Johnson was a strong player as a freshman and sophomore at Iowa State, averaging 12.3 points a game and 6.1 rebounds. He has been described as a fantastic rebounder in practice, and based on his both is resume and his build, I do not see a reason to doubt that he can indeed rebound. The Big 12 is a highly reputable conference, and those were decent numbers for a young player in that conference.
We will not know what to expect until the games actually begin. How well does Johnson transition from the Big 12 to the Big East will remain to be seen, as does how he gels with his new teammates (whom he has been fortunate to be practicing with during his redshirt transfer year).
There really have been seven notably successful transfers to Syracuse since 1940, and if Johnson can fall into the upper half of this group, Syracuse will be in good shape. For purposes of discussion, I excluded transfers pre-1940; college transfer and eligibility rules were different a while back, and it just made a mess to evaluate them.
#7 of the best transfers for Syracuse is Michael Lloyd. Lloyd scored 1,871 points in two years of junior college at San Jacinto College, and he did not disappoint at Syracuse. He replaced the graduating Adrian Autry, and Lloyd helped Syracuse to a 12-6 Big East record, 20-10 overall. Lloyd would play only one year because of an academic disqualification of his San Jacinto credits. But he helped guide a team with Lawrence Moten and John Wallace.
#6 is Fred Saunders. Saunders came to Syracuse from Southwest Louisiana, and would only be eligible for the second semester of his senior year. Saunders was an NBA style forward, capable of running the court well and a strong rebounder. Syracuse started the 1973-74 season at 7-3, but would finish 12-4 after Saunders joined the lineup. Saunders ‘only’ averaged 9.8 points a game; but scoring wasn’t what the Orangemen needed. His 9.8 rebounds helped Rudy Hackett up front and the Orange would make the NCAA tournament with their strong finish.
#5 is LeRon Ellis. Ellis had an outstanding sophomore season for the University of Kentucky, averaging 16 ppg and 5.5 rebounds. Kentucky was nailed with recruiting violations and the NCAA allowed any player who was not part of the scandal to transfer and play immediately at any other school, so Syracuse was the beneficiary of Ellis’ transfer.
Ellis may be better than I am crediting him for. He did end up being a first round NBA pick. But while Ellis was a physically gifted player with a nice soft shot, he was not a strong inside presence, and was ‘soft’ by Big East standards. He did allow Derrick Coleman to move back to the forward position, and Ellis did have to split time with Rich Manning his first year (Manning would transfer). Ellis improved a lot his senior year, both in scoring and rebounding. And he provided some crucial senior leadership in 1991 as the lone scholarship senior.
#4 is Jason Cipolla, the junior college transfer from Tallahassee Community College. Cipolla was a New York kid, a tough player on the court who provided some critical perimeter shooting on the 1996 Final Four team. He’d split a lot of time that year with Marius Janulis, and the duo were a three point shooting monster. Cipolla would be part of a ‘smaller’ Syracuse team in 1997, a team that had more three point shooters than is the Orange norm. He would score 13 points a game and make 85% of his free throws.
3 Ryan Blackwell 30 g, 118 pts, 3.9 ppg
#3 is Ryan Blackwell, who transferred to Syracuse from Illinois. Blackwell was unhappy with his playing time at Illinois, averaging 3.9 ppg. He made an immediate impact at Syracuse, helping to upgrade the strength on the front line and doing yeoman’s work as a rebounder. He would average 7.8 rebounds a game in his three years at Syracuse; while not outstanding numbers, they are very respectable. Add in his 11.8 points a game, along with is solid defense, and two NCAA Sweet Sixteen appearances, and his impact is noticeable.
#2 is the seldom mentioned, perhaps obscure, Chuck Richards. Richards transferred from West Point to Syracuse. At 6’9”, 220 lbs he provided the big man that Fred Lewis needed for his Orangemen. The Orangemen went from 8-13 to 17-8 and the NIT Tournament in Richards first year on the hill. A large part of that of course was the arrival of a great sophomore class led by the legendary Dave Bing, who had 22.2 ppg and 8.2 rebounds. But Richards took advantage of teams focusing on Bing, and scored 22 points a game himself, along with 9.5 rebounds. Hard to knock those numbers, regardless of the situation. Richards’ numbers would decrease his senior year as a result of injuries and the presence of other players taking possessions away, but he still had a respectable 14.7 ppg and 8.5 rpg.
#1 in my opinion, is no contest. The best transfer at Syracuse has been Leo Rautins. Rautins played for Minnesota his freshman year, and put up solid numbers of 8.3 ppg, to go along with 106 assists and 110 rebounds. He was second in the Big 10 with assists, as a freshman, to some sophomore named Magic Johnson. As a sophomore Rautins showed his versatility, helping run the Syracuse offense, scoring 9.4 ppg with 3.6 assists and 5.4 rebounds. He would cap off his sophomore season with the dramatic tip in basket in triple overtime to allow Syracuse to beat Villanova and win the Big East Championship.
Rautins would help lead Syracuse to a Second Big East Championship in 1982. He would lead the team in assists and rebounds, and averaged 13.3 ppg. His senior year he continued to improve, increasing his scoring to 14.2 ppg, along with 6.2 apg, and 7.3 rpg. He shot 75% from the free throw line, 52% from the floor, and he’d finish his collegiate career with three triple doubles. Rautins would also be a first round NBA pick.