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What’s ahead for SU men’s basketball?
By any definition, last season was a magical one for the Syracuse University men’s basketball team.
Boasting an unstoppable starting five composed of Kris Joseph, Scoop Jardine, Fab Melo, Brandon Triche and Rakeem Christmas, the team threatened to cut down any school that stood in its way of a national title. With a quick transition game and a strong defensive presence on the boards, the boys were able to lead the ’Cuse to a record-breaking 20-0 start on the season and a run to the Elite 8 in the NCAA Tournament.
The question is: where does the Orange go from here?
In a bittersweet turn of events at the end of the 2012 season, the Orange graduated star seniors Scoop Jardine and Kris Joseph, who both went on to declare for the NBA draft. Meanwhile, sophomores Fab Melo and Dion Waiters also announced they would be leaving to pursue professional basketball careers. With three of the five starters and the key sixth man out of the picture, many ’Cuse fans are questioning if this year’s team will have what it takes to put it on the path toward Final Four.
So, do Syracuse fans have anything to look forward to this upcoming basketball season?
It may come as a surprise that the answer is “yes.” Reason number one? Fresh meat.
Although the hype surrounding this year’s freshman recruits is not nearly as buzz-worthy as it was when former newbies Rakeem Christmas, Michael Carter-Williams and Trevor Cooney joined the team, ’Cuse’s overall recruitment ranking remains strong. CBS Sports analyst Jeff Borzello recently ranked ’Cuse as having the No. 2 recruiting class in the Big East and the No. 14 class overall, despite only having secured two incoming players. The only other schools to make the list with a mere two recruits were No. 9 Duke and No. 23 Villanova.
This, of course, speaks volumes about the talent of the Orange’s two newest members, Dajuan Coleman and Jerami Grant.
Growing up, center Dajuan Coleman was certainly no stranger to Syracuse basketball. A graduate of Jamesville-Dewitt High School in Central New York, Coleman was ranked 14th in the “ESPN 100” poll for high school players. Coleman uses his solid 6’9,” 275-pound frame to muscle out anyone who happens to be in his way underneath the basket. He is a true post player in every sense of the word, and his presence will be welcome on a team that is looking to fill the void left by the very large shoes of Fab Melo.
During both the McDonald’s All-American game and the All-American Championship this spring, Coleman showed off his impressive rebounding skills. He finished the All-American Championship with a game-high 12 rebounds, as well as six points. This type of utter domination on the court will surely bring the entire Carrier Dome crowd to its feet.
Hailing from DeMatha Catholic High School in Washington, D.C., power forward Jerami Grant was ranked 37th in the “ESPN 100” poll. Standing at 6’7” and flaunting an impressive wingspan of 7’2,” Grant is the perfect defensive asset for the Orange. His former coach, Mike Jones, has frequently spoken of Grant’s ability to “play almost every position on the floor”— an ability which will prove to be quite valuable.
While competing in the International Basketball Federation’s (FIBA) Americas Under-18 Championship this summer, Grant has already demonstrated his value as a player. Playing for the United States under the direction of Syracuse coaching legend Jim Boeheim, Grant started all five games in the tournament. In the championship game, he scored seven points and grabbed seven rebounds to help the Unites States defeat host Brazil 81-56.
Now, to base the fate of an entire team upon two individuals is unrealistic, but ’Cuse fans should still get excited about the upcoming season. Reason number two? People improve.
It is no secret that this year’s team is going to be a young one. While a lack of years brings inexperience, that same inexperience also paves the way for improvement. Take last season, for example.
In November 2011, the Syracuse basketball community witnessed two huge transformations. The first one was Fab Melo, a player who definitely looked the part but who had not lived up to anyone’s expectations the previous year. Much to the fans’ surprise, the Fab Melo who took to the court that first game looked leaner, moved faster and played better than ever before. Much to his credit, he went from being “just some big guy” to emerging as one of the essential members of the team.
Dion Waiters also did a virtual 180 in regard to his work ethic. It was rumored that Waiters’ lack of playing time during the 2010 season was a direct result of an attitude problem. In 2011, when Kris Joseph moved up and out of the sixth-man spot, no one thought Waiters would be the one to step up. But that’s exactly what Waiters did, and Orange fans were finally able to see his true athleticism and determination shine through.
The three rising sophomores—Rakeem Christmas, Michael Carter-Williams and Trevor Cooney—all have an equal opportunity to undergo a unique transformation of their own. Although none of them proved to be a dominating force last year, that is not to say one of them won’t be this year’s breakout star. All three players have very different yet equally valuable sets of skills, and it will be interesting to see how they hone their talents in the upcoming season. Now that they will finally get the court time they need in order to reach their full capabilities as players, the future of the squad looks to be full of potential for success.
So, what’s the third reason Syracuse fans have to look forward to November? The Orange attitude, of course.
This goes without saying, but there is absolutely nothing in the world like going to a basketball game in the Carrier Dome. Imagine what it must be like for the other team to have 33,614 people rooting against them, wearing one of the most obnoxious colors on the planet. The sight is incredible, the sound is deafening, and the Orange pride is overpowering.
No matter how the team fares next year during March Madness, the school community will stand behind them and support them. And in true Syracuse spirit, the only thing left to do is to sit back, “Keep Calm, and Go Orange.”
The views and opinions expressed by the writers are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The Juice Online or any employee thereof.