It was back around March Madness when a colleague of mine (a North Carolina Tar Heels fan) and I were sitting at Turner Sports watching the tournament unfold. As a Heels fan, he is used to watching his team loaded with prime-time talent almost on a yearly basis. He turned to me and asked, “how many McDonald’s All-Americans does Syracuse have on its roster?”
He was surprised to learn the Orange do not nab more All-American talent than they actually do. Truth be told, Jim Boeheim has recruited many more of the Gerry McNamara types than those in the Carmelo Anthony mold…and that’s not a bad thing.
In fact, the strength and longevity of the Orange basketball program was illustrated by an ESPN.com article earlier this month. Based on a criteria of five categories (coaching, current talent, recruiting, program power and stability), Syracuse ranks No. 8 on the list of future power rankings in college basketball.
We know that Boeheim and his staff have been around forever and are at the top of their game, which explains the stability, coaching and program power criteria. And, with the early exits of Tyler Ennis and Jerami Grant after last season, the current talent is not quite what it has been in recent seasons.
But, the impressive factor in Syracuse’s continuing power near the top of the college ranks has been in its recruiting.
As mentioned earlier, Syracuse gets a lot more of the McNamaras of the world than the Anthonys…that is to say, the Orange do not often get the elite, blue-chip recruits that are commonly one-and-done.
Since 2000, Syracuse has landed eight McDonald’s All-Americans, 12th most in the country. Those guys are: DaJuan Coleman (2012), Michael Carter-Williams (2011), Rakeem Christmas (2011), Fab Melo (2010), Jonny Flynn (2007), Donte Greene (2007), Eric Devendorf (2005) and Carmelo Anthony (2002). Anthony was the only one-and-done among the bunch and he and Carter-Williams are the only ones who really experienced any sort of NBA success.
In comparison, Duke has gotten the most All-Americans (29) in the same time frame, with names like Kyrie Irving, Jabari Parker and Austin Rivers among the premier guys recruited each year.
What Boeheim’s best skill may be is to develop players that stay three and four years. For every Anthony, Tyler Ennis or Fab Melo that decides to leave early, there have been guys like Hakim Warrick, Brandon Triche, Kris Joseph, James Southerland, Josh Pace, C.J. Fair and Andy Rautins who have stayed four years, gotten dramatically better over that span and been the glue of the Syracuse teams.
We don’t see years where Syracuse is having to replace three, four, five or six guys from the roster on a yearly basis like John Calipari does at Kentucky or other schools that are raking in multiple All-Americans every year. The balance on Syracuse’s squads has been a larger reason for their success. Combining a few veterans with some second- and third-year players that are ready to step into larger roles and some incoming freshman with loads of potential has allowed for Boeheim to have a nice blend of players that complement each other.
Sometimes, those efforts have not come to fruition like Boeheim had planned. Take this upcoming season, for instance. Only two freshmen (Chris McCullough and Kaleb Joseph) are slated to come in, which would be fine to mix make up for the losses of Fair and Baya Mousse Keita. But, when guys like Grant and Ennis leave unexpectedly or ahead of schedule, it creates some holes for Boeheim, namely at point guard where Joseph is forced to be the guy from Day One.
Boeheim’s recruiting schemes have often been to eschew the cream of the crop guys that everybody is going after and instead focus on filling out a complete roster with guys that fit his system. The 2015 class seems like it should fulfill that formula to a “T,” with Boeheim calling it, perhaps, his best class ever.
Syracuse has already signed four players in the 2015 class, all four-star ratings (according to ESPN). Malachi Richardson (ranked No. 19) is the sharp-shooter. Moustapha Diagne (a five-star name) is the projectable center. Tyler Lydon seems to be the lanky stretch-four that Boeheim has always loved. And Franklin Howard is the slasher. All four landed in the 20-75 range in the Top 100 prospects list. None seem to be rated “elite.” Yet, Boeheim has hooked several solid pieces. Some may jump after a year if they prove to have the kind of success that Ennis did. Others may stay three, maybe four years and mature into a well-rounded player like Fair did.
Boeheim hasn’t needed to recruit the best of the best to compete year-in and year-out. He’ll gladly take them when the opportunities present themselves. But, he has been far more concerned about keeping the train chugging along at a steady pace by getting players that can help immediately, but may be more likely to stick around for more than two semesters.
It is that continuity that the biggest reason why Syracuse remains so relevant in the college basketball landscape year after year.