The odd legacy of Scoop Jardine

As he left the court for the final time as a member of the Syracuse Orange, Scoop Jardine looked some combination of outraged, disbelieving, exhausted, melancholy and a half-dozen other emotions you couldn’t quite identify. His teammates were already gone. He was alone as he headed for the locker room.

Scoop’s father, Antonio Jardine Sr., was a fixture at Orange games, distinctive both for his wild beard and his unwavering—and vocal—support for his son. He’d spent both games in Boston in the stands behind the SU bench, sending encouragement and advice his son’s way virtually without pausing for breath. (“Everything to the rim, Jardine!” was a frequent refrain.) Now, Jardine Sr. made his way to the corner of the stands just by the entrance to the tunnel, and as Scoop passed by, he stopped momentarily to hug his father.

Their embrace lengthened, and then—I’m absolutely convinced of this—you could actually see the precise instant when the full weight of the loss and the end and the coming short broke through to Scoop.

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At that moment, their embrace perceptibly intensified, and then Jardine Sr. half climb-stumbled, was half bodily pulled by his son, over the railing and out of the stands, and the two stood locked together in the middle of the exit tunnel, swaying in tandem as Jardine Sr. spoke fiercely into his son’s ear. Ohio State was celebrating on the parquet floor behind them—right about this time, Jared Sullinger was in the midst of his giddy, triumphant on-court interview, and the Buckeyes prepared to cut down the nets—and scattered chants of “We love you, Scoop!” filtered down from a few Syracuse fans remaining in the stands around the tunnel. Through it all, father and son embraced, and for all that was happening around them, the two might as well have been alone.

There’s an easy redemptive/coming of age arc to Scoop’s career, an upward trajectory to sketch from his freshman year full of mistakes and poor decisions through his maturation into the leader he was at the end. We got to watch Scoop grow up, in other words, and you can point to that and say that’s why he resonated with fans the way he did, why he finished his career as one of the best-loved players in Syracuse history.

But I don’t think that sums up the whole of his appeal. That arc is part of it, and it’s important, but the truth is deeper and more complicated than that.

There’s often a disconnect between players as athletes and players as human beings. There are two primary reasons for this, I think. The first, obviously, has to do with the filter of TV and media coverage, and the very managed circumstances under which fans, as spectators, interact with athletes. The second has to do with the best athletes being capable of actions that ordinary people can barely conceive of doing themselves.

Anthony Davis, the Kentucky freshman who is the presumptive No. 1 pick in the upcoming NBA draft, is the latest example of this. An elastic, stretch-limbed marvel, his athleticism tends to be described in terms like “otherworldly,” which is apt in part because you sort of suspect John Calipari found him wandering in whatever the Kentucky equivalent of Mirkwood is; even Davis’s unibrowed features, if not his frame, are vaguely elfin.

Scoop was always more earthly than that. His mistakes and foibles and human shortcomings were uniquely visible in his play, and that made him more relatable than most. In that sense, there never seemed to be a boundary between Scoop the player and Scoop the person.

Throughout his final season, whenever he was asked about his place in Syracuse history, Scoop would grow wistful, desperate even. You could tell, watching and listening to him, how keen his awareness was that there would be no more chances after this one.

Equally, you could tell just how important Syracuse was to him, and his legacy with the school; how much he loved his teammates and the fans and the coaches and the kids begging for his autograph from the stands.  (“Forget all the basketball stuff,” Kris Joseph, near-catatonic after the loss, said.  “He’s been one of my best friends on the team for four years, you know?”) Scoop loved Syracuse, and you could tell how much it meant that Syracuse loved him back by the end.

If you look at the legendary point guards of Syracuse’s recent past, each has a defining moment. Jonny Flynn has the 6-overtime marathon. Gerry McNamara has the 2003 title and SU’s insane run through the ’06 Big East tourney. Going much further back, Sherman Douglas holds (in a 3-way tie) the Division I record for assists in a single game, with 22.

I don’t really know what Scoop’s signature achievement was. He won a 6th Man of the Year award in 2010, and he leaves as one of the winningest players in Syracuse history, a leader during its most successful—and tumultuous—regular season ever. But none of those things resonate like 34 and 11 in 6 OTs, legs animated at the end by willpower and adrenaline and little else. Or half a dozen 3s in the biggest game of your life, as a freshman. Or Overrated?!!, more or less a middle finger in T-shirt form.

To be honest, Scoop’s career is probably going to be defined as much by how he came up short as by anything else. That’s not really a knock, and it says next to nothing about Scoop, either as a player or as a person. Because more than anything, more than the competition and the stage and the teamwork and sportsmanship and everything else that gets romanticized, sports are always—always—about failure.

You always come up short eventually. Sometimes you miss easy shots. Sometimes it’s just not your night. Sometimes the people lined up across from you are just flat better. It’s amazing—and this does say quite a lot about Scoop, and his unexpected leadership—that this team made it as far as it did given everything it went through. Anyone could have been forgiven for folding in the face of the Bernie Fine scandal, all the withering national media attention, that Yahoo Sports “investigation,” and, finally, as if all that wasn’t enough, the team losing its least replaceable player—and a teammate, and a friend—not once but twice, the second at the absolute worst time possible. This team came up short, but they never, ever gave up.

Maybe 20 minutes after losing—20 minutes after what had to be one of the single most devastating experiences of his life to date—Scoop stood before a ring of bristling microphones, in a locker room that had the pallor of a wake. Michael Carter-Williams had just given reporters what amounted to a eulogy for the player he always called his big brother. Now Scoop was left to try and sum up his legacy at Syracuse.

“I’m just trying to become a better person and a better player,” he said, “and that’s what I’m leaving with.”

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I keep coming back to Scoop meeting his father in the stands. I can’t think of a word to describe it other than human. When I think about Scoop Jardine, I’m going to remember that: the way he pulled his father over the railing after the frustrating, unceremonious end to his career.

I don’t know what specifically his father was saying to him, but it doesn’t really matter. You could figure out enough just by watching from a distance. As much as Scoop was angry, and devastated, and shocked, and everything else made clear in the way he clung to his father, you could read something else in the way his father clung to him.

Jardine Sr. was proud of his son. It was obvious, really. He absolutely radiated pride.

I’m still not sure how to take the measure of Scoop, but I know I’m happy I got to experience him. He was a mass of contradictions, chaotic and maddening and brilliant, playing, at his best, with a kind of ferocious joy. The team’s floor general and leader who somehow still seemed to botch a couple of alley-oops every game, with an uncanny knack for back-breaking 3s and ‘no-no-no-YES’ moments.

He practically embodied the ideal of the student-athlete—he graduated on time, then returned to school to pursue a second major and play out the string of his eligibility—while simultaneously managing to expose the NCAA’s rhetoric for the hollow sanctimony it is, precisely because players, and people, like Scoop are so rare.

Scoop was never anything but human, on the court and off it, and watching him you couldn’t fool yourself otherwise.

In the end, the way he was always greeted by fans—his name, low and elongated, sounding to the uneducated outsider like he was being booed—provides maybe the most succinct summation of his legacy.

Scoop was Scoop. And that’s how we’ll remember him.

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About Corey Mallonee 50 Articles
In addition to his editing duties, Corey covers the Syracuse football and basketball beat. He has previously worked in the book publishing industry and currently contributes to Syracuse University’s bE Magazine. Originally from Bangor, ME, Corey graduated from Syracuse University in 2007. Follow him on Twitter @CoreyMallonee.