Friday, January 23, 2009

The Sidat-Singh Legacy

It has been an historic week for the United States in terms of racial equality with the inauguration of Barack Obama as President. In honor of this historic event, and in celebration of Martin Luther King, I thought a quick history of African-Americans in Syracuse basketball would be appropriate.

Wilmeth Sidat-Singh was the first African-American player for Syracuse basketball. Sidat-Singh would start the first three games of his sophomore season, and would be a regular player for coach Lew Andreas his first two seasons (Andreas used very deep rotations). Sidat-Singh would lead the Orangemen in scoring his senior season and was a standout defensive player.

Sidat-Singh would make an even greater impact on the football field, playing both half back and quarterback.

There were other African-American players in college basketball before and during that era, but few. Some of the notable players were Paul Robeson who starred at Rutgers in the 1920s, Cumberland Posey at Penn State in the 1910s, and Wilbur Wood at Nebraska. George Gregory of Columbia University had been named an All-American in 1931.

During that era Syracuse University never publicly acknowledged that Sidat-Singh was African-American. Sidat-Singh’s birth name was William Web. However, his father died when he was a child, and his mother remarried an Indian doctor Samuel Sidat-Singh. He adopted Wilmeth, and legally changed his name. Syracuse University, and the local media, took advantage of the Indian name to consistently refer to Sidat-Singh as an Indian, not an African-American.

On of the first articles mentioning Sidat-Singh was on April 14, 1936 in the Syracuse Herald, which said “Sidat-Singh, the East Indian, didn’t go out for the frosh eleven last fall but is in spring practice”

Later that year on December 12th, in previewing the St. Lawrence basketball game the Syracuse Herald stated “Bill Thompson… will see considerable action and may start in place of Sidat-Singh, the Hindu”.

It was apparent to those who actually saw Sidat-Singh that he was African-American. He was forbidden to play in the Maryland and Navy football games his junior season because those schools prohibited black athletes playing on their grounds.

Syracuse University would not have another African-American basketball player until Ronnie Kilpatrick in 1951. By then Jackie Robinson had broken the color barrier in major league baseball, and doors were beginning to open.
Kilpatrick was a highly recruited player out of Rochester, New York. He would play on the varsity his freshman year, and was noted to be an outstanding rebounder. At 6’4”, he was a strong force inside. His junior season Kilpatrick was leading the Orangemen in scoring with 16.1 ppg when he was suspended and then dropped from the team for disciplinary reasons (unknown).

Manny Breland would join the team in 1953, and a year later Vinnie Cohen and the legendary football star Jim Brown would join the team. Cohen and Brown would lead the team in scoring with 15.8 and 15.1 points respectively. There were Jim Crow ‘laws’ at the time that prohibited teams from starting three black players, so Brown was the sixth man for most the season.

Breland would miss the 1955-1956 season because of tuberculosis, and Cohen and Brown would both start, Cohen again leading the team in scoring with 18.2 ppg, and Brown with 11.3 ppg.

Breland was able to return to the team for the 1956-1957 season, and it would be a very successful one for the Orangemen as they went to their first NCAA tournament, losing in the tournaments Elite Eight round. Cohen became the first Syracuse player to average 20+ points a game with 24.2 ppg. Jim Brown did not play that season, his senior year, because he refused to be a reserve because of the Jim Crow rules. Many of the Orangemen of that era feel that if Brown had been on the team, they could’ve won the national championship.

Syracuse not have any star African-American players again until the 1960-1961 season when a couple of football stars helped out the struggling basketball team. Ernie Davis and John Mackey both helped out the team in the second half of the season. Davis was an outstanding high school basketball player (he held the New York State single game scoring record at the time), and he averaged 10.2 ppg, and 9.6 rebounds a game in the 9 games he played.

In 1962 Syracuse had a new head coach, Fred Lewis, and he was a strong recruiter. He brought in Dave Bing, who brought high visibility to the 1962-1963 freshman team. Bing would join the varsity in 1963-1964, bringing three outstanding seasons, and would set the standard for all future Orangemen to follow (along with a Hall of Fame NBA career).

In 1973-1974, Syracuse had four regular African American starters for the first time, with Dennis DuVal, Fred Saunders, Rudy Hackett, and Bob Dooms joining Jimmy Lee. Ironically, only a few years earlier, the 1970-1971 Orangemen had the last ‘all white’ starting lineup with Lee’s brother Mike, Tommy Green, Greg Kohls, Mark Wadach and Bill Smith.

Syracuse’s first all African-American regular starting lineup occurring in 1989-1990, with Michael Edwards, Stephen Thompson, Billy Owens, Derrick Coleman and LeRon Ellis.

I tend to think of the 1989-1990 as a mere footnote, because there was never any hoopla about the starting five all being African-American. And that is the way it should be. Nineteen years later, and all anyone cares about is how well the player plays.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Rautins on Fire

In case you've been pulling a Rip Van Winkle the past few games, you are fairly aware of the recent hot shooting that Andy Rautins has been displaying. His 29 point, 9-16 from three point range against Coppin State pulled the headlines, but he's followed it up with a 7-10 effort against Seton Hall, and then earlier tonight a 4-8 effort against South Florida.

Rautins is a 'apparent' streaky shooter, like many perimeter shooters. But we should not take this recent streak too lightly. Not only has Rautins made 20-34 three point attempts (59%), but he has been the leading scorer for Syracuse for each of the last three games, averaging 23 points a game. His outstanding effort in the Seton Hall game likely didn't make a difference, but the monstrous effort in the Coppin State was absolutely needed, and Syracuse needed all of Rautins shots tonight in the low scoring South Florida game.

These may be some of the 'easier' defenses that Syracuse (and Rautins) will see this year, but take into consideration that his teammates are not hitting their shots, especially from the perimeter, that Eric Devendorf was suspended for a couple of games, and that Jonny Flynn hurt his hip and has struggled recently, and we could have been looking at some ugly losses on the team resume.

Rautins is now 44 for 108 on the season, or 40.7% from three point range. Based on his season average (and we are almost at the midway point), Rautins is on pace for about 104 three point baskets this year. The Syracuse record is for a season is 107 by Gerry McNamara, so Rautins has a shot at it. I think his pace will slow down as Devo gets back into form, and Flynn picks up his pace, but it would be great if Rautins could keep his shooting going.