Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Freshmen at the Point

Syracuse University and Coach Jim Boeheim have been fortunate to often be able to start an experienced point guard for the Orange.  In his first 37 seasons on the Hill, Boeheim has only started a freshman point guard seven seasons.  Tyler Ennis, for 2013-2014, will be the eighth journey with freshman running the team.

The first freshman point guard for Boeheim was unquestionably the most gifted freshman point guard.  Pearl Washington stepped onto Syracuse's campus in 1983, and electrified the crowds with his playground style of basketball.  The Pearl's freshman campaign was a fantastic individual highlight reel, including his game winning half court short to beat Boston College, and his outstanding Big East Tournament effort, where he scored 30 points in the semi-finals against Villanova, and 27 in a memorable Syracuse-Georgetown finals, a game the Orangemen would lose in overtime.  

Syracuse would go 23-9 that season, including 12-4 in the Big East, largely behind the efforts of Washington and sophomore Rafael Addison.  The Pearl would average 14.4 ppg and 6.2 assists. He was also very turnover prone with 3.5 per game, and also foul prone at 3.1 per game. The Pearl would log 34 minutes a game, and did have the luxury of Gene Waldron in the backcourt.  Waldron had been Syracuse's starting point guard the previous two seasons, and provided some steady play.

The next freshman to start at point guard for Syracuse was something of a surprise.  Syracuse had a team loaded with experienced talent for the 1989-1990, but had just lost superstar Sherman Douglas to graduation the previous season.  Boeheim wanted to get all his talent on the court to start the game and moved high flying senior Stephen Thompson to the point, playing sophomore guard Dave Johnson at shooting guard, along with a monster front line of Billy Owens, Derrick Coleman and LeRon Ellis.  

The move of Thompson to the point hurt the team for two reasons. First, Thompson was not a natural point guard, and was uncomfortable in the position. He was not proficient at running the offense.  Second, Thompson was the best finisher on the team, loved playing near and high above the rim, something he could not do from the point guard position.  So after fifteen games into the season, Boeheim inserted unheralded freshman Michael Edwards into the starting lineup.  

Edwards would play the point competently, which was all the team was asking of him.  Syracuse would go 26-7, and win the Big East Regular season championship.  Edwards would score 6.3 points per game and have 5.0 assists per game.

Adrian 'Red' Autry, was highly touted out of high school, and would immediately replace Edwards at the point in the starting lineup the next season (1990-1991); Edwards would still start but moved to the shooting guard position.  Autry was a big guard at 6'4", and was able to run the offense very well.  Syracuse would have a very successful season going 26-6, and 12-4 in the Big East winning the Big East regular season championship.  Billy Owens was the big story on the team, and most of the plays went through Owens one way or another, taking some of the burden off of Autry.

Unfortunately the Orangemen's post season did not go well, as they were one and done in the Big East Tournament and NCAA with shocking losses to Villanova and Richmond.  Autry finished the season with 9.7 ppg and 5.3 apg.  Like the Pearl, he was turnover and foul prone, with 3.6 and 3.4 averages respectively.  

It would be another six seasons until a freshman ran the Syracuse offense. In 1996-1997 highly heralded Jason Hart started for the Orangemen.  It was a very experienced team with seniors Jason Cipolla and Otis Hill, and juniors Marius Janulis and Todd Burgan all starting.  The team was coming off of a surprising Final Four season, and there were some reasonable expectations for a strong season. The Orangemen would start the year ranked 13th in the country in the AP polls.

However, by mid season, the team had dropped out of the polls with four losses by December 14th.  The loss of the talent and veteran leadership from John Wallace and Lazarus Sims from the previous season was clearly felt. Hart was a solid defensive guard, but tended to make poor shot decisions and game play decisions on offense.  He would shoot only 37.9% from the floor, and average 3.0 turnovers a game.  The Orange had no other point guard to really help him out, so Hart played about 35 minutes each game.  He did average 9.6 ppg and 5.8 apg, decent numbers for a freshman.  

The Orangemen would finish 19-13, and would lose in the first round of the NIT Tournament.

The next time a freshman point guard started for Syracuse, the end result would be the first NCAA National Championship for the Orange.  In 2002-2003, red-shirted freshman Billy Edelin was slated to be the starting point guard; however, NCAA violations from activity in another basketball league prevented Edelin from playing in the first 12 games of the season.  So Boeheim turned to another freshman, Gerry McNamara, and made him the point guard.

The results were far better than anyone could have expected. McNamara played the point position well, and the team had outstanding ball movement.  Superstar freshman Carmelo Anthony had a lot to do with that, as he drew a lot of defensive attention; but Anthony wasn't the only star on the team, and players knew their roles.  McNamara would play a very strong game at point guard, and was excellent at the inside/outside game with Anthony and Hakim Warrick.  McNamara would get the ball to one of those big men, and if defenses collapsed too much, they would kick it back out to McNamara who would drain the three point shot. 

McNamara would remain the starting point guard for the whole season, even after Edelin returned, and would play 35.2 minutes per game.  Once Edelin returned, McNamara would get some opportunities to play the shooting guard, but still would log more time at the point. It wasn't until the championship game that Edelin saw more time at the point than McNamara.  Syracuse would of course finish the year 30-5, 13-3 in the Big East, and would win the National Championship. In that game, McNamara would hit six three point shots in the first half to help the Orange get a large early lead.  

McNamara would finish the year with 13.3 ppg, and 4.4 apg.  He was good at not turning the ball over with only 2.4 turnovers a game, and while not a great defender, he was very adept at stepping into the passing lanes for a quick steal, averaging 2.2 steals a game.  

Jonny Flynn would be the next freshman to run the Orange, for the 2007-2008 season. Flynn was electrifying, a guard with great quickness and some flair in his play.  He was a good playmaker, but the team struggled.  A preseason injury took sharpshooting junior Andy Rautins out for the year, and midway through the season his classmate Eric Devendorf would tear his ACL and miss the remainder of the season.  Syracuse would end up with a lot of defensive and rebounding talent on the team, but not many polished offensive players.  Freshman Donte' Greene was the best offensive weapon, and the game tended to focus the offense on him, and unfortunately it often ended with him.  The lack of depth due to injuries forced three starters, including Flynn, to play 35+ minutes a game.

The Orange would finish a disappointing 21-14 that year, including 9-9 in the Big East.  Flynn would have an impressive freshman campaign with 15.7 ppg and 5.3 assists, and would be the Co-Rookie of the Year in the Big East.

The last freshman to start at the point for Syracuse was Brandon Triche in 2009-2010.  This may have been the best all around team in Syracuse history, with a devastating post season injury shortening their run.  Syracuse started the season unranked, and by March 2nd, 2010, they would be the #1 ranked team in the country.  They would enter the NCAA tournament as a #1 seed, however, they lost center Arinze Onuaku to a knee injury in the Big East Tournament, and the hurt them in a close lost to Butler in the tournament.

Triche played well at point guard all season.  He had the luxury of being on a veteran team, and having a veteran back up point guard to support him in Scoop Jardine, a sophomore in his third year at Syracuse.  Perhaps the biggest advantage was most of the offense flowed through senior Andy Rautins, the teams top three point shooter and top assist man.  

Triche would spend a lot of time at the shooting guard position, along with the point guard position, as Boeheim rotated Triche, Jardine and Rautins as needed.  Triche was steady, but Jardine usually played the point at the crunch minutes at the end of the game.  

Triche would finish the year with 8.1 ppg, and 2.8 apg.  He shot an excellent 40% from three point range, often as the luxury of defenses considering him the fifth best scoring option on the floor. Triche took advantage of those opportunities.

Tyler Ennis will be the eighth freshman point guard, and has no true backup.  There will be a lot of minutes the 6'2" guard will have to play. He will be blessed with an outstanding senior in C.J. Fair who has a great inside/outside game, and several promising players who could provide strong offensive support, such as Trevor Cooney and Jerami Grant.  Ennis will have his work cut out for him; the preseason activity in Canada looked very promising, and if the Syracuse team can develop so that it can rely on Ennis to run the offense, and not have to provide it, then it could be an excellent freshman year for him, and an excellent season for the Orange.

Let's sit back and see what happens. Let's go Orange!

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