Keep in mind, many things can happen. Paul Harris is the only member of his class left, and he’s only a sophomore. There are no players left from Josh Wright’s class. The freshman class starting in 2003-04 included DeMetris Nichols, Terrence Roberts, Louis McCroskey and Darryl Watkins. That class had a lot of potential, but it never quite came together.
But the current freshman class does look very good.
What are the best classes at Syracuse? For purpose of discussion, I’m going to restrict players to the class they first played with, as opposed to the class they were recruited for. That is, if Lawrence Moten goes to prep school for a year to improve his grades, then he is considered in the class of his freshman class, not the class he graduated high school with.
Also, I think it’s important to include the depth of the class, plus their contributions over their entire basketball career, not just one season. Jimmy Lee and Rudy Hackett lead Syracuse to its first final four in 1975; but they were the only contributors from their class, really making that class too small. John Wallace’s class was really just him until his senior year… then Lazarus Sims and JB Reafsnyder got some playing time and the team went to the title game. But I think that’s too little, too late.
So, taking into account the high points, the depth of the class, the number of players in that class who contributed, and for how long, here is how I see it.
The top 10, in reverse order:
At number 10 is the sophomore class of 1954-1955. Freshman were not eligible, so this was the sophomore class of Vinnie Cohen, Jim Brown, Gary Clark, Jim Snyder, Vinnie Albanese, Lou Stark, Jim Roper and Phil Manikas. Cohen, Brown, Clark and Snyder would all start their first year, with Cohen and Brown leading the team in scoring. The team would only go 10-11, but the Orange had been a mediocre team the past few seasons prior. They would improve to 14-8 their junior season, with Albanese joining the starting five, and Brown becoming the sixth man.
In 1956-1957 team would earn Syracuse’s first bid to the NCAA tournament. Cohen set a school record scoring 605 points at 24.2 point per game. Clark would average 17.8 points and 10.8 rebounds a game. Albanese would start at guard, and Jim Snyder would alternate between forward and center. Jim Brown was missing, as a result of personal issues with coach Marc Guley on his playing time. The team would lose in the Elite Eight. The group would go 42-26 in their three years; really not impressive in the scheme of Syracuse basketball, but significant in their accomplishments.
Number 9 is the freshman class of 2001-2002. As this is recent history, this is a familiar class with Hakim Warrick, Craig Forth, Josh Pace and Mark Konecny. This class of course was part of the 2003 National Championship team, with Warrick and Forth both starting, and Pace a significant contributor (Konecny had left school). Warrick would go on to score 2000+ points, Forth would start all four years, and Pace would start his junior and senior seasons. They would win the Big East Championship their senior year. The squad went 103-33 over their four years.
Number 8 is the freshman class of 1913-1914. This class consisted of Wilbur Crisp, Elias Raff, Billy Rafter, Art Osman and Ralph Keefer. Crisp was one of the best shooters ever at Syracuse and would lead the team in scoring his sophomore, junior and senior seasons. The team would go 12-0, their freshman year, with Crisp being the only significant contributor. They would go 10-1 their sophomore year with Rafter joining Crisp in the starting five. Overall they would go 44-7 in their four years at Syracuse.
Number 7 is the sophomore class of 1928-1929. This is the legendary class of the ‘Reindeer Five’, which included the four fleet footed Tuppy Hayman, Dan Fogarty, Ken Beagle, and Ev Katz. Warren Stevens and Fred Bromberg were also part of that class. This group would go 45-10 in their three years with records of 11-4, 18-2, and 16-4. Hayman, Fogarty, Beagle and Katz would start all four years. Hayman was the best shooter of the group, Fogarty the best defender, and Katz the best overall player.
Number 6 is the sophomore class of 1963-1964. This is Dave Bing’s class. As freshman, they were better than the Syracuse varsity. The class included Bing, Norm Goldsmith, Sam Penceal, Jim Boeheim, Frank Nicoletti, Dick Ableman and Rex Trobridge. Bing, Goldsmith and Penceal would start their first year as Syracuse went 17-8 (they had gone 8-13 the year before without them). The team struggled its second year going 13-10 after an abysmal 2-8 start. Bing was dominating, but the team was lacking defensive effort.
Their senior year the team had its offense in full gear, and tried to become the first college team every to average 100 points a game (they fell just short). Bing, Penceal and Boeheim started, but coach Fred Lewis was doing a lot of rotations so everyone contributed. Bing averaged 28.4 points per game with 6.6 assists and 10.8 rebounds. The team reached the NCAA tournament, losing to Duke in the elite eight. Over their three years, this class went 52-24; their disappointing second season kept them from being higher.
Number 5 is the freshman class of 1976-1977, also known as the Bouie’n’Louie Show. Roosevelt Bouie, Louis Orr and Hal Cohen comprised this class. This is a small class, compared to the others, but their impact was so significant that I felt they had to be considered. Bouie started all four years; Orr was the sixth man his freshman year, and a full time starter his last three. Cohen was part of a three guard rotation throughout his career providing excellent mid range shooting. All this trio accomplished was going 100-18 over four years. If this class had been bigger, and a little more successful in the post season, they would’ve ranked higher.
Number 4 is the freshman class of 2002-2003. This of course, is the class with Carmelo Anthony, Gerry McNamara, Billy Edelin and Matt Gorman. This group, the first three, were major contributors to Syracuse winning the national title in 2003. Melo led the way with 22.2 points a game and 10.0 rebounds; Gerry McNamara was hitting all the open jumpers, scoring 13.3 points a game, playing the point, and shooting the lights out at the free throw line (90.9%). And Billy Edelin was spelling GMac at the point, providing some great playmaking when it was needed.
Melo would leave after his freshman year; Edelin had personal problems off the court and would miss part of his sophomore year, and end up leaving during his junior year. McNamara would stay all four years, lead Syracuse to two Big East titles, and score 2000+ points, and become the schools all time three point shooter (by far). They team would go 103-32 in its four years. I would’ve moved them higher if Melo had played more than one year, or if Edelin and Gorman had really contributed after the freshman year. As it was, Edelin was more a distraction than a help, and Gorman never developed as a player. So with only one guy (GMac) being a contributor more than one season, its tough to rate the ‘class’ higher.
Number 3 is the freshman class of 1986-1987. This was the wonderful class of Derrick Coleman, Stephen Thompson, Matt Roe, Keith Hughes and Erik Rogers. This class almost accomplished what the 2002-03 class did; they came within a Keith Smart basket of winning the National Championship. Coleman would go on to be the NCAA’s all time leading rebounder, and score 2000+ points. Stephen Thompson would electrify fans as the recipient of Sherman Douglas alley-oops, and Thompson would score 1,956 points. Matt Roe was a deadly three point assassin his sophomore and junior seasons. Hughes was a talented big man, stuck behind a more talented Coleman. Rogers never developed.
This group would go 113-31 in four years, play in the national championship, win one Big East regular season championship, one Big East tournament championship, and remain a top 5 caliber team all four years. They would have been number 1 on the list if they had all stayed together. Roe would leave and star at Maryland his senior year; Hughes would leave and star at Rutgers his junior and senior seasons (and would be drafted in the 2nd round of the NBA draft). As it was, this was still an extremely strong senior duo with Coleman and Thompson.
Number 2 is the sophomore class of 1931-1932. This class consisted of Lou Alkoff, Johnny DeYoung, Skids Sanford, Don Pickard, Joe Vavra, Alton Farnsworth, and Gerald Pentz. Alkoff, DeYoung and Sanford would start their first year, and Pickard was a sixth man. The team would go 14-2. Their second year together the team would go 15-2, with Alkoff, Pickard and Sanford starting, and DeYoung, fighting injuries, the 6th man. Their senior year they would go 15-2 again, this time with Alkoff, DeYoung, Sanford and Pickard all starting. This group would go 44-6 in three years, an outstanding 88% winning percentage. As a side note, Joe Vavra, while never becoming a basketball star, did become the collegiate heavyweight boxing champion, and earned letters in four sports (boxing, football, track and baseball). That was quite a class.
The Number 1 class in Syracuse basketball history, really is not a contest, if you know your Syracuse history. The 1924-1925 sophomore class had Vic Hanson, Gotch Carr, Charlie Lee, Max Boxer, Lynn Follett, Milburn Rosser, Peter Tengi, and Charley Cook. Hanson, Carr, and Lee, often referred to as the Three Musketeers, started their first season, and led the team to a 15-2 record. Hanson set the school record for scoring with 205 points, a 13.5 point per game clip, and was one of the best basketball players in the country.
Their second season, this trio led Syracuse to a 19-1 record, and a mythical National Championship (mythical because it was voted upon by the Helms Foundation, as opposed to won on the court). Hanson would set another scoring record with 282 points, and a 14.2 point average, with Lee and Carr major contributors.
Their senior season they would go ‘only’ 15-4, with Hanson again putting up solid numbers at 277 points, and 14.6 points per game. Lee was a major contributor all year; Carr would miss some time due to academic problems. They would go 49-7 in three years of college basketball.
This same class of players would also play on the Syracuse football team, and go 23-4-3 in three years. Hanson, Lee and Carr each started all three years in that sport (Hanson and Carr also lettered in baseball multiple times).
So how good will this year’s freshman class eventually be? We’ll have fun getting to watch them play, and we’ll know within four years. Now we know what to measure them against.