Thursday, August 23, 2007

What is in a Number?

What is in a number? Players choose uniform numbers for a variety of reasons. Some choose a number because it has a special personal meaning. Others choose a number to follow in a tradition or to emulate a player they admire (think #44). Still some choose a number because they want to be their ‘own man’ and want a number rarely used. Occasionally you will have a player who thinks they do not get enough respect so they will where a 0, or 00, or 13. And then you have those players who just happen to have a number because that is what the equipment manager gave them.

If you were to choose a number for Syracuse basketball, what number would it be? Some players have worn multiple numbers at Syracuse (you will see them more than once below). Virtually all college basketball numbers are restricted to digits 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5. For those of you who ever wondered why, it is so the referee can single with his hands the uniform number of a player. For example, after a foul the referee can hold up a 3 in his right hand and a 4 in his left hand and indicate that the foul was on #34. Hard to do that with 67 as a number.

If you wanted to honor greatness, 44 is the obvious choice. Not only was 44 legendary for football, but it had its share of superstars for the basketball team too. Consider that Derrick Coleman, John Wallace, Danny Schayes, Marty Byrnes, Pete Chudy, and Mel Besdin all wore 44. So did Jim Brown in one of his seasons on the basketball team. I would rank this as the most significant number for basketball, which is only fitting. Four first round draft picks by the NBA in that group.

If you are looking for a great guard, I might suggest #22. Dave Bing stands out in front, but you have other great guards in Dennis DuVal, Ernie Austin, Jimmy ‘Bug’ Williams and Eddie Moss. That is quite a collection of guards.

Need a three point basket? Might I suggest looking at the guy wearing #3 on the court? That would include Gerry McNamara, Preston Shumpert and Matt Roe, all who could be deadly outside assassins. Greg Kohls, in the era before the three point shot wore 33; I’m sure he would have shaved a 3 off if he played today.

If you are looking for a talented forward, I might suggest #45. That list includes Rudy Hackett, Bob McDaniel, Gary Clark, Wendell Alexis, Otis Hill and Tom Jockle.

It is possible that the reason is it looks good on a big body, but several notable centers have worn #50, starting with Roosevelt Bouie. Joining him is Earnie Seibert, Bob Dooms, Wayne Ward, Manny Klutschkowski and Jim Snyder. Not all were extremely talented, but they were all big.

Number 30 brought some good luck to Billy Owens, Todd Burgan, Tony Bruin, Derek Brower, and a couple of playmakers inJohn Suder and Steve Ludd. Jim Brown wore 30 for one season of college basketball. Though to show there is not magic in every number, Josh Wright has not done too well.

Number 4 has a short but distinguished list of recent players including Demetris Nichols, Otis Hill, Dave Johnson and Rony Seikaly. That is a pretty eclectic mix of talent.

If you were looking for some help on the football field, I might suggest talking to guys in #24. That includes Donovan McNabb and Ernie Davis.

And if you are superstitious, I have a couple of numbers for you to avoid. Number 14 had some guys with great potential in Billy Edelin, Earl Duncan and Carl Vernick, but all disappeared after their sophomore seasons.

But the worst number at Syracuse is the number two below 44. Number 42 has not been kind to Orangemen, in general. Louie McCrosky, Bob McDaniel, John Karpis, Rodney Walker, Ernie Lotano and Ronald Kilpatrick all left school early for academic or disciplinary reasons. Then again, I guess Marius Janulis and Jon Cincebox might disagree about the value of number 42.

It goes to show, to each his own.

I do have to say I am not a fan of retiring numbers. I think a greater honor is achieved by having future players want to wear your number and display it on the court. It is a constant reminder of the number and those who wore it. My exception is to honor a player in a tragic situations, perhaps a player who died during a season, or died heroically shortly after college.

Of course, I state that you can have your number honored by current players, yet none of the incoming freshman are honoring the numbers I have highlighted above (see reference by Troy Nunes is an Absolute Magician who commented on uniform numbers a couple of weeks ago). The exception is Ryan Cahak, who is throwing caution to the wind with #42.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Football & Basketball Stars

The two sport star in college athletics has virtually disappeared. Even at the high school level, you are starting to see the multiple sport star disappear, as kids start to focus year round on a single sport at the grade school level. I think overall, the player actually suffers from this as he fails to learn skills other sports stress that could become vital to his continued success is his chosen sport.

Having a basketball star also participate in another sport, especially at the college level, is even rarer. Basketball season overlaps both fall (football) and spring (lacrosse, track, crew, baseball) seasons, so it’s difficult for an athlete to participate in more than basketball, especially if basketball is his primary sport.

Basketball was invented by Dr. Naismith as an activity for his college’s athletes to participate in during the long winter months, between football and the spring sports. So it’s no surprise that in the early years of college sports, there were a lot of football stars who also played basketball. That trend probably held true even in the late 1920’s, and for some football players into the 1930s.

Syracuse has had its share of two sport stars, particularly those who played basketball and other sports. Pre 1930, there’s a long list of ‘Who’s Who’ in Syracuse sports, guys who played both football and basketball. Most noteworthy would be Vic Hanson, who was strong enough at both sports to be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame and the Basketball Hall of Fame (the only person to have accomplished that feat, and it will probably stay that way with the disappearance of the two sport star). Others included John Barsha (3 sports), Beal Banks (4 sports), Vic Baylock (3 letters in football and basketball), Ken Beagle (baseball and basketball), Gotch Carr (3 sports), Lew Castle (3 sports), Eddie Dollard (basketball and baseball), Bill Eisemann (baseball and basketball), Clinton Goodwin (4 sports), Tuppy Hayman (baseball and basketball), Ev Katz (track and basketball), Billy Rafter (3 sports), Joe Schwarzer (3 sports), Wilmeth Sidat-Singh (football and basketball), and Billy Thompson (3 sports). And there are several others.

Even Jim Boeheim was a two sport star at Syracuse, lettering in basketball and golf.

So on the verge of the 2007 college football season, I decided to focus on putting together the All Syracuse Basketball team, but only include those guys who also played Football for the Orangemen. And, I’m going to restrict myself to having guys who legitimately played both sports, not those guys who ‘drank a cup of coffee’ in basketball (such as J.J. Bedle and Melvin Tuten). Also guys like Rob Moore are excluded. Moore was an outstanding high school basketball player and clearly could have played Division I basketball and been a star, but the fact is that he did not play collegiate basketball.

I’ll admit, this team is going to have some great athletes on it, and a lot of hustle, but will probably lack in height.

I’m going to put 6’2”, 212 lb Ernie Davis on my squad. His football commitments limited his time on the hardwood, but he did average 10.2 ppg (points per game) and 9.6 rpg (rebounds per game) when he did get on the court.

Jim Brown easily makes the team. At 6’2”, 212 lbs, he was a tremendous rebounder and he averaged 13.1 ppg for his career at Syracuse. He played 43 basketball games, so he brings a lot of experience to the squad.

Vic Hanson is hands down on the squad. He was only 5’10”, 175 lbs, but he was one of the top two players in college basketball for his era. As mentioned earlier, he was inducted into the College Basketball Hall of Fame, so you know he had some talent. Though he played forward, the ball was in his hands an awful lot. He had 14.1 ppg for his career which spanned 54 games.

John Mackey makes the squad, barely. He played only 6 games, but he had significant playing time in those games, and he averaged 4.7 ppg and 4.7 rpg. At 6’3”, 222 lbs, he’ll bring some athletic muscle to the squad.

Maury Youmans, at 6’5”, 251 lbs makes the squad. He was a reserve for two seasons, and while he did not play a lot, he brings some size to this squad.

Xzavier Gaines gets at spot at 6’4”, 198 lbs. He was a reserve for two seasons, appearing in only 11 games in limited time, averaging 0.2 ppg. However, he left Syracuse after his junior season, and he averaged 13.2 ppg for Division II Northwest Missouri State, along with 4.7 rpg, a 38.7% 3 point shooting accuracy, and 73.6% free throw shooter.

Donavan McNabb makes the team at 6’2”, 224 lbs. He was a reserve for two seasons, playing in 18 games, averaging 2.3 ppg. Coach Boeheim always hinted that McNabb could have been a star in basketball if he focused on it, and several players have credited McNabb’s character with keeping the team ‘loose’ during its 1996 NCAA tournament run.

Joe Schwarzer makes the team at 5’11”, 159 lbs. He was a two time All-American in basketball, and captained the 1918 National Championship team. He played center in his era; the center literally was the center of action, and all ball movement went through him, so Schwarzer could handle the ball. He averaged 10.1 ppg his senior season, and was the best free throw shooter on the squad.

Wilmeth Sidat-Singh makes the team at 6’0”, 190 lbs. He was a tremendous defensive force at guard, with lightning quick reflexes and the star quarterback of the football team.

Pat Stark makes the squad at 6’0”, 172 lbs. Stark had 9.7 ppg his senior season, and played two years for the Orangemen basketball team. He set the Syracuse freshman single game scoring record of 28 points (since broken) and in high school scored 78 points for Vocational High School (then a NY state record) and 60 points for Virginia Military Academy (then a Virginia state record).

Malik Campbell makes the squad at 6’3”, 178 lbs. Campbell played 31 games for Syracuse basketball, with 2.1 ppg, and 1.0 rpg.

That leaves one more spot on the roster to get to 12. My last two choices were between Gotch Carr (5’10”, 165 lbs), who letter 7 times in 3 sports, and Pete MacRae (6’1”, 175 lbs). Carr was an outstanding athlete, gifted runner was great speed. He averaged about 4 ½ points a game in college basketball as a starter who focused on defense. MacRae was the starting center for three seasons, had great hands and was one of the teams top scorers his senior season. I’m going to go with MacRae here; the size admittedly helps him, and being an offensive threat helps.

So I’ve got a twelve man squad. I’m going to start the following five: Donovan McNabb and Vic Hanson at guard, Jim Brown and Ernie Davis at forward, and 6’5” Maury Youmans at center. Youmans is going to have a very difficult time at center (he’s going to have to do his best Andre Hawkins impression). Xzavier Gaines and John Mackey are my likely backup centers, based on height alone (at 6’4” and 6’3”). If Melvin Tuten had played a little more college basketball, I would have considered him eligible to pick and he’d be my starting center; but 4 games of scrub minutes isn’t enough time for my qualifications.

My squad is going to be extremely athletic, and very strong. I imagine a lot of hustle, with them all being two sport stars with football experience, and I expect a lot of physical play. I think I’ll have to go with a lot of pressure defense, and hope the guards and forwards can force turnovers; a half court set will kill the team, though we’ll definitely fall into a 2-3 zone once the press is broken. I’ll be able to rotate players through the guard and forward positions pretty easily and pretty much interchangeably, so keeping the players fresh will not be a problem (plus world class athletes like Brown and Davis won’t be tired).

I figure with the proper training, these guys could win maybe half their games in the Big East, and would be a top tier squad in the smaller conferences. They wouldn’t be able to handle the top 40 squads on a regular basis, but the athletic ability and talent is there. I know I wouldn’t want to get into a brawl with these guys.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Votes Are In: Greatest Syracuse Football Players

The votes are in for the Greatest Syracuse Football player of all time. 32 voters decided to cast their ballots. I have a feeling that all the voters struggled like I did. There are six or seven guys who clearly make the top of the list, but sifting through the remaining great players to find the final three or four was tough.

The Top 10 Syracuse Football Players of all time are:

1. Jim Brown
2. Marvin Harrison
3. Ernie Davis
4. Donovan McNabb
5. Larry Csonka
6. Art Monk
7. John Mackey
8. Jim Ringo
9. Joe Morris
10. Floyd Little

For the record, my top 10 were as follows: Ernie Davis, Jim Brown, Marvin Harrison, Donovan McNabb, John Mackey, Jim Ringo, Vic Hanson, Larry Csonka, Art Monk, and Tim Green. But I think the top 10 that you the readers came up with is quite fine.

I am fairly confident that Davis or Brown is the greatest Syracuse football player of all time. Brown, of course, became a legend in the NFL, and easily could be voted the greatest NFL player of all time. I went with Davis for two reasons. First, Davis helped the Orangemen to a National Championship; yes, it is a team game, but when you are getting down to fine details between two great players, I think that deserves some consideration. Second, and more importantly, Davis was impressive enough to convince the Heisman voters to award him the Heisman Trophy, becoming the first African American to win that honor. Brown was not able to accomplish that. It was ‘only’ five years between Brown’s senior season and Davis winning the Heisman, and Davis was able to get voters past their prejudices.

I think if this vote were done again in 2008, we may see a different result at the top. Why? In 2008, ‘The Express’ will be released in theaters, detailing the life of Ernie Davis, and bringing exposure to a gentleman many people in this country do not know about.

The voting breakdown was as follows:

Jim Brown was on all 32 ballots, with 16 first places, 13 second places, and 1 third place. That’s pretty dominant results.

Marvin Harrison was on 28 ballots, with 4 first place votes, 1 second, and 11 third place votes. What is the justification for the four voters who left Marvelous Marvin off their ballot?

Ernie Davis was on only 22 ballots, with 9 first places, 5 second places, 4 third places, and 4 fourth places. That accounts for all the votes for Davis. Twenty two voters put him in their top 4, and ten left him completely off the ballot. That is a huge discrepancy, and I am guessing in part caused by younger fans having no idea who Ernie Davis was.

Donovan McNabb was on 23 ballots, with 2 first places, 6 second places, 6 third places, and 6 fourth places. That accounts for all but two votes for McNabb. The other nine voters left him off their ballots. I cannot explain that. 2/3 of the voters thought he is a top 4 candidate, and the rest did not vote for him.

Larry Csonka was on 26 ballots, with 0 first places, 2 second places, and 5 third places. Zonk’s votes were scattered all over the board, and that makes sense.

Art Monk was on 26 ballots, with 0 first places, 5 second places, and 3 third places. Like Csonka, Monk’s voters were scattered all over the board.

John Mackey was where the voting started to significantly get divided. Mackey was on only 14 ballots, with 3 second places.

Jim Ringo was on 11 ballots, with 2 fourth places.

Joe Morris was on 14 ballots, with 2 fourth places.

Floyd Little, rounding out the top 10, was on 9 ballots, with 2 fourth places.

The only other player to receive a #1 vote was Jake McBride, star halfback / quarterback from 1922-1924. That was the only vote McBride received on 32 ballots.

Players like Tim Green, Don McPherson, Keith Bullock, Vic Hanson, Gary Anderson, Jim Nance, Darryl Johnston, Joe Ehrman, Rob Moore, Marvin Graves, Donovin Darius, Roland Williams, Tebucky Jones, and Kevin Johnson rounded out the top 25. All were great college players for Syracuse, and made the voting tough.

Many other great players like Mike Charles, Roger Davis, Tommy Myers, John Brown, Al Bemiller, Jim Ridlon, Rob Burnett, Kevin Mitchell, and Terry Wooden, were outside the top 25. And that is to name only a few. Considering that Syracuse Football has been around for over 110 years, and that in modern football there are at least 24 prominent players each season (your starting 11 on offense, starting 11 on defense, kicker, and punter), there are a lot of talented players to choose from.

The polls will continue to remain open at Rankopedia, so please feel free to vote if you have not. I will check in again in a few months and see if the results have changed.

Votes Are In: Greatest Syracuse Lacrosse Player

The votes are in for the greatest Syracuse Lacrosse and Football players; I will cover them in separate articles. Admittedly, the results will be slightly skewed, since I will assume most readers of this blog are huge Syracuse basketball fans, and not necessarily big lacrosse or football fans.

Only 10 voters for the greatest Syracuse Lacrosse Player of All Time. The top 10 were:

1. Gary Gait
2. Mike Powell
3. Jim Brown
4. Casey Powell
5. Paul Gait
6. Ryan Powell
7. Dick Finley
8. Tom Marechek
9. Brad Kotz
10. Matt Palumb

No big surprises on this list. The top 3 were what I expected, though I was not positive that younger fans wouldn’t vote Mike Powell over Gary Gait. Take into account that I am not a lacrosse expert, I can say that I have never seen a better player than Gary Gait. The Air Gait move he pulled off in the NCAA Playoffs was truly unforgettable. I know one barometer I use for greatness is when I player accomplishes something so amazing, unpredictable, and unstoppable, that the sports governing body changes the rules to try to stop the player from using it again. The Air Gait move falls into that category.

Gary Gait appeared on all 10 ballots, with 5 firsts, 3 seconds, 1 third and 1 fourth.

Mike Powell appeared on all 10 ballots, with 3 firsts, 3 seconds, and 2 thirds.

Jim Brown appeared on 9 ballots, with 2 firsts, 1 second and 3 thirds. As Brown is in the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame, and is considered by many experts to be the greatest lacrosse player ever, I am curious how he was left off of one ballot.

Casey Powell appeared on all 10 ballots, with 4 thirds and 4 fourths.

Paul Gait appeared on all 10 ballots, with 2 seconds, and 2 fourths.

Ryan Powell appeared on 9 ballots, with his highest vote being for fifth.

Dick Finley appeared on only 6 ballots, with his highest vote being fourth. I read up a little on Finley, and apparently he was the first lacrosse player to routinely use trick moves (such as shots behind the back). He played back in the early 1960s, so I am guessing he was the forerunner to players like Gary Gait.

Tom Marechek appeared on 7 ballots, with his highest vote being for seventh.

Brad Kotz appeared on 6 ballots, with his highest vote being for eighth.

Matt Palumb finished out the top ten appearing on 3 ballots. His position on the poll was greatly enhanced by receiving a second place vote.

My guess is that experts on the Syracuse lacrosse program would likely choose Hall of Famer Oren Lyons over Matt Palumb. Lyons was an outstanding goalie in the Jim Brown era.

The Nelson brothers, Tim and Tom, were big news on campus in the early 1980s. However, Tim only received 3 votes, and Tom none. They, along with Brad Kotz, were responsible for creating the strong Syracuse teams that were the forerunner to the Gait era.

Several Syracuse players in the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame received no votes: Fred Fitch, Bill Fuller, Victor Jenkins, Stewart Lindsay, Irv Lydecker, Bill Ritch, Lou Robbins, Vic Ross, Roy Simmons Sr, Roy Simmons Jr, and Glenn Thiel. Hall of Famer Pat McCabe received 2 votes. I am not criticizing anyone for leaving these players off their vote, for a two reasons:

I had never heard of many of these men before, either
Many of the players in the top 10 will eventually be a Hall of Famer. They have not yet met the time eligibility requirements.

The poll will remain open at Rankopedia, so if you want to continue to vote, feel free.