“He’s going to play about 38 minutes a game.”
With those words uttered by Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, the shortest and slightest scholarship player on the Orange roster was handed probably the heaviest load on the team. Freshman point guard Tyler Ennis, who checks in at 6’2” and 180 pounds, will go from traditional high school power St. Benedict’s Prep in New Jersey straight to the starting point guard spot in Boeheim’s lineup and shoulder a lot of the load.
To be sure, starting a freshman point guard is not new territory for Jim Boeheim. In fact, he has often had a true freshman start at point guard quite successfully. Over the last 30 years, the Orange have often had a freshman point guard play at least 33 minutes per game and all went on to take their place in the Syracuse record books as all-time greats.
The first of these four was Dwayne “Pearl” Washington, who debuted on the Hill in the 1983-84 season. Washington averaged over 14 points, six assists, and two steals per game in his first campaign, helping the Orange to a 3-seed in the NCAA Tournament and a Sweet Sixteen appearance. In conference play, Washington actually upped his minutes per game from 34.0 to 36.8 and shot 59.0 percent from the field. The “Pearl” went on to become a Syracuse legend and ranks third all-time in assists in only three seasons of play.
For the 1990-91 season, current assistant coach Adrian Autry was given the keys and responded. In his freshman season, Autry averaged 9.7 points, 5.3 assists, and 2.0 steals per game while setting up Billy Owens and Dave Johnson, who combined to score over 40 points per game. Autry led the team in assists all four years on campus and stands fifth overall in school history.
Jason Hart took over the reins at point guard for the 1996-97 season after the team had lost to Kentucky in the national championship game the previous season. The season, as a whole, was a disappointment, but Hart was not. The Los Angeles native became the first freshman to lead the Big East in minutes played, averaging almost 36 minutes per game on the season, and was a threat on both ends of the court, finishing with 9.6 points and 5.7 assists per game on offense and collecting 2.9 steals per contest on the other end. Hart, who is the all-time SU leader in steals with 329, is second on the career assist list.
Current assistant coach Gerry McNamara was named the starter as a freshman for the 2002-03 season. McNamara averaged over 13 points per game as a freshman, making his mark as a deadly shooter who made just under 91 percent of his free throws on the year (over 96 percent in conference action) and 85 three-pointers, including six in the first half of the national championship victory over Kansas. By the time he completed his eligibility, McNamara wrote his name all over the Syracuse basketball record book and currently stands first in three-pointers made, second in steals, third in assists, and fourth in points.
Jonny Flynn also started as a freshman in the 2007-08 season and was a dynamo. The undersized point was an instant sensation, scoring a record 28 points in his first game for SU and finished with gaudy averages of 15.7 points and 5.3 assists per game. In Big East play, Flynn was a marathon man, averaging 39.2 minutes a game. Flynn ended up scoring the most points for any freshman for the Orange with 663 and is probably best known for his role in the six-overtime Big East Tournament 2009 quarterfinal game against Connecticut when he played in 67 of a possible 70 minutes and recorded game highs of 34 points, 11 assists, and six steals.
While those five players went on to become all-time greats in orange, please note Tyler Ennis is also no ordinary guard. The three primary basketball recruiting services all had him ranked as a top-five point guard and his worst overall prospect ranking was 22nd.
Ennis also had a very busy summer to prepare for his freshman campaign. First, the Brampton, Ontario native averaged 20.8 points per game for Canada in the Under-19 World Championships, including a 42-point explosion against China. He then guided the Orange on a four-game exhibition tour in Canada, averaging ten points per contest and leading the team in minutes played and assists.
Ennis also is not required to do it all for the Orange this year. He is joined by a veteran frontcourt led by ACC Preseason Player of the Year C.J. Fair, senior defensive ace Baye Moussa Keita, and rising star Jerami Grant. If he should ever have any questions, in addition to his teammates, Ennis can simply ask Autry or McNamara about their experiences as freshman.
While playing point guard for the Syracuse Orange is a steep task for anyone to handle, much less a freshman, it should not be for Ennis. Rather, his first season at SU should feature him taking the first steps toward a great career.Jim Stechschulte (Follow on Twitter @dsafetyguy)