Saturday, July 28, 2007

Votes Are In: Syracuse Most Underrated Basketball Player

The votes are in for the most underrated Syracuse Basketball player of all time. As I mentioned when I created my own top 10, it is a difficult thing to do because you have to make an assumption that fans are not giving the player as much credit and you want to give them. When someone else does not think a player is underrated, it is either because he does not think he is very good, or he thinks he gets quite enough credit.

Anyhow, the top 10 as of this morning are listed below. I put in brackets where I had them in my list earlier this week.

1. Roosevelt Bouie (#2)
2. Preston Shumpert (#7)
3. Stevie Thompson (NR)
4. Josh Pace (NR)
5. Jason Hart (NR)
6. Leo Rautins (#6)
7. Kueth Duany (NR)
8. Demetris Nichols (NR)
9. Rafael Addison (#10)
10. Etan Thomas (NR)

From my perspective, I can take two approaches to those results: very humbling that only 4 of my players made that list, OR ‘what the heck are you all thinking’! Probably a little of both.

I think that Kueth Duany and Etan Thomas are viable underrated candidates. I had considered them both. Duany developed into one of those players who did every good; he wasn not great in any aspect, but he was a decent perimeter shooter, rebounder, ball handler, defender, and free throw shooter during his senior season. Thomas is rarely considered in discussions for top Syracuse center, yet he was two time Big East Defensive Player of the Year.

I’m having a tough time seeing Stevie Thompson, Demetris Nichols or Josh Pace being underrated; I think fans respect them very much for who there were. Thompson’s one of my own personal favorite players, and I think fans are quite aware of who he was, what he did, and how valuable he was for the team. If you voted for him being underrated by non-Syracuse fans… yes, I would whole heartedly agree with that. If you didn’t see Thompson play every day, you would really have no idea who he was.

Nichols was the best player on an average Syracuse team last year. A big time scorer; he is getting continued coverage with the NBA draft and the summer camps. I just don’t see how he’s underrated? I’m guessing he’s one of the top 30 Syracuse basketball players of all time; maybe top 25. Am I supposed to think he is higher than that?

Pace is a slightly different scenario. Like Duany, he is a guy who was good at everything (except actually shooting from 10+ feet out). He did all the dirty work on the court, got the rebounds and loose balls, played some point forward, some solid defense, etc. Typically, those are characteristics of a guy who gets underrated. However, I think Pace is an exception. He played a key role on the 2003 Championship team, and that is still recent history. I think Pace is still fresh in the minds of fans, and I think most fans do appreciate him appropriately. In fact, I think there’s enough of a movement to even suggest the many fans are overcompensating for him and he’s starting to fall on the overrated side of the equation.

Then there is Jason Hart, falling in at #5 on this list. I am not going to say too much about Hart here other than the fact I’m very surprised that he is on this list. He is actually going to be a central figure in a future article, and the word ‘overrated’ is associated with it. And he is going to be very high on that list.

I am humbled by the fact that my personal number one, Vinnie Cohen, did not make the top 10 of the fan list (he came in at #11); he was only on 3 ballots, receiving two first place votes (one of which was mine). I can draw three conclusions from this. The first two are either fans really do appreciate Vinnie Cohen’s accomplishments or fans don’t think highly of him. This third is fans have no clue at all who he is and are not capable of voting for him. I am guessing it is the third answer (admittedly that is self serving for me).

My other top 10 came in as follows: Jim Brown at #23, Bill Smith at #20, Eddie Goldberg (not ranked), Rudy Hackett (#12), and Marty Byrnes #24. Really, not even close… especially with only 20 voters.

How did the voting break down? The voting was very split. Bouie, who was top rated, had only 2 first place votes, 4 second place votes, 2 third place votes, and was on only 13 of 20 ballots.

Shumpert, who came in second, had no first place votes, 3 second place votes, 3 third place votes, and was on only 11 of 20 ballots.

Thompson, who came in third, had 3 first place votes, 2 second place and 2 third place, while appearing on 11 ballots.

Pace, who came in fourth, had 2 first place, 2 second place, 2 third place, while appearing on 11 ballots.

Hart, who came in fifth, had 1 first place, 3 second place, 2 third place, while appearing on 7 ballots. Basically, few voted for him, but those who did, voted him high.

Rautins, who came in sixth, had 1 first place, no second place, 3 third place, while appearing on 8 ballots.

Duany, who came in seventh, had 2 first place, no second place, 1 third place, while appearing on 7 ballots.

Nichols, who came in eighth, had no first or third place, 1 second place, while appearing on 7 ballots.

Addison, who came in ninth, had 1 first place, 1 second place, no third place, while appearing on 7 ballots.

Thomas, who came in tenth, had no first place, no second place, and 1 third place, while appearing on 6 ballots.

Where were all the other first place votes (that’s only 12 above)? Cohen had 2 (as mentioned above), Rudy Hackett 1, John Wallace 1, Marius Janulis 2, Carmelo Anthony 1, and Billy Gabor 1. I think that Hackett, Wallace, Janulis and Gabor are all worthy for underrated consideration (I know that TNIAAM will be sad that Marius didn't do better). As for Melo… well, you’ve got to be kidding, right? There is no way he is underrated.

So thanks for participating. It is always and education experience for me, and I hope it was fun for you. The voting will continue to be open, and I will check back in a few months and see how things may have changed.

Monday, July 23, 2007

More Voting... Football and Lacrosse

Since its a non-election year, and the doldrums of summer with little Syracuse University action going on, and I've been in a 'ranking mode' lately, I've set up two more polls for Syracuse fans to get involved with.

I'm a lacrosse fan, love watching the game the Orangemen play. I'll admit I'm not an expert on lacrosse, nor its history, but I've put together a poll of who I think the top candidates are. Feel free to vote for the Greatest Syracuse Orangeman Lacrosse Player. There have been a lot of great ones on the hill; my personal favorite was Gary Gait. But I'm sure many of you feel that one of the Powell brothers, or Jim Brown, or perhaps Dick Finley should get the honor. I'm sure Roy Simmons I & II have an opinion.

We can turn to the gridiron. Many legendary players have played at Syracuse, and we all know about the legendary 44. How rich is the history at Syracuse? It's quite possible that the great Jim Brown, who I think is the greatest NFL player ever, wasn't even the best running back for the Orange. I'm not saying Brown wasn't, but a very good argument for Mr. Ernie Davis could be made. Or perhaps a great wideout like Art Monk or Marvin Harrison, or a Hall of Famer Tight End like John Mackey, or a Hall of Fame center such as Jim Ringo (because football is won in the trenches, or so we are told). Many to choose from; who do you think was the Greatest Syracuse Orangemen Football Player?

It's all in fun, of course, but I think if you take the voting a little bit seriously, we might get some interesting votes. I am definitely eager to see who the most underrated basketball player for Syracuse is. And a few months back we saw that Dave Bing took the honor of Syracuse's Greatest Basketball Player (though with the ever changing vote, who knows).

Friday, July 20, 2007

Most Under Rated: You Vote

On Thursday I provided my opinion of who I thought the 10 most under rated Syracuse Basketball players were of all time, along with providing reasons why I thought they were underrated.

Do you agree, disagree? Now it is your chance to vote for the 10 Most Under Rated Syracuse Orangemen Basketball players of all-time at

As with the Greatest Orangeman poll I had a few weeks back, you can vote as many times as you want, but only once a day. I'll summarize the results in a week or so.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Most Under Rated Orangemen

Thousands of athletes have passed before our eyes, generation after generation. Many get their accolades, while others fall into that undesirable category of ‘underrated’. Syracuse basketball has its share of underrated players.

Why are some players underrated? I think many factors come into play.

Time diminishes a player’s value. As time passes, the number of fans who saw the player perform decrease, while the number of fans who never saw them play increases. And for most people, seeing is believing. Fans are more willing to believe what they have seen for themselves, rather than the words of someone else. As such, the more current players are valued higher and those from the past are underrated.

Players’ performance in the NBA. Fans will often justify or change their opinion of a college player on how they perform at the next level. If a player struggles in the NBA, it suggests that perhaps the player was not as good as was thought at the college level. If the player doesn’t even make the NBA, it’s a greater curse on the player.

There are four problems with retroactively evaluating a college player based on his professional experience. First, the college game is different than the professional game, in many different ways. Second, a player could have circumstances such as health or even simple nagging injuries that detract from their professional career. Third, a player’s motivation or desire to play at the professional level may not be as strong as it was in college; call it the ‘fat paycheck’ syndrome. In college a player was striving to get the payday, while in the NBA, he has achieved it. And fourth, many players continue to improve year after year, and the player they are in the NBA is a much more skilled player than the one they were in college. However, other players never improve beyond how well they played in college. None of these should detract from how good they were in college; yet they often do.

Performance of his Team: Players who play on great teams get far more credit than players who play on average or bad teams. There is some justification in this logic, since a player does account for 1/5th of a team. However, it’s not universally applicable. Basketball is a team game, and a player cannot be held accountable for the performance of his teammates. A great player can elevate the play of some players around him, but not all of them.

Great Teammates: A player who is on a team with another great player or several other very good players may tend to get underrated. This is only natural. If the world’s second greatest basketball player (whomever that may be) played on the same team as the world’s greatest basketball player, the first player would look less impressive. Furthermore, there is a limit to how much scoring can actually be done in a game, how many rebounds can be pulled down. The more great players, the less each of those great players can accumulate. If you have four great players on a team, they may all average around 15 points a game; it’s really not possible for them all to get 20 ppg.

Overshadowed by Replacements: A great player who is replaced by another great player, is going to tend to be underrated. The newer player will be fresher, more relevant, and will tend to quickly overshadow the first player. A player’s reputation is enhanced if a few years go by, and fans have time to rehash the memories of that player in their mind. If a player is immediately replaced by another, that period of adulation is non-existent.

Playing From A Different Era: The rules of the game change, the style of play changes, and the type of players changes. In the first 25 years of college ball there was a designated free throw shooter, who took all the free throws. This player would often account for 80% of the team’s scoring. Until the early 1930s, there was a focus on getting the ball to one player to do the majority of the scoring. Guards literally guarded opposing players, and rarely took a shot. There was a jump ball after every made basket until 1938, thus keeping scoring down and eliminating a lot of fast breaks. From the 1940s until the mid 60a scoring was consistently increasing. Late in the 80s the three point shot was introduced, allowing perimeter scorers to become significantly more productive. Defense became the motto of college basketball in the 90s, and scoring has been down the past two decades. Yet, if you don’t know the changes in the game, you cannot really understand what it meant to a 15 point per game (ppg) scorer in the 1920s versus the 1950s versus the 1980s versus today. Players from lower scoring eras are typically underrated, those from high scoring are overrated.

Substance vs Style: Players who are flashy, give a good quote, play big in national games, get the recognition and are more memorable. Those players who play solid game after game with a workmanlike attitude tend to get ignored.

Failure to Hit Milestones: Players who score 1,000 points, or score 20 points a game in a season, or have 10 rebounds a game are remembered. But if you score 980 points, you fail to make the ‘list’ and those tend to get ignored.

I’ll give you my opinion of who I think the most underrated Orangemen of all time have been. It is a dangerous list to try to compile, because it makes an assumption that I think a guy is being underrated by other fans, and that is tough to quantify. However, based on conversations with Orange fans, chats on message boards, and Syracuse articles, I’m willing to take a shot at putting together that list.

So who are the 10 most underrated basketball players in Syracuse history?

First, let me give you my honorable mention: John Wallace. Huh? Now most fans would easily have Wallace in their top 10, so why is he underrated? I think he earns a mention in this category because when I did the poll in May on the greatest Syracuse basketball players of all time he came in 8th. Wallace was a four year starter at Syracuse, carried the 1995-96 team on his back to the brink of a National Championship, averaging 22.2 ppg, and 8.7 rebounds. Wallace shot 42% from three point range that season (best on the team), and also had 2.4 assists a game, and shot 76% from the charity stripe. He had the complete game at the college level. I think a guy like that could be considered by some to be the best ever, and should be in the top 5, so when he’s showing in the bottom half of the top 10, I’d say that’s underrated.

Rafael Addison: Raf had a sweet 16 foot jumper, nice overall shooting touch and was a clutch player in the mid 80’s. He was a decent rebounder and ball handler, and was comfortable in many areas of the court. One reason Raf tends to get underrated because he moved to shooting guard his senior season and hurt his leg at the mid point. While he didn’t miss any games, it did hamper him and reduced his scoring ability. As it was his missed by 7 points in being the player to break Dave Bing’s scoring record. I imagine if he had scored 8 more, he would be for more memorable today. Addison also suffers because he played with the dynamic Pearl for three seasons, and was the season after Raf graduated, Derrick Coleman came on to campus.

Jim Brown: Brown is well known for his football and lacrosse exploits, but his ability in basketball is greatly underrated. Brown averaged 38 ppg in high school basketball. As a sophomore at Syracuse, he scored 15.0 ppg, second only to Vinnie Cohen’s 15.8. As a junior Brown dropped to 11.3 ppg. He was a ferocious rebounder, a strong slasher to the hoop. Brown stopped playing basketball after his junior season because of problems with coach Marc Guley. Brown’s notoriety at football and lacrosse overshadowed his basketball results, and the Syracuse basketball program was low profile at the time.

Bill Smith: How many 6’11” centers, averaging 20.7 ppg and 12.9 rebounds per game, fail to make the top 10 of their schools list of best players? Bill Smith is one. Smith shot nearly 60% from the floor for his career, averaged a double / double all three seasons. His senior season Smith scored 22.7 ppg with 14.5 rebounds. As a sophomore he would score 41 points in a game, and as a senior he would score a Syracuse record 47 points against Lafayette, a record that still stands. Syracuse basketball received little local press during his first couple of seasons, which hampers his rating. A disappointing NBA career (30 games) and a very routine name (how much more common can you be than Bill Smith) also play to the lack of notoriety.

Preston Shumpert: Shumpert blossomed into a star his junior season, with terrific three point shooting and an incredible shooting range. He would be on the All Big East first team his last two seasons. He scored 30+ points seven times in his career. His eye injury in the 2001 Big East Tournament against Providence, cost the Orangemen dearly in the next game, a one point loss to Pittsburgh. Shumpert’s legacy is tarnished by the complete collapse of the Syracuse team. The Orangemen were 14-2 in January, ranked #7 in the country behind the outstanding play of Shumpert. Unfortunately, personnel issues with DeShaun Williams (whom from all accounts was the instigator) cause the team to fall apart and go 4-9 down the stretch, missing the NCAA tournament. I think the lingering image of that season’s collapse hangs over Shumpert and keeps him away from any discussions on great Syracuse players. His failure to make it to the NBA also counts.

Leo Rautins: Leo is now getting attention because of his son Andy’s involvement with the team, and because Rautins Sr is now the head coach of the Canadian National Team. However, people forget how good Leo was at Syracuse. A transfer from Minnesota, Rautins played three seasons for Syracuse during the toughest era of the Big East (The Ewing / Mullin / Pickney days). Rautins was an amazing passer, playing the ‘point forward’ position for the Orangemen. He was a solid rebounder and a terrific scorer. He was the first player to have a triple double in the Big East, and the only player to do it twice. Rautins’ legacy is hurt by many factors. He played alongside two terrific scorers in Tony Bruin and Erich Santifer, so Leo’s scoring was reduced. Syracuse struggled to win the big games in an extremely tough conference dominated by big men, at a time when the Orange did not have a big center. Rautins had to play in the shadows of Big East players such as Patrick Ewing, Eddie Pinkney, Chris Mullin and Bill Whittington. Rautins also injured his knee at Syracuse. He was drafted in the first round of the NBA draft by the Philadelphia 76’ers, but was always hampered by his knee injury and he would last only two seasons.

Eddie Goldberg: Who? I must admit that when I first started studying the history of Syracuse basketball (now many years ago), I had never heard of Ed Goldberg. Goldberg was a terrific scoring guard for Syracuse from 1958 to 1960, averaging 16.3 ppg. In a freshman game, he set the Archbold Gym scoring record with 44 points against Cornell. He was a good perimeter shooter and a solid free throw shooter. Unfortunately, Goldberg was also injury prone and would miss playing time each season due to injury. He also played at a time when football was unquestionably #1 at Syracuse (and in the nation, in 1959), and the basketball team was struggling slightly above .500. That doesn’t help with gaining much attention. Goldberg finished his career with 943 points, failing to hit the magical thousand points that would have garnered him familiarity.

Rudy Hackett: Hackett was a terrific three year player at Syracuse, scoring 1496 points and averaging 17.2, and had 990 career rebounds with an 11.4 average. Syracuse would go 24-5, 19-7, and 23-9 in his three seasons with 3 NCAA bids, the first time SU would go to the tourney 3 years in a row. In 1975, Hackett averaged 22.2 ppg and 12.7 rebounds in leading the Orange (along with Jimmy Lee) to a miracle run at Syracuse’s first Final Four bid. Hackett was a great rebounder, a gifted runner who could quickly get to the hoop. Hackett would have two undistinguished years in the NBA before starring over in Italy for several seasons. Hackett’s recognition is reduced because of the arrival of the Bouie N’ Louie team shortly after he left. Though the improbable run through the NCAA should have left a stronger impact on his memory, I think the excellence of Jimmy Lee in that tournament (Lee hit the clutch shots and was the tournament’s leading scorer) overshadowed Hackett’s outstanding play.

Marty Byrnes: Byrnes is the forgotten man at Syracuse. He was a natural leader and the team captain both his junior and senior seasons. Byrnes was one of those players who wasn’t outstanding in any one area; he was just good in many of them. He could score with a nice left handed shot, he could rebound, and he was recognized as being the clutch player on the team. Byrnes would be drafted in the first round of the 1978 NBA draft (18th overall pick), and would play four seasons averaging 5.7 ppg, primarily as a reserve. He is, as of today, the only Syracuse player to win a NBA championship, in 1980 with the Lakers. I think Byrnes recognition suffers from may factors. He always had talented and/or flashier teammates around him (Dale Shackleford, Jimmy Williams, Louis Orr, and Roosevelt Bouie). The Bouie & Louis Show came on board when Byrnes was a junior, so he shared the limelight his two biggest seasons. Byrnes wasn’t flashy, and he didn’t have any aspect of his game that made him overly memorable.

Roosevelt Bouie: Bouie is greatly unknown by many younger fans (other than being part of Bouie & Louie), and there are misconceptions on why he wasn’t in the NBA. Bouie was an outstanding defender in college, and a big man (6’11”) who could run the court. He was teamed with Louis Orr for all four seasons, where Syracuse had the amazing record of 100-18. He would score 1,560 points in his career, and average 8.4 rebounds. Impressive numbers by themselves, but more impressive when you consider that he had to share points with guys like Orr, Byrnes, and Danny Schayes. Bouie made 59% of his career field goals and blocked 327 shots. His talent kept Danny Schayes off the court for three seasons. Bouie was the 34th pick of the 1980 draft, taken by the Dallas Mavericks. Contract negotiations didn’t go well, so Bouie went to Italy instead. He found he loved playing over there, he loved the lifestyle, and Italy loved him. So Bouie played there for thirteen seasons, never contemplating coming back to the NBA. Today, some fans figure he couldn’t make the NBA, but the reality is he never gave it a try.

Vinnie Cohen: Cohen would have to go down as the most underrated player in Syracuse history. Many fans have no idea who he is. Cohen led Syracuse to its first NCAA tournament bid in 1957, averaging 24.2 points a game. He was the first Syracuse player to average 20+ a game in a season, and his average is still the third best ever. He was an explosive leaper who could drive to the hoop, handle the ball well, and rebound strong, despite the fact he was only 6’1”. He would score 1337 points in his career, averaging 19.7, and took Syracuse to the Elite 8 in 1957. Cohen ignored the NBA and instead earned a law degree from Syracuse, and became prominent Washington lawyer. Cohen lacks recognition because he played over 50 years ago, and he has no NBA resume, from which people draw the wrong conclusion.

There are players from the first half of the 20th century that could also use recognition, guys like Vic Hanson, Joe Schwarzer, Wilbur Crisp, Lew Castle, Lew Hayman, Ev Katz, Edgar Sonderman, Wilmeth Sidat-Singh, and others. I'm not going to say these gentlemen were underrated; in many ways, they are totally unknown, and choosing one of them as being more underrated then the rest would be impossible; for that reason I've excluded players from those eras. They were outstanding players with outstanding contributions and records on and off the court.