Getting Antsy, Pt. II: Wesley Johnson, The New Face of the 2010 Syracuse Orange

Justin FanizziContributor IApril 3, 2009

KANSAS CITY, MO - MARCH 13:  Wesley Johnson #4 of the Iowa State Cyclones shoots a free throw during the game against the Texas A&M Aggies during day 1 of the Big 12 Men's Basketball Tournament on March 13, 2008 at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

“Getting Antsy” is a multi-part series previewing the 2009-2010 Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team. Part One, which provided a general preview, can be found here.

It’s a question that has been debated in college basketball circles almost as long as the rest of the world has been arguing about the chicken and the egg. You know, what came first, the chicken or the egg?

Well, in the basketball world, it’s more like this: Do the players make the coach or does the coach make the players?

One side inevitably argues that a coach has the master plan, recruiting players regardless of athleticism, size or shooting ability to fit his particular system, a la John Beilein or Bo Ryan.

The other side always says that a coach is only as good as his players and that without good recruits, it does not matter how well you draw up the X’s and O’s.

Think of USC's of Tim Floyd for this one.

Though both sides contribute many valid points to the discussion, I tend to lean towards favoring the players. No matter how skilled or knowledgeable a coach can be, without talent, it is almost impossible to compete at a sustainable high level.

Sure, Jim Boeheim, is roundly praised when his vaunted 2-3 zone defense is shutting down opponents and the team is marching through the tournament, however, when audiences are treated to Josh Wright turnovers, Demetris Nichols bricks or Darryl Watkins box outs, the calls are for better players, not better coaching.

So, it goes without saying, then, that talent means wins. If the promise of this year’s group of newcomers is any indication, then winning will not be a problem in 2010.

Boeheim and his staff reeled in another fantastic recruiting class this year, but this class was quite different.

Junior college transfers are quite rare in Boeheim’s program; bringing in transfers from other Division I programs is more atypical, but Wesley Johnson was just too good to pass up.

Johnson, lightly recruited as a high school senior out of Corsicana, TX, burst onto the scene during his freshman year at Iowa State, when he averaged 12-points and eight boards per game while logging 31 minutes a night.

In his sophomore year, he posted 12-4 in only 27 minutes a game.

The alarming drop in key statistical areas is somewhat mitigated by the fact that he had surgery for a stress fracture in his foot after the season ended.

Obviously, it’s never good when a player suffers an injury of any kind, but a stress fracture means that the bone broke slowly over the course of the season, meaning that the bum foot may have been responsible for the decline.

The exact reasons for Johnson’s decision to transfer remain unclear, but the scuttlebutt making the rounds was that Johnson was seeking a bigger stage for his talents; a place where the NBA scouts would notice him.

Combine that with the fact that he is a poor student, went to several high schools and then a prep school that closed before the school year started and there are more than a few red flags.

Before you throw your hands up, remember that this is not the first time Jimmy has brought an athlete of questionable character to campus: Players like Derrick Coleman, Paul Harris and Eric Devendorf immediately come to mind.

Johnson is a 6’7’’, 195-pound small forward with Hakim Warrick-like hops, an explosive first step that masks his shaky dribbling skills and arms long enough to cover the back of the zone himself.

When looking at a package as pretty as this one, it can be quite easy to ignore certain flaws.

He is a fantastic slasher, but his shooting leaves much to be desired.

Johnson shot at a respectable 45 percent clip his sophomore year, but only connected on 29 percent of his three-point attempts.

His mid-game is shaky, too. Johnson's shooting numbers leave much to be desired, but his stroke is fundamentally sound so he has the potential, with some work, to have a consistent shot.

On defense, as stated, he has incredible length. His athleticism is so great that he is a fantastic on-ball defender, but even in a zone, he is so quick and his hops so good that he will be great at closing out corner shooters and moving his feet to cover his area.

Though Johnson was ineligible this year, he was allowed to practice with the team so he already has a full year of playing in the system and a full year of playing with his teammates under his belt.

According to reports coming out of Syracuse’s practices, Johnson has been so impressive that he will most likely send Paul Harris to the bench for his senior year.

Adding a player of Johnson’s caliber to an already loaded team could be devastating to the Big East and could be enough to put the Orange over the top.

Remember the last time the Orange had a big, high-scoring (Johnson scored in double figures in 73 percent of his games), athletic small forward?

The year was 2003; the wing was Carmelo Anthony and the team won the National Championship.

By no means am I saying the Johnson is even in the same league as ‘Melo, but he has the potential to be a first-round draft pick.

More importantly, he could be the missing piece to the puzzle.

Yes, ‘Cuse has go-to-guys in Flynn and Devendorf, but both of them are primarily perimeter threats. In contrary, Johnson has the size and athleticism to get to the rim at will for a dunk or a trip to the free throw line.

Johnson was seeking the bright light—a place to showcase his talent to the masses and bask in the glory.

With 30,000 people packing the Carrier Dome for every home game, a guaranteed trip to Madison Square Garden once a year and a free flowing, run-and-gun offensive system to play in, he gets his wish.

Now, it is time for him to fulfill ours.


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