Thursday, May 28, 2009

Orangeman Saves Woman From Drowning

Kudos to former Orangemen and current Sacramento King Donte' Greene, who peformed from off-the-court heroics over Memorial Day weekend. KHTK Radio in Sacremento first broke the story, and Mike Waters/Donna Ditota relayed the information in their Post Standard blog.

It appears that a woman, who did not know how to swim, fell out of a boat. Greene saw her struggling, jumped into the water and pulled her to safety. Whatever accolades Greene may receive for his past and future basketball endeavors, nothing there will be more significant than the life he had saved.

My hat is off to you Donte'.

Last summer I had come across an old newspaper article from August 12, 1918 from the Syracuse Herald. Our Mr. Greene was not the first former Orangemen to perform lifesaving heroics.

Herman Brickman was the top reserve forward on the Syracuse 1917-1918 National Champion basketball team, and also a tackle on the Syracuse football team. He would later become a successful labor lawyer.

But in the summer of 1918, Brickman saw a Mr. Stack struggling in the water in Raritan Bay, New Jersey. Stack was 3/4 of a mile off shore, and Brickman swam out to save him. Panicking, Stack would not cooperate with Brickman as he tried to bring him back in, struggling with him for 20 minutes in the water. Brickman eventually got him close enough to the shore, where others could help.

Brickman collapsed himself from the struggles, and it took an hour for the local physicians to revive him.

I thought Brickman deserved some recognition these 91 years later, in honor of the heroics of Donte' Greene.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Goodbye to a Big Threesome

Syracuse finished the season strong, and with the entire starting squad slated to return along with most of the bench and some talented incoming freshman, Syracuse was looking very good for the 2009-2010 season. Some experts had Syracuse projected as a top 5 team for next season. That quickly changed as the weeks following the season rolled by as the three top scoring players and starters Jonny Flynn, Eric Devendorf and Paul Harris all declared themselves eligible for the NBA draft. Syracuse went from a league favorite to a possible rebuilding season.

I don’t harbor any of the three players ill will and wish them the best of luck in the professional endeavors. Flynn’s value was probably never going to be higher than it was at the end of this season, and he has some favorable projections for his NBA draft position.

Devendorf would have been a fifth year senior, and considering his penchant for getting into trouble off the court, I can see him wanting to get out while the going is good. I understand that Harris has a family already, and the lure of a professional contract, even non-NBA, is better than no paycheck as a college student.

I have heard a portion of fans saying that Syracuse is going to be better off next year without these guys, and that is nonsense. There’s a reason that Flynn played more minutes this season than any player in Syracuse basketball history; there was not a worthy point guard replacement on the team. Yes, next year Scoop Jardine will be around and Brandon Triche arrives on campus, but neither are proven players. Furthermore Flynn was the best point guard since the Pearl / Douglas era.

Devo had his problems on the court (too many turnovers, no defense, no rebounding) but he was a clutch shooter, an emotional plus on the court, and had the ability to generate his own offense. That’s a tough commodity to replace.

Harris was the team’s leading rebounder, despite the fact that he was maddingly inconsistent in his effort. There is no doubt that Syracuse played better basketball when Harris played well. He was always a turnover away from making me shake my head, or a blown defensive assignment away from being pulled off the court by coach Jim Boeheim. But he was nevertheless a strong presence on the court.

I would love to have any of these guys back. That’s 43.1 points per game the Orange are losing, along with nine seasons of experience (never to be overrated), and the three best free throw shooters.

Now all is not doom and gloom. There is a lot of talent returning in veterans Andy Rautins, Rick Jackson, Arinze Onuaku, along with the return of Scoop Jardine, Kris Joseph, and Mookie Jones, and the arrival of Wesley Johnson, James Sutherland, and Brandon Triche. And of course, Jim Boeheim always seems to do well with the unproven teams.

Just for exercise (and for those who are curious), I checked on some notable teams that lost some significant players: the 1973-1974 squad, 1985-1986, 1994-1995 and 2001-2002. For those of you who are astute enough, you’ve already realized those were the squads the seasons before Syracuse when to each of it’s Final Fours.

The 1973-74 squad was led by senior point guard sensation Dennis DuVal with his 20.6 points a game, and 3.4 assists per game. Senior Fred Saunders would score 9.8 ppg along with 9.8 rebounds per game, and senior center Bob Dooms would add 4.7 ppg and 5.0 rpg. The Orangemen would also lose some important role players with Scott Stapleton and Tom Stundis.

Now the cupboards were not bare for the Orangemen that year. The teams best shooter Jimmy Lee was returning, and the team’s best player Rudy Hackett would also be back. Sophomore Jimmy Williams would emerge as a solid point guard and Chris Sease would play admirably in the other forward position. And it was not like the 1974-1975 team was dominant; it wasn’t. It was a good team, that got very hot during the NCAA tournament, made the clutch shots, and miraculously found itself in the Final Four.

The 2001-2002 team had a ton of talent, but imploded after being ranking #7 in the nation, and failed to make the NCAA tournament. Preston Shumpert was incredibly talented, but problems between him and the talented but troubled DeShaun Williams would tear the team apart. The Orangemen would lose it’s top two scorers and 36.6 ppg, along with staring point guard James Thues (he transferred). So coming off an NIT season, and losing three starters is not a good sign.

But of course, 2002-2003 was no ordinary season. The arrival of three very talented freshman (Carmelo Anthony, Gerry McNamara, and Billy Edelin) and the growth of Hakim Warrick made the team one of the most formidable squads the Orangemen ever had. And of course, a National Championship occurred.

The 1994-1995 squad was one with some high expectations, that lost in overtime in the NCAA tournament. The Syracuse backcourt had the talented Michael Lloyd (12.5 ppg, 5.2 apg), along with the effortless Lawrence ‘Poetry in ‘ Moten (19.6 ppg, 3.3 apg, 4.2 rpg). Senior Luke Jackson played small forward and brought another 11.2 ppg and 4.2 rpg. That’s a total of 43.1 ppg lost.

Syracuse did have John Wallace foregoing the NBA draft and coming back for his senior year, and Big John would carry the Orangemen to the title game with 22.2 ppg, 8.7 rpg, and 42% three point range shooting. The emergence of Todd Burgan was not unexpected, he had shown flashes of his talent his freshman year as one of the top reserves, and junior college transfer Jason Cipolla teamed with sophomore Marius Janulis to provide some excellent perimeter shooting. The real key was the emergence of fifth year senior Lazarus Sims as the dominant point guard. Sims did not score a lot (only 6.3 ppg), but he was a great ballhandler and play maker, with 7.4 apg.

But the most comparable situation for the current Syracuse squad was the 1985-1986 squad. The Orangemen were led by Pearl Washington with 17.3 ppg, 7.8 apg, and 2.5 rpg. The Pearl was dynamic on the court, and had the special quality of being able to create plays for his teammates, and also able to generate his own offense. If you compare Flynn and the Pearl, statistically they’ll be very similar, with Pearl better assist totals. Clearly too great college point guards; Pearl was better, but that is no knock on Flynn.

The Orangemen had Rafael Addison at shooting guard. As much as the loss of Devo may hurt the Orange, the loss of Raf was a bigger one for the Orangemen. Addison scored as many points as Devo, but without a three point shot. Raf was deadly from the 16-18 foot jump shot, and I’m sure he would’ve made his share of threes. Both Raf and Devo shot about 79% from the free throw line, but Raf played defense and rebounded, and was actually better at handling the ball. Devo was better at making his own plays on offense, but if you have a great point guard on the court (which both did), you don’t have to make your own plays too often. Raf’s scoring was down his senior year due to a leg injury at mid season, so both guys struggled with a bum leg of some sort. At 6’7” Raf had a few inches over Devo at 6’3”.

The third Orangemen to leave the 1985-86 squad was Wendell Alexis. Alexis was quiet on the court, but he pulled down 7.4 rpg, and scored 15.2 ppg, second on the squad. He was a terrific free throw shooter at 81% and was pretty good at running the court. Harris was a better rebounder, but Alexis was a better all around player, and was rarely a liability on the court.

So you pull three starters off the 1985-86 team, including your top three scorers, so it’s tough to predict what will happen the next season. Well, what happened was an unknown sophomore Sherman Douglas emerged as an outstanding point guard, fourth year senior Greg Monroe stepped into the starting lineup and provided excellent perimeter shooting, ball handling and leadership, and a skinny freshman Derrick Coleman showed that he could pull down a rebound or two (or more). Center Rony Seikaly, who had always been inconsistent (remind you of a current center?) developed some consistency and in the post season he stepped his game up several notches to be a dominating inside player. The Orangemen would come within a Keith Smart shot of winning the national title (Hakim Warrick was only 4 at the time and unable to block the shot).

So, who knows what to expect for 2009-2010? I have no idea. It is disappointing to lose the three big scorers from this season (along with Kris Onganaet and his hustle), but the Orange do have some talent returning, and a lot of experience, and a coach who has seen a game or two. It should be a fun year.