Saturday, June 14, 2008

Impactful Orangemen

Syracuse has been blessed with several talented young men who have allowed Orange fans to enjoy many joyful moments over the years associated with the basketball program. Names like Dave Bing, Pearl Washington, Derrick Coleman, Sherman Douglas and Billy Owens are only a few of the names to have shined on the Hill.

There are some players, whether it was happenstance by being in the right place at the right time, or through their own presence, had a profound positive impact on Syracuse basketball, not only when they played, but over the years that followed.

The following is not a list of the ten best players in Syracuse basketball players (though it surely does contain some of the best), but rather those players who had a significant and lasting impact on the Orange basketball.

Roosevelt Bouie and Louis Orr starts out the list at number 10. The talented duo helped transform the Syracuse basketball program into a perennial top 10 program under rookie head coach Jim Boeheim. The Bouie & Louie Show drew national attention to the Syracuse program as the team went 100-18 over their four years. Post season success would not be obtained by the team, though four straight NCAA berths were secured. The arrival of the duo elevated Syracuse to a national program with an identity.

Art Powell was the leader of the Syracuse basketball team from 1904 through 1907, playing both center and guard. The Syracuse basketball program was fledgling before Powell arrived. Powell was immediately the star of the team. He had been highly an successful AAU player in Masden Park (Buffalo) for the Buffalo Germans before coming to Syracuse, and he convinced three of his teammates, George Kirchgasser, George Redlein and Max Riehl to come to Syracuse. These four players helped Syracuse build and sustain a successful basketball program in the early years.

At number eight is Vinnie Cohen. Cohen, more than any other player, was responsible for the successful integration of the Syracuse basketball program. Cohen wasn’t the first African American at Syracuse; Wilmeth Sidat-Singh was first, almost sixteen years earlier. But Syracuse did not have another African American player after Singh until the early 1950s. Cohen wasn’t even the first in his era, as Manny Breland and Ronnie Kilpatrick preceded him. However, Cohen was undoubtedly the star of the team his first year on the court (1954-1955), and would lead the Orangemen in scoring all three seasons. Cohen was a scholar athlete, eschewing opportunities to play professional basketball in order to obtain a law degree. He would elevate the Syracuse program from a 10-9 program (in 1954) to the school’s first NCAA bid and an elite eight appearance in the 1957 season. In a decade where Syracuse football was dominant, Cohen kept Syracuse basketball relevant and he proved that African American players were not only capable of playing on the team, but carrying it to the next level.

The Lee Brothers come in at number seven. Mike was an undersized forward with a solid shooting touch and outstanding hustle and determination on the court. Jimmy, two years his junior, was a sweet shooting guard, with a knack of hitting clutch jump shots. Both were fundamentally solid players with excellent free throw shooting and ball handling skills. Syracuse went 11-14, 9-16 and 12-12 before Mike Lee arrive. When Mike arrived for the 1970-1971 season, until Jimmy graduated in the 1974-1975 season, the Orange would go to the postseason every year, capping it with a strong underdog run to the NCAA Final Four in 1975. Syracuse had better players than the Lee’s when the arrived, and during their tenure, but the brothers the skill set and determination that help Roy Danforth build a solid program.

Vic Hanson is number six on the list. Hanson would turn Syracuse into the dominant team on the east coast, and would help launch the highly successful year of rookie head coach Lew Andreas. Syracuse went 8-12 and 8-10 the year before Hanson stepped on the varsity court; the Orange would go 15-2 his sophomore year, 19-1 his junior year, and 15-4 his senior year. Hanson’s junior year Syracuse was recognized as the #1 team in the nation by the Helms Foundation. Syracuse would maintain success after Hanson, and was a solid team throughout the 1930s. Hanson would coach basketball and football, and help recruit players for the Orange, remaining active with the program.

At number five comes the man who saved the Syracuse basketball program in the early 1990s. Syracuse was under scrutiny from the NCAA for rules violations, and the program was waiting for the punishment to be handed down. Syracuse recruiting was suffering as a result. Meanwhile, freshman Lawrence Moten came out of no where his freshman season to score 18.2 points a game. Moten was a fundamentally solid player, a quiet man who let his actions do his talking. He played with the confidence and maturity of a senior as a freshman, never forcing the action, and yet somehow always ending up with his 20 points at the end of the night. Syracuse would go on probation Moten’s sophomore year, but he the program never missed a beat as it continued to keep winning. A couple years after Moten left the Orange were back in the NCAA Final Four, and the impact of the NCAA probation was barely noticed.

Carmelo Anthony comes in at number 4. All Melo did was lead the Orangemen to their first NCAA National Championship in 2003, his lone season on the campus. Anthony averaged 22.2 points a game and 10.0 rebounds a game that season, and the team flowed offensively through him. He had a lot of help that championship season, particularly from Hakim Warrick and Gerry McNamara, but Anthony was the icon and leader. The season prior to Anthony, the team had imploded upon itself, and Anthony helped wipe away memories of that season. His presence in the spotlight, and continued success in the NBA, has helped Syracuse continue to recruit top flight talent. The program hasn’t built on Anthony’s success, which is keeping him lower on this list… but the championship alone is a significant impact.

Dwayne ‘The Pearl’ Washington is number three on the list. The Pearl was a highly recruited guard out of Brooklyn, with name recognition prior to coming to Syracuse. He came to the Hill, and was as good as advertised. The Pearl dazzled fans with his style of play, and immediately helped the Orangemen become competitive in the Big East, at a time when legendary players like Patrick Ewing, Chris Mullin and Eddie Pinkney were leading other teams. Syracuse started to draw 30,000+ fans to the Carrier Dome to see the Pearl play, and Syracuse became one of the teams you had to watch on television. The Pearl brought exposure to the program that had never been seen before, and coach Jim Boeheim was able to recruit top talent such as Derrick Coleman, Stephen Thompson and Billy Owens as a result. The Pearl also helped an unknown guard Sherman Douglass learn the ropes during rough practice sessions, which delivered dividends for the Orange very shortly after the Pearl left.

Dave Bing is number two on the list. To say that the Syracuse basketball program was bad before Bing would be an understatement. Syracuse was 4-19, 2-22, and 8-13 before Dave Bing stepped on the varsity court, and Syracuse football was at its pinnacle of power. The basketball program could have faded into obscurity (if it in fact was not already there). As a freshman, more fans would flock to see the freshman team to watch Bing play than would watch the varsity. Bing would step on the court and take the Orange to the NIT Tournament his sophomore season, averaging 22.2 points a game and 8.2 rebounds. The team struggled early his junior season on the way to a disappointing 13-10 record, but would go to the NCAA Tournament his senior year with a 22-6 record, averaging a school record 28.4 points a game. The Orange barely missed averaging 100 points a game during the regular season, setting a new NCAA standard, this despite the fact that Bing was the only player who would end up in the NBA.

Bing would go on to have a Hall of Fame NBA career, and become a very successful businessman in Detroit. Bing would have further influence on the Syracuse program as he mentored a young Detroit kid named Derrick Coleman, and helped guide him to Syracuse. Bing would probably have made #1 on my list if the program had remained solid after his departure, but it dropped shortly afterwards until resurrection in the early 1970s.

The number one player on this list was Bing’s roommate at Syracuse. Jim Boeheim was a walk-on at Syracuse, eventually earning a scholarship, and teaming with Dave Bing in the backcourt. Boeheim’s impact of course, was not as a player. However, as a player he developed relationships with the school that would allow him to be the assistant basketball coach, helping to recruit for the Orange in the early 70s. When Roy Danforth stepped down, Boeheim jumped at the chance to be the head coach, and the university immediately saw dividends. Boeheim’s first recruit was Louis Orr, and the Orange rose to the #6 team in the nation in Boeheim’s rookie year. Thirty two seasons later, Boeheim has 771 wins, 3 Final Fours, 1 National Championship, 25 NCAA bids, 6 NIT bids, 5 Big East Championships, 13 appearances in the Big East Finals and 300 Big East wins. Boeheim took Syracuse to the national level, gaining tremendous exposure. He’s consistently recruited top players, had a keen eye for finding the great unknown players, and developed a reputation as the best zone defense coach in the country. The impact of Jim Boeheim on the program is undeniable, and Syracuse fans have been blessed that he has always considered Syracuse his dream job.

No comments: