michael Lee’s, DC would have been Melo twenty years earlier.
Coleman’s statistics aren’t nearly as impressive as some of the other players on the list. He had to share scoring honors with guys like Sherman Douglas, Stevie Thompson, Rony Seikaly and Billy Owens. Yet, he was still able to set the school record for career scoring. He had to share rebounds with talented rebounders like Thompson, Seikaly and Owens. Yet, he was still able to pull down more than anyone else in history. He was named to the Big East First Team three times, and named the Player of the Year in 1990. He would go #1 in the NBA draft, something no other Orangemen has done.
Coleman has tarnished his legacy by failing to become the player everyone wanted in the NBA. He became fat and lazy; yet for a guy who underachieved in the NBA, he still had decent numbers over a fifteen year career. Clearly disappointing, but 16.5 ppg and 9.3 rebounds per game, for his career isn’t ‘bust’; it’s just a shadow of what was expected. And, I think the damning of Coleman for what he wasn’t in the NBA, speaks volumes for what he was at Syracuse.
Again, my thanks to everyone who voted. The Rankopedia poll will stay out there, and will continue to get votes over time. I may revisit this in a few months and see how things have changed, if at all.