With the calendar just about halfway between the end of last year’s Syracuse basketball season and the start of next season’s, it is very easy to forget about the program. The Basketball Tournament has given SU fans a chance to refresh their memories of some players from recent years, as the Boeheim’s Army squad has shown that Demetris Nichols still has a knockdown jumper and Baye Moussa Keita is still blocking shots in the middle of the defense.
Some current players from the Orange program, however, will be getting some organized summer action in, as well. For the third straight year, a pair of Syracuse players will lace them up for the USA East Coast team, which will play against teams from Europe and Africa in France from August 1-9 (the team is not affiliated with USA Basketball).
Two summers ago, Rakeem Christmas and Michael Gbinije played for the team, which finished third in the Four Nation’s Cup (the top three teams all tied with a 2-1 record, so point differential was used as a tie-breaker).
In 2014, Tyler Roberson and B.J. Johnson built on little game experience at SU by helping the squad finish second. Roberson averaged 14.3 points and 10.3 rebounds on the four-game trip, finishing every game with double digits in either points or boards. Johnson only played in three games, scoring in double figures every time out en route to averaging 15.7 points per game in the tournament.
This time around, Kaleb Joseph and Chinonso Obokoh will be the Syracuse players swapping out their orange for red, white, and blue.
While playing for the East Coast USA team doesn’t carry the same cache as playing for USA Basketball, it is still an opportunity for young, inexperienced players to get more high-level competition. It also helped those previous SU players improve their games before returning to campus.
Christmas was fairly experienced after two years as a starter at Syracuse, but Gbinije came off his redshirt year to play for the team and ended up a significant bench contributor for the Orange the following season.
While Johnson and Roberson started last season with small roles, they both built on their experience as they developed over the season. Johnson finished the season strong, hitting double digits in scoring three times in the last eight games, including a game-high 19 points in an upset at Notre Dame.
Roberson transitioned from an energy player into a more complete threat last season, eventually replacing an injured Chris McCullough in the starting lineup and averaging 9.4 points and 8.1 rebounds per game over the remainder of the season.
This summer tour is a huge opportunity for both Joseph and Obokoh. While Joseph played in every game last season, starting all but one, his play was very inconsistent and his 1.65-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio left him outside the ACC top ten. Joseph’s shooting from the field was also erratic, as he shot 37.6 percent from the field and 20 percent on threes, leading to him passing open wide-open shots.
The East Coast USA roster also features Marcus Stroman, a young point guard from South Carolina, as well as a couple other guards, including Isaac Cohen, a combo guard from Columbia. Stroman did not start as a freshman, but is quick and aims to set up his teammates, so Joseph will likely split time with him.
Obokoh only saw 89 minutes of action over the course of the season, getting double digit minutes only three times in conference play. Just getting reps in a game will help the center and there should be a lot of reps available for him, as there is only one other center on the roster, Conor Voss from Columbia. While Voss has completed two years with the Lions, he has played 88 minutes total in that time. With only one other true post player on the roster in 6’7” Jordan Tolbert from SMU, Obokoh can earn a lot of time on the floor.
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