In just two weeks, everything changed.
Back then, our sporting lives were sunny. The Orange's season just ended, and already our backs were to the past; we had visions of cut nets and banner-raising dancing through our heads for the future. It all seemed so perfect. And then it all disappeared.
Jonny Flynn signing with an agent may not rank among the all-time heartbreaks in Cuse history, like Keith Smart getting lucky or being robbed by the selection committee two years ago, but it no doubt stings just as bad.
As I detailed in a couple of columns just weeks ago just after Syracuse’s elimination in the Sweet 16, the potential for next year was off the charts. The burly Arinze Onuaku would be man the middle, flanked by an ever-improving Rick Jackson and Iowa State transfer and superstar-in-waiting, Wesley Johnson.
Incoming freshman James Southerland, Georgetown de-commit DaShonte Riley, and returning senior Paul Harris would also shore up the rotation. Eric Devendorf would start at the two guard, with Andy Rautins, Scoop Jardine, and freshman Brandon Triche backing him and of course, Jonny would be manning the point.
The team would be near-perfect. There would be size, athleticism, shooters, slashers, pure scorers, and the depth they have always lacked. Only the most Billy Packer-esque of basketball pundits could say with a straight face that Syracuse would not be a major threat to win it all next year, and with one signature on one dotted line, the dream quickly fizzled.
The team could have withstood the departures of Harris and Devendorf just fine with the additions of Triche and Johnson, and Rautins remains a quality starter. However, without Jonny, there is little hope.
I’m going to save you time and not repeat what you’ve heard before about Jonny’s heart, toughness, and leadership.
We all know that he was the man; the one who got the ball when the team needed a bucket, the one who the team depended on when adversity struck. Flynn would have returned next year most-likely a member of the preseason All-American Team and preseason Big East Player of the Year, and in what appears to be a down Big East, would have probably led Syracuse to the conference title.
Flynn’s scoring can be replaced, with Johnson and Rautins capable of picking up the 17.6 points per game lost by his departure. (I realize how much the team is losing with Devendorf and Harris gone, too, but I feel that Jackson is on track to be the best big man in the Big East and that we will see a large bump in his numbers and Triche should be able to chip in 10-12 points a game, too). His go-to status will be passed on to Johnson, and the assists will still be there, as Rautins is a brilliant passer.
The real problem lies in the gaping hole left at the point guard position. Jardine is an option, but if you remember his freshman year, putting him anywhere but the bench to start the game is certainly a scary proposition and Rautins is too slow and does not have a good enough handle.
That leaves Triche as the lone option. Triche did spend a lot of time running the point his senior year at Jamesville-DeWitt High School and has a solid basketball IQ, but is simply not a point guard. He is not a good enough passer nor does he possess the leadership skills. Flynn started at the point as a freshman, so it is not impossible for one to be successful, but Triche is nowhere near where Flynn was coming in.
So, with Triche as the only viable option at the “1,” that leaves the team with a starting lineup of Triche at point, Rautins and Johnson on the wings, and Jackson and Onuaku down low. Though the lineup is not drastically different, it is obvious that this version of the Orange does not strike the same fear in the hearts of their opponents.
With Flynn, Syracuse would start the season in the top three, if not higher and would seem like more of a lock than any other team outside of Kansas to make the Final Four.
Now, the team will float around the low-to-mid 30s in the rankings and will be lucky to get an invitation to the Big Dance. Can’t you just see this team being just like the Demetris Nichols-era Orange, going .500 in conference play and having an RPI in the 50’s or 60’s, being squarely on the bubble come Selection Sunday?
Sure, it is selfish for us to be upset that Flynn, Devnedorf, and Harris are leaving. We want them around to entertain us and provide us with thrills and excitement; to have something to brag about when you hit the bar or get into a friendly argument with a Georgetown fan. Devendorf and Harris both have children, and need the money so they can provide as fathers, and that definitely cannot be held against them.
In Jonny’s case, his stock was soaring, and there is always the threat of a catastrophic injury or a bad season to sully his reputation, so entering the draft is a smart career move. However, this year, he faces some stiff competition from the likes of Ricky Rubio, Jeff Teague, Eric Maynor, Brandon Jennings, Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans, Stephen Curry, Ty Lawson, and Nick Calathes, just to name a few.
Sure, the mock drafts all say Jonny is going in the lottery, but with names like that surrounding his and with lingering questions about his size and jump shot, nothing is guaranteed.He could just as easily slip into the 20s as easy as he could go top ten.
Next year, barring any breakouts, Flynn would only have to contend with freshman-to-be John Wall and Oklahoma’s Willie Warren, who is not even a true point guard. In other words, he would be a lock for the top five if he could at least replicate the season he just had.
Nonetheless, we are in no position to take issue with Flynn’s choice. Hey, if I was the best around at something and was doing it for free and someone approached me and told me I could get millions to do that same thing, I’m positive I would say yes, and I’m sure mostly everyone else would, too. However, that does not mean we cannot lament on what could have been.
As much as we want everything to be perfect, we know that it simply cannot be. After all, we aren’t Orange fans for nothing, right?