NBA Playoffs lack Syracuse basketball players

Syracuse guard Dion Waiters smiles

Dion Waiters and OKC missed the NBA Playoffs

It’s my favorite time of the basketball year- the NBA Playoffs. Yes, I am one of those guys who likes the NBA more than the NCAA, and will argue vehemently in favor of watching professionals playing the game at its highest level, over their amateur counterparts in March Madness. But that’s a column for another day. Today I harp upon the lack of Syracuse alumni showcased during this year’s postseason- a trend that has been heading in the wrong direction for quite some time now.

Ready for some mind-blowing facts? Great, I have a bunch for ya:

  1. Only three Syracuse basketball players have ever reached the NBA Finals: Dennis Duval, Marty Byrnes and Bill Gabor. Not exactly household names. Gabor saw the most playing time, averaging 3.3 points during four games with the Syracuse Nationals in the 1954 finals. Byrnes is the only champion, with the Lakers in 1980. He played in one game and didn’t score. And Duval played in Game 3 of the 1975 finals for the Washington Bullets and made one basket.
  2. That means Jim Boeheim has only coached one player, who went on to an NBA championship, and he was a leftover from the previous Syracuse coach and not a Boeheim recruit.
  3. Of the traditional NCAA Powerhouses, UNC players have the most NBA Championship rings: 28. UCLA, 23; University of Kentucky, 20; Arizona, 13; Michigan State, 11; and Duke, 4; all have more than Cuse’s 1. UCONN has a few, as does Florida. It’s hard to find another program with Syracuse’s prestige and reputation that has had less success in the NBA.
  4. This year, Florida has ten former players in the playoffs. Duke and UNC have 9, Kentucky 8, UCLA 7, Arizona and Kansas 5. The Orange has 2, one of whom hasn’t taken the court yet (Tyler Ennis).
  5. The other, Michael Carter-Williams, is the first Orange alumnus to play meaningful playoff minutes (over 20 minutes per game), besides Carmelo Anthony, since Etan Thomas in 2007. Before Etan, you have to go back to Derrick Coleman in 2003.

This research tells me a couple of things. First and foremost, you have to give Boeheim’s system credit, because he certainly isn’t winning with top tier talent – except for maybe Carmelo Anthony, who needs to win something soon, otherwise he gets a huge overrated tag on his entire career.

» Related: Why not move the ACC Basketball Tournament up a week permanently?

Then again, it could also be telling us that Boeheim’s players are ill-equipped for the NBA game, maybe with the 2-3 zone to blame? Going to Syracuse means you’ll play zone for a few years, and then try to go guard the top players in the world one-on-one. It makes sense that so few of Syracuse’s lottery picks have panned out, and that the few who make it can’t find much success on the highest level.

There is good news on the horizon though for Syracuse NBA fans. We get two more games of MCW before the Bulls complete the sweep, and then we can look forward to next year, when Dion Waiters, and MCW should all be competing in the postseason – and potentially Wesley Johnson and Carmelo Anthony, if the Lakers and Knicks can make some moves. Four or five Cuse alum in the playoffs (if Ennis is back as well) would be the most since a whopping 6 played in 1992 (Derrick Coleman, Sherman Douglas, Billy Owens, Ronny Seikaly, Rafael Addison and LeRon Ellis). But, that’s probably wishful thinking.

Still, 2 or 3 is still better than last year when there was zero Orange representation on the NBA’s grandest stage.

Wow, I guess we better appreciate our favorite players during their stay on campus. History tells us that we aren’t likely to see much of them once they leave.

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Matt Goodman

About Matt Goodman

Matt worked for the Westchester Journal News, covering a variety of sports. He has also covered Syracuse University basketball from 2003-05 in both online and print. Matt graduated from Syracuse University in 2004 and currently resides in New York City. Follow him on Twitter @mattgoodman44.
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