When Brandon Triche arrived at Syracuse University three years ago, he came in as a freshman on a team many thought would be steps below the squad from the previous season.
SU had lost the likes of Jonny Flynn, Paul Harris, and Eric Devendorf from its Sweet 16 team, and pundits were left shaking their heads toward the remains left on the team.
But that Syracuse squad ended up winning the Big East regular season title, ascended to the No. 1 overall ranking at one point, and wound up with a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The main culprit behind the sprint to all those wins? The seniors.
Fifth-year seniors Arinze Onuaku and Andy Rautins, along with junior transfer Wes Johnson, paved the way to the surprise success of the 2009-2010 season.
Come this season, Triche finds himself in a new role, one similar to that held by the Class of 2010. Gone, like 2009, are a slew of NBA-caliber players. Triche, along with fellow senior James Southerland, finally finds himself at the top of the food chain. While he’s been a constant starter and productive guard in his three years on the team, this is the year for him to really take over control.
“Brandon Triche has been a good player for three years and this year I expect him to be a great player,” SU head coach Jim Boeheim said at SU’s Media Day. “He’s really deferred a little bit to the guards that were here and I think he realizes that this is his year for him to step forward on the offensive and defensive end and I think he’ll do that.”
Scoop Jardine, Kris Joseph, Dion Waiters and Fab Melo have departed from last season’s Elite 8 team. That’s three starters and the No. 4 pick in the NBA Draft. Triche is one of the few remaining veterans returning.
Through the comings and going of players through the years, Triche has stayed. And produced. And he doesn’t expect that to change this year.
“Every year we lose good guys who are leaders,” Triche said at Media Day. “I think SU is one of the schools where guys stay three and four years, every year, so nothing changes. We got a lot of talent coming back. We have different leaders stepping up.”
Sophomore Michael-Carter Williams is expected to step up and command a larger role while sharing a backcourt with Triche.
But Triche’s experience will still be needed for a team that lost much of its core, and Carter-Williams acknowledges the senior’s importance to the team.
“I think he plays a big role on this team, especially to me too,” Carter-Williams said at Media Day. “He showed me a lot last year, he showed me a lot this year, and I think in certain game situations he’s going to show me a lot too, just to stay under composure [sic].
“He’s been through a lot here. He’s a senior, he’s more experienced than any of us, so he’s a big part of this team.”
Boeheim doesn’t think the team will be in as much trouble as one would think when a team loses so many players. He said the team is as advanced as any group he’s had at the current stage, but admitted that this team finds itself in a different situation than last year’s.
Last year, he said, the team was coming off a successful year and had nearly everybody back. Continued success was expected. But even with the loss of talented veterans this year, there is not much of a decrease in expectations.
“We’ve never had a team, that I can remember, lose this many guys who were such important parts of what we did,” Boeheim said. “And if we had a team that lost even close to what this team did, we certainly weren’t picked in the top 20 the next year. So it’s really a credit to the returning players that we have that people think pretty highly of them.”
While Triche says he’s been trying to be a great player his whole career, he does acknowledge that there are some aspects of the game that he hasn’t quite reached yet. That’s what this year is for.
“I haven’t really got to reach any of my goals yet, but this year is a year where it’s not too late,” Triche said. “So I’m definitely looking forward to trying to be (that) type of player I need to be to win. Any way I can help this team, that’s what I’m gonna do.”
Spoken like a true senior leader. Now let’s see if the wins follow.