Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Greatest Syracuse Freshman

Jim Boeheim does play his freshman. I hope that I dispelled the rumor that he doesn’t, back in February 07. He is a coach who likes to put the best talent on the court for 40 minutes, if at all possible. And more often than not, a 3rd year junior or 4th year senior is going to be a better basketball player than a 1st year freshman, no matter how much raw talent that freshman has. Experience does matter, and a guy who has already started two seasons obviously has some talent to start with.

Boeheim has stated more than once that he makes his evaluations on how guys perform in practice. I know when I was growing up there were always two dictums from my coaches: “Practice like you play” and “Perfect practice makes perfect”. One thing a lot of freshman have a problem with is learning how to practice. Many of them have had been more talented than their teammates that they could get by on talent alone. But at a major college program, talent alone doesn’t get you the job. You need to understand the game, understand your responsibilities, and learn to play within yourself.

Syracuse has been blessed with some of the best freshman talent over Boeheim’s tenure on the Hill. Talented freshman like Roosevelt Bouie, Carmelo Anthony, Pearl Washington and Dale Shackleford have graced the Carrier Dome and Manley Field House.

Freshman were allowed to play at Syracuse up until the mid 1920s, and then again in the 1940s (because of World War II). But freshman players, as we know them today, were not allowed to play on the varsity until the 1973-1974 season. The freshman on that team were Jimmy ‘Bug’ Williams, Larry Kelley, and Bob Parker. Coach Roy Danforth was reluctant to play freshman, and so the threesome saw little playing time, with Williams getting the most.

If we use the 1973-1974 season to mark the point we will count freshman players, who have been the best freshman for the Syracuse Orangemen?

I’ll start out by giving honorable mentions to Erich Santifer, Louis Orr, John Wallace and Jason Hart, who all had very good freshman seasons. But they do not make my top 10.

So here are my top 10. I thought this might be an easy list, but I was wrong. I found the picks 10-7 rather straight forward, and 6 and 5 kind of fell into place, but 4 through 1 was tough.

At number 10 is Adrian ‘Red’ Autry, 1990-1991. Autry was a big guard with a deliberate style, and the ability to post up smaller guards down low. He ran the offense efficiently his freshman year, guiding the team to a 26-6 record, with 5.3 assists per game. He was not a big scorer with 9.7 points per game, but he was solid with 71% from the free throw line and 32 % from three point range.

Number 9 is Eric Devendorf, 2005-2006. Devo was a slashing trashing talking shooting guard, with a great move to his left, and an awkward spinning perimeter shot. He supplied some desperately needed balance to the guard scoring by averaging 12.2 points a game, shooting nearly 38% from the three point range. He’s obviously still fresh in all our mind.

At number 8 is Roosevelt Bouie, 1976-1977. Bouie was a 6’10” raw talent his freshman year. He was highly unpolished on the offensive end of the court, yet still managed 10.1 points a game. His impact to the team was on defense with 91 blocked shots and 8.1 rebounds a game, helping to lead the Orangemen to an impressive 26-4 records (and the birth of the Bouie’n’Louie era). He even managed to shot 83.6% from the free throw line, an aberration from his career mark near 60%. He was a victim of foul trouble which kept him off the court, and kept some of his numbers low. Imagine that.

Number 7 is Dale Shackleford, 1975-1976. Shack was a 6’5” all-position player, who played power forward and center for ‘Roy’s Runts Revisited’ his freshman year. Shack was a solid ball handler and explosive leaper with impressive dunking ability. He would average 11.9 points a game his freshman year along with 8.8 rebounds as the team went 20-9.

Number 6 is Gerry McNamara, 2002-2003. GMac was a clutch shooter from the beginning, thrust into the starting point guard position the first game with the suspension of Billy Edelin, and keeping that position all season as the Orangemen went 30-5 and won the National Championship. McNamara scored 13.3 points a game with 4.4 assists, and hit a blistering 91% from the free throw line. He would hit 36% of this three point shots that season. He hit big shots all season long, including a huge basket to beat Notre Dame at the buzzer, and of course his 6 three point baskets in the National Championship game against Kansas. I would have loved to put him in the top 5, but you know what… the top 5 are pretty darn good.

At number 5 is Derrick Coleman, 1986-1987. DC was a rebounding machine from his first day at Syracuse with 8.8 rebounds a game. He was a lean player that season (he would bulk up over four seasons), and was all over the court defensively and for rebounds. While he was not a polished offensive player, he did have some nice low post moves and he averaged 11.9 points a game. He also contributed an impressive 68 block shots. But what he really did was get the big rebounds all season long. In the National Championship loss to Indiana he pulled down 19 rebounds.

Number 4 through 1 are very tough, and I struggled with this. I could have argued for any one of these four to be the best freshman in Syracuse history, but I had to make a choice.

So at Number 4 is Dwayne ‘The Pearl’ Washington, 1983-1984. The Pearl was electric from his first day at the dome; he was one of the highest profile players Syracuse had ever recruited, and he came as good as advertised. His playground moves, the shake and bake, his drives to the hoop, all were crowd pleasing. The Pearl would occasionally play out of control, getting more offensive fouls than he should have. But he could also single handedly break down an opposing defense. His performance in the Big East tournament that year was legendary, especially against Georgetown. And of course, the highlight of the Pearl’s freshman season was his half court shot against Boston College to win the game at the buzzer. With the confidence the Pearl had, he headed straight to the locker room after he released the shot… and the crowd went wild. And the legend was confirmed. The Pearl would finish that season with 14.4 points a game and 6.2 assists. He would shoot 54% from the floor and guide the Orangemen to a 23-9 record. More importantly, the Pearl gave the Orangemen marketability in the Big East, and built the platform for the future success.

At number three is Lawrence Moten, 1991-1992. Moten is perhaps the most underrated player in Syracuse history. He was a quiet man on the court, who played within the flow of the game, was always in the right position, and had a high basketball IQ. And he possessed all those characteristics his freshman year. I don’t know how many fans really appreciate how much Moten meant to the Syracuse program. His freshman year the team was under investigation from the NCAA (and would get probation the following season). All Moten did was average 18.2 points a game and 6.9 rebounds, helping the Orangemen to a 22-10 season.

So now we’re down to the top two. Alphabetically (last name) they are Carmelo Anthony and Billy Owens. I know a lot of you younger fans are going to scream it is no contest, that Anthony was the best Syracuse freshman ever. But I submit it is not that clear.

Both Owens and Anthony came to Syracuse as one of the top two high school recruits in the nation, after outstanding high school careers. Both would end up playing small forward their freshman season, though Owens was probably better suited to play power forward. Both were great all around players, capable of rebounding, shooting from the perimeter and shooting from the free throw line. Owens was a bit more muscular, Anthony a little more athletic… but neither had a significant edge over the other. Both were somewhat quiet personalities.

The primary difference in their statistics, I propose, is the opportunities given to them. Billy Owens came to a Syracuse team with NBA caliber juniors and seniors entrenched in the lineup. Sherman Douglas would average 18.2 points that season, Derrick Coleman 16.9, and Stephen Thompson 18.0. Junior Matt Roe, the deep threat, would get 11 points a game. Owens came onto that team, and fit right in, doing his part. He would get ‘only’ 13.0 points a game, 6.9 rebounds, 3.1 assists (as if those were paltry numbers by themselfs). In the context of who else was scoring around him, that is pretty amazing. Against Georgetown that season, he hit two free throws with time expired to send the game into overtime, in front of what was the largest NCAA crowd in history at that time. The Orangemen would have a disappointing loss in the Elite Eight that season; the 1988-1989 squad was probably the best Syracuse team I ever saw. They did not just beat their opponents all season on the way to a 30-8 record; they crushed them.

Carmelo Anthony came to Syracuse on a team that was lacking upper classmen, on a team that failed to make the NCAA tournament the season before. There was an opportunity for a talented young player to come in and take center stage, and Anthony took that role and thrived in it, something that your everyday player could not do. He would average 22.2 points a game, 10.0 rebounds a game, shoot 34% from the three point range, and of course, lead the Orangemen to a National Championship. Outstanding numbers, outstanding final results. The Orangemen that season had tremendous poise, winning 15 games that they trailed at some point in the second half, on their way to a final record of 30-5.

I would propose that if Owens had been in Anthony’s position, he would have put up similar numbers, with a similar results (obviously, he could not have bettered the championship). And if Anthony had been on the 1988-1989 squad, I am sure he would have deferred to the more talented upper classmen.

As great as Anthony was in 2002-2003, he needed help from his teammates to win it all. If Josh Pace and Billy Edelin don’t have heroic efforts earlier in the NCAA tournament, the Orangemen never make it to the championship. If Gerry McNamara doesn’t score 18 points from the perimeter in the first half, the game would have been much tighter going to the second. Anthony (similar to Derrick Coleman in 1987) missed a crucial free throw in the last minute of the game, allowing Kansas the opportunity to win it all. Fortunately Hakim Warrick was there instead of Howard Triche, and ‘the block’ sealed the win. The point I’m making is that Carmelo Anthony was the reason Syracuse won it all in 2002-2003, but so was Gerry McNamara, Hakim Warrick, Josh Pace, Kueth Duany, Billy Edelin, and yes, Craig Forth.

Owens would injure his knee is junior season, and then more severely in the NBA, reducing his overall effectiveness and shortening his career. Anthony is rocketing through the NBA right now. Neither of these points is relevant to how good they were as a freshman, but it does impact our hindsight of the players.

I watched them both play. I saw every home game Owens played in person, and I saw most of Anthony’s games on television. Both were great freshman players. I could choose either one of them as the best Syracuse freshman ever, and feel happy with it.

Ultimately, I’m going to take the young man who won it all and brought the trophy back to Syracuse, New York. Carmelo Anthony at #1 and Billy Owens at #2.

But if the quarter had fallen the other way…


If you like to rank things and make lists, try to figure out who is the greatest, the best, the most popular, then I know of a website that may be just what you are looking for. It is called Rankopedia, and it is a website of Rankings. Rankings of any and all topics, some with large lists and some with very short.

I'm sure as you probably have guessed from my past blogs, a site like Rankopedia is of great interest to me. I have been a member since February 2007, and the site began in June 2006. Membership is free, and you can vote even if you are not a member.

I have put some rankings out there before for Syracuse sports, and I'm sure some of you have voted in them.

The site also has a discussion / forum section where you can explain in further detail your opinions. As with any site, some of the discussions are great, and some are mundane or poor.

Anyhow, I thought I would throw in a plug for a site that I enjoy, especially during these off season days, waiting for basketball to begin.

Monday, September 03, 2007

OrangeHoops and The Hall of Fame

A Hall of Fame should honor the greatest of the greatest. Simply meeting a set of statistical criteria should not ‘earn’ an individual into their sport’s Hall of Fame, nor failure to reach those statistics deny them entry. Statistics should not be ignored; they are valuable and they do tell a great story when interpreted properly. But they are only one important part of the picture. Greatness is about how a player dominated a game, what he/she accomplished, and what impact they had on their game.

I would like to comment on the baseball Hall of Fame, as an example, if only because it is the Hall I am most familiar with. Bill James, the guru of all baseball sabermaticians, has written extensively about his opinions on that Hall of Fame. He believes, correctly, that Hall of Fames are ‘self-defining’. They are defined by the people enshrined in them. If Phil Rizzuto is in the Hall of Fame, then he IS a Hall of Famer. Others with similar characteristics, accomplishments, become candidates for the Hall of Fame.

What I believe happens over time is the Hall of Fame starts to water down its candidacy, as the borderline players are added, they then become the new standard for what is acceptable. People then err when comparing that player to another player, and the process keeps going down. And that is a shame.

I think the simple litmus test for deciding if a player should even be considered in the Hall of Fame is are they universally considered a great player. These are guys like Willie Mays, Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Walter Johnson, Henry Aaron, Roger Clemens. When these people played, fans, teammates and opponents were aware these were great players.

Don Sutton was a very good pitcher for many years. He was consistently good for a long time, and ended up with a couple statistical landmark accomplishments: 300 wins and 3000 strikeouts. But I do not think Sutton should be in the Hall of Fame. And that is not meant to be a slight to be excluded. If the Hall of Fame was truly about the greatest of the greatest, you should be slighted. It is an honor to be elected; it is not a disgrace to not be there.

I was a huge Steve Garvey fan in the 1970s and 80s. He was consistently one of the best players in the National League, always getting his 200 hits and 100 rbis while hitting .300. He made the All-Star team every year, led his team to the playoffs almost every year where he always played well. He won several Gold Gloves, and he was a very popular fan. And as much as I am a Garvey fan, I do not think he belongs in the Hall of Fame. He was a very good player.

Nolan Ryan, who has been my favorite player since he came to prominence in the early 1970s is an interesting case. His career won-loss record belies him. But here is a man that I think if you ask any player who faced him, any fan who watched him play, they would say he is a Hall of Famer. He was dominating, unhittable (7 no-hitters), and revered. He does have 324 wins, he does have his 5714 strikeouts, the numerous complete games (222) and shutouts (61). I think he is one of those players that is clearly considered great and I would put him in the Hall of Fame. But, I can buy an argument that he may not belong. And that’s where I think the line should be drawn for the Hall of Fame; that high of a standard.

So how do you keep a Hall of Fame from getting away from the truly great? Again, I’ll steal a page from Bill James. James suggests that you limit the number of inductees into the Hall of Fame to a small fixed number of recipients, say two each year. Voters can consider any player that qualifies to vote for, and they can vote for as many as they want, and the top two get in. And if you are not one of the two best eligible for a given year, then you don’t get in that year. Each year, more players will become eligible as they have retired five years before. If you can never fall into that top 2, you don’t get in. Seems rather simple. If baseball’s Hall of Fame had used that standard since 1934, there would still be roughly 150 players in the Hall of Fame… which seems large, but actually is significantly smaller than the current Hall of Fame (280 inductees as of 2007).

Troy Nunes is an Absolute Magician wrote about greatness a while back in his blog; in his context he was talking about Hall of Fames and about retiring basketball uniforms. Following his lead, I have considered creating an OrangeHoops.Org Hall of Fame. And here will be my guidelines, and I’ll explain the criteria.

Player must have last played for the Syracuse Orangemen 15+ years ago. Why this lengthy time frame? I think time provides perspective for which we can truly evaluate a player and his contributions. Carmelo Anthony had an outstanding season with Syracuse in 2002-2003, possibly the best single season a player ever had at Syracuse (I would dispute that it definitively was the best single season ever). One strong contributing factor for Anthony’s greatness is that Syracuse won the national championship that lone year. And he gets a lot of credit for it; and he should. As should his teammates. But what if Syracuse wins a national championship in 2008? Is Anthony as special now? How about if they win back to back in 2008-2009 behind Jonny Flynn? What do you think of Anthony then? So I think he need some time to go by to really evaluate a player. Does he stand the test of time?

One Induction a Year. Only one individual can be inducted into the OrangeHoops Hall Of Fame each year. This helps restrict us to only great players, and we are taking only one great player a year. If there are two great players, one will have to wait until next year. If third great player comes along next year and prevents the second player from getting in again, then perhaps that second player was not as great as originally thought.

No Induction Required. There is no requirement that any individual be inducted into the OrangeHoops Hall of Fame any given year. If there are no worthy candidates, then none will be named.

Anyone associated with the program is eligible. The OrangeHoops Hall of Fame will not be restricted to players. Coaches would be eligible as would assistants, trainers, athletic directors, etc.

Coaches can be inducted year after they retire. A coach can be inducted into the OrangeHoops Hall of Fame the year after he retires. I think a coach that would be considered worthy for induction (aka Jim Boeheim) would have a long resume that could clearly be evaluated with the proper context immediately. Players have 1-4 seasons to prove themselves, and so time is needed to understand them. A great coach, on the other hand, would have 10 to 30 seasons, and I think a clear picture of the individual is already understood.

Inductions will occur in September. It’s the off season for basketball, and school has just restarted, so I know fans are eager for the upcoming basketball season. It just seems like the right time each year to make the announcement.

So I’ve set my rules for the OrangeHoops Hall of Fame. Who will be my inductees? I’ve decided I want to set up a charter class, and 5 seemed like a reasonable number, and it is symbolic of the number of players on a basketball court. I would have liked to have incorporated the magic #44 into it, but 44 players was too many, and I was at a loss of how else to incorporate it. Given the 15 year rule, players who finished their Syracuse career 1992 or earlier are eligible.

The 5 Initial Inductees into the OrangeHoops Hall of Fame are (in alphabetical order):

Dave Bing, Guard, 1964-1966
Derrick Coleman, Forward, 1987-1990
Sherman Douglas, Guard, 1986-1989
Vic Hanson, Forward, 1925-1927
Dwayne ‘Pearl’ Washington, Guard, 1984-1986

I feel these five represent the best of Syracuse University basketball. Their accomplishments are fairly well known. I’ve put the link for each to their information on I also think that given the time period in discussion these are the definitive top five.