Item: As we near the other bookend of Boeheim’s scheduled penultimate season of 41 years guiding the Orange, which believe it or not gets underway with tonight’s Dome exhibition opener against the Div. II Indiana-Pa. Crimson Hawks (7:00 p.m. ET / ACC Extra), we’re all anxiously awaiting the potential of several unique combinations of SU players on the court at any given point in a game, moves the coach can make with the luxury of talented veterans new and old, another incoming freshman with an NBA future, and height, speed and versatility. In other words, it’s simply another season for Boeheim that as he said last week at the ACC’s Operation Basketball event in Charlotte, “provides a new challenge, a new group, and the (opportunity) to put them together and get them to be successful.”
For all the talk that used to be bandied about in the late 1990s and up until the ‘03 title team that the Syracuse program didn’t produce a lot of NBA talent in comparison to the “Big Four” ahead of them on the all-time victory list – Kentucky, Kansas, North Carolina, and Duke – well that’s a perception that has fallen by the wayside in the post championship decade plus as we see the finish line ahead for the Boeheim era.
As of Oct. 31, there’s 11 ex-‘Cuse players on NBA rosters with the new season underway (Carmelo Anthony-Knicks, Michael Carter-Williams-Bulls, Rakeem Christmas-Pacers, Tyler Ennis-Rockets, Michael Gbinije-Pistons, Jerami Grant-76ers, Wesley Johnson-Clippers, Chris McCullough-Nets, Arinze Onuaku-Magic, Malachi Richardson-Kings, and Dion Waiters-Heat), and never in Boeheim’s 40 previous seasons has he not had at least one future NBA player on every team he has coached.
In fact, three of Boeheim’s teams have had at least six future NBA players on the same roster.
Following the breakthrough 1987 Final Four appearance, both the 1988-89 and 1989-90 teams had six future NBA players, the ’89 team falling in an NCAA Elite Eight thriller against Illinois at Minneapolis, while the next year’s team was upset by Minnesota in the NCAA Sweet 16 at the Louisiana Superdome, another sometimes forgotten jinx game in that building until 2003 came along.
More recently, the ill-fated 2011-12 team that lost a tight game to Ohio State in the NCAA Elite Eight at Boston had six future NBA players (but minus one key future NBA player in Fab Melo when it mattered the most), while the following year’s Final Four team had five eventual NBA players.
As we detailed in July the absolutely unique addition of the graduate transfer rule into the equation of a major program such as Syracuse, instantly providing Boeheim the addition for one season of service from big time college players Andrew White III and John Gillon to join the other eight primary scholarship players, and put the Orange right behind Duke and North Carolina atop the pre-season rankings.
“Obviously it takes time to fit those pieces together, but certainly if you don’t have those pieces, you’re not going very far,” Boeheim said last week in Charlotte. “It’s a great problem to have, and to have those guys (White and Gillon) and have a (7’2”) Paschal (Chukwu) eligible this year to give us a little bit more prescience in the middle.”
“And, I think all of our players have really worked hard in the off-season. I see big improvements from our returning players. That’s always good.”
The exciting first sneak preview comes this evening.