Who will be the Orange MAN on the court be this year? Since 2003 when Cuse captured the NCAA Championship every SU basketball squad has had a star. Obviously in 03 it was Carmelo Anthony, who served as the savior for our storied collegiate basketball program and continued to bring attention to the school while continuing his illustrious career in the NBA.
When Melo left it was easy to see who took his place in the spotlight. His fellow freshman classmate Gerry McNamara was an obvious choice to become the new chosen son of Cuse hoops. Along with Hakim Warrick, high flying highlight reel from Philadelphia, the two took SU to the sweet 16 in 2004. Warrick was also involved in the most cinematic image from that 03 title game where he blocked that possible game winning three from Kansas, a moment that lives on through a variety of posters and paintings.
Gerry was responsible for making sure Cuse continued to be as heralded in years following the championship as they were during it. He was our leader. Hakim was the highlight machine, dunking over everyone in the big east for the two years he was nice enough to stay at SU, the latter of which he was elected to first team All Big East Honors.
When Hakim left it was clear whose team it was. Many remember that final game of Gerry McNamara's at the dome, where a choir of children from his hometown of Scranton, PA. sang a song they had written for him, and where the entire building filled of over thirty thousand stood in tears to honor their most recent SU hero. For anyone to not acknowledge that race played a part in the Syracuse fans' admiration for Gerry would be more than ignorant. Syracuse is a blue collar town and the majority of the fans that pack that huge stadium are white people who love basketball regardless of what kind of person is playing it, but who felt obligated to let Gerry know how much it meant to them to see a little white guy out there giving it his all for their city. The emotion in that building, as big as it may be, was immeasurable that day, when everyone stood and honored the last member of that storied 2003 team that made every Syracuse fan feel proud to have grown up bleeding Orange.
After G-mac it was uncertain who would carry the torch. An unlikely hero stepped in. Demetrius Nichols had been a soft spoken role player for his first three years in a Syracuse uniform. Suddenly, when thrust into the starring role as a senior, he became a Big East Superstar, one of the most feared shooters in the country, and a player Syracuse fans were proud to call their leader. A kid who didn't like talking in front of the camera, took a while to grow as a player, and did not really know what position was his for a few years, eventually became a mixture of SU's most feared players, Warrick and McNamara, with a jumper that could not be stopped, and a post game to go with it. Nichols led the Big East in scoring his senior year and let the Cusefaithful take a collective breathe cause there was no need to wonder who would be their leader that year. No doubt about it.
The next generation of Cuse stars came into Central New York in the beginning of the 2007 school year when McDonald's All Americans Donte' Greene and Jonny Flynn gave SU one of it's most prestigious freshman classes of the decade. It did not take long to figure out who the leader of that group was, as in his Carrier Dome debut Flynn managed to score more points than any SU freshman, including Carmelo Anthony. Greene would go on to leave for the NBA after a disappointing freshman year but Flynn stayed to take The Orange to the sweet 16 in this years NCAA tournament. Now that Flynn has left for the NBA where he was a top ten draft pick of the Minnesota Timberwolves, the question is who is going to carry the torch and continue the legacy of SU hoops into the year of 2009/2010.
Hopefully it is WES JOHNSON, a transfer student from Iowa State University who wanted to play for SU so badly that he sat out the entire 2008/2009 season. He plays that ever-so-valuable 3/4 forward position that has become so important in college basketball, and especially The Big East Conference, in recent years. He was recently invited to join Lebron James' personal skills camp, something that only the top college and high school players are offered by one of the greatest basketball players in the game today. Let us all take a moment to dream about what it would have been like if Lebron had decided to go to school and attended SU, something he has claimed was a possibility. Take it in. Okay back to reality. Although he only averaged a little under 13 points for the Cyclones while playing at Iowa State, one can assume that the more competitive situation in Syracuse will cause for him to feel more valuable and more motivated, as more so than ever in the young man's life, all eyes will be on him. Unfortuntely SU studs Paul Harris and Eric Devendorf elected to go pro, leaving only Andy Rautins, Rick Jackson and Arinze Onuaku as a supporting cast but if those three guys continue to progress as they have over the years, Wes has nothing to be worried about. Rautins shooting has only gotten better over the years and Jackson and Onuaku have become two of the most effective low post players in the Big East. With a group of young players going into their second year under Jim Boeheim also becoming more acclimated with the competitive nature of the college game, SU is poised to be an overachieving team this year.
Case and Point: If Wes Johnson can be the torch bearer that SU fans hope he can be than Syracuse does not need to be too upset over the recent departure of their three biggest stars. 2009/2010 might be a rare opportunity for them to sneak up on the basketball community as although most are aware of their players they have lost, few know of the stud they have acquired. Please join me in saying Wes Wes Yall!
LETS GO ORANGE!!!!