The Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team will play its first year in the ACC without three of its four best players from last season.
Seniors Brandon Triche and James Southerland are moving on and hoping to get drafted and make a professional career out of basketball, and sophomore point guard Michael Carter-Williams is just waiting to see where in the NBA lottery he will be picked.
Only junior forward C.J. Fair, who was the Orange’s most consistent and arguably best player, remains from a team that made a Final Four run.
But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim has been losing players for decades but has always found a way to keep the cupboard full, or at least he’s made the most out of what’s been in the cupboard. For the past few years, however, with each player lost, Syracuse has advanced farther in the NCAA tournament than the previous year.
It’s like the old adage, “Teach a man to coach and he’ll win today; teach a man to recruit and he’ll win for a lifetime.”
OK, I made that up, but it’s true.
At the close of the 2010-11 season, Syracuse lost to Marquette in the third round (formerly known as the second round). Following this disappointing loss, senior Rick Jackson departed, leaving the Orange to look for other leadership.
That leadership would come from a variety of players. Syracuse would put a team on the floor with extraordinary depth, led by Kris Joseph and Scoop Jardine and the best bench catalyst in the country, Dion Waiters.
Syracuse steamrolled through the season and even achieved a No. 1 ranking. The only blemish of the season came on the road against Notre Dame with Fab Melo being held out with academic problems, an issue that would surface again at the end of the season.
Syracuse seemed destined for a championship date with Kentucky, but a second Fab Melo suspension would force the Orange to make do without the Brazilian 7-footer and Syracuse fell to a strong Ohio State team, albeit in the Elite Eight, a marked improvement over the previous year.
Syracuse lost four players after that season—Waiters, Joseph and Melo to the draft and Jardine to graduation.
The next season would prove a little tougher with the experience lost, but Syracuse found a way to survive and thrive. The explosion of Carter-Williams, combined with the steadiness of Fair and the leadership of Triche and Southerland, Syracuse found itself among the nation’s elite.
The Orange struggled with consistency and settled for a No. 4 seed in the NCAA tournament, but the defensive intensity proved too much for most teams to handle and Syracuse played its way all the way to the Final Four before losing a heartbreaker to Michigan.
From that team, Carter-Williams, Triche and Southerland are all gone, but Jim Boeheim still has a few tricks up his sleeve.
Returning along with Fair are Rakeem Christmas, Baye Keita, DaJuan Coleman, Jerami Grant and Duke transfer Michael Gbinije, a big guard who should be a key contributor after sitting out a season. According to ESPN.com, these players will be backed up by the No. 6 recruiting class in the nation, which includes 5-star point guard Tyler Ennis, Tyler Roberson, B.J. Johnson, Ron Patterson and Chinonso Obokoh.
If Syracuse continues its tournament trend, a national final could be in store, but nothing is assured. The cupboard must be maintained and Jim Boeheim is already preparing for the season after next.
Let’s take a look into the future of Syracuse basketball and the players who will guide the Orange into the early years of ACC existence.
Bronx native Chris McCullough is a 6’10” power forward from Brewster Academy (NH).
The 220-pound junior is the sixth-best player in the country, according to ESPN.com, and recently impressed in the Nike Elite Youth Basketball League.
Scott Phillips of NBC Sports reports that along with scoring, McCullough is a talented passer and rebounder who is constantly working to improve his game.
McCullough has NBA potential written all over him, but that doesn’t mean that Syracuse can’t enjoy him for at least a year or two. He already has NBA size and length, which should fit him perfectly into Jim Boeheim’s 2-3 zone.
McCullough is the only verbal commitment Syracuse has received, but he is the highest ranked player to commit thus far and will have a year to study Syracuse’s style before donning the orange.
With McCullough’s commitment, Syracuse only has two available scholarships left to give away for the 2014-15 season until either graduations, transfers or departures make room for more.
Isaiah Whitehead is a 6’4” guard who can run the point and shoots very well.
As a junior, he was the Brooklyn player of the year, as awarded by the New York Daily News and led the talent factory of Lincoln High School to a Class AA city title.
Lincoln High is also the alma mater of Sebastian Telfair.
According to Syracuse.com, Syracuse has been recruiting Whitehead since he was a sophomore and his coach, Dwayne “Tiny” Morton, fondly compares him to Adrian Autry.
Whitehead has also fielded offers from schools such as Louisville, St. John’s and Minnesota but has expressed interest in Syracuse and has attended Syracuse’s Elite Camp.
A 6’9” center with the best name is his recruiting class, Goodluck Okonoboh is a 5-star recruit who has been offered several scholarships, but appears to be leaning to either Indiana or Syracuse.
ESPN.com has Okonoboh as the No. 20 player in the nation and his big frame, combined with Chris McCullough’s size, would give Syracuse a formidable punch down low that conjures memories of the days of Coleman and Seikaly.
Syracuse has also made offers to several other players who, according to verbalcommits.com, have expressed a moderate amount of interest in the Syracuse Program.
They include 6'6" 5-star recruit Rashad Vaughn and 6'3" 4-star recruit Kaleb Joseph. Vaughn being the more versatile, but Joseph could still get to the basket in between the trees.
While Jim Boeheim is still an excellent recruiter, he can’t win ‘em all.
A couple notable shuns came from Shaqquan Aaron, who chose the Louisville Cardinals, and 7’1” Karl Towns Jr., who was also called to the blue grass of Kentucky by John Calipari and his Kentucky Wildcats.