On Aug. 16, Tyler Ennis committed to join the Syracuse Orange and headline its 2013 recruiting class. The 6’2″ Canadian point guard (ranked No. 7 at his position by ESPN) set off a mini social media firestorm, with many fans and journalists proclaiming a coup for coach Jim Boeheim, and illuminating fantasies of grandeur and point guard brilliance from the moment Ennis will step onto campus.
Let’s all take a deep breath, put down the Kool-Aid, and look at this objectively. What kind of freshman player will Ennis be in 2013?
Well, the last time a freshman stepped onto the Carrier Dome court to immediately become a lead contributor was during the 2007-2008 season. Donte Greene and Johnny Flynn led the Orange on the floor –all the way to a 9-9 Big East record and a disappointing NIT Quarterfinals exit. Not exactly a successful campaign by the lofty Syracuse standards.
In fact, you’d have to go back 10 years, to the championship season of 2002-2003 to find a successful example of a freshman immediately producing during a successful season. And, let’s be fair, Carmelo Anthony and Gerry McNamara were not your average freshmen.
Still, Boeheim has proven over the years that he’ll play his freshmen and stick with them to some extent. Fab Melo (the No.1 center in his class) in 2010-2011 started 24 times; Rakeem Christmas (No. 2 center) in 2011-2012 started 35 out of 37 games. Neither player had much success though, nor were they played more than 11.5 minutes per game.
Melo of course broke out last season, as did Dion Waiters (No 2. Shooting guard) and CJ Fair (No. 13 small forward). Of the three freshmen during that 2010-2011 season, Fair is the one who actually logged the most minutes and greatest production across the board. Of course in year two, Waiters and Melo proved themselves to be NBA ready, while Fair is back for his junior year as a focal point of the Orange attack.
The jury is out, of course, on Christmas and returning No. 4 shooting guard recruit, Michael Carter-Williams. Both struggled during their freshmen seasons, but are expected to have bigger roles this year. That fits the pattern for the past four seasons: freshmen lying in wait and learning the ropes while sophomores and upperclassmen lead the way.
It’s not so much a result of the talent level of the freshmen, as it is the depth of the roster as a whole. Boeheim has been lauded for the past few seasons for fielding 10 deep teams, as opposed to his traditional seven to eight man rotations.
The last time the Orange employed a small rotation was in 2009-2010, when freshmen Brandon Triche started all 35 games for a sweet sixteen team and played 21 minutes per game. However, he was the sixth or seventh offensive option on a team that only played seven players consistently all year.
A season like Triche’s might be a more reasonable expectation for Ennis, rather than one like Anthony and McNamara, or even Greene and Flynn. But even that type of season seems far-fetched due to a lack of opportunity because of returning upperclassmen.
Last year alone the Orange had three McDonald’s All-Americans, each of whom were graded higher than Ennis by ESPN, who essentially rode the bench for the entire season. One of them, Trevor Cooney, was red-shirted due to a lack of playing time available.
So before we anoint Ennis as the point guard savior, let’s face the facts. Ennis may be talented and he seemingly has a bright future ahead of him, but he’s not Carmelo Anthony. And his team, in all likelihood, will be much better than the one Flynn and Greene inherited. Reality needs to outweigh fantasy, and expectations should be tempered… For now.Matt Goodman