Now that the fabled 44 has been #restored to Syracuse Football, it begs the question: does Syracuse Men’s Basketball need a 44?
There are actually two parts to this question. Does Syracuse basketball need a tradition as strong as the number 44 is for football? And does a Syracuse basketball need a player to wear the 44 jersey?
Let’s start with question one. Syracuse has a terrific basketball tradition, ranking 6th in all-time wins, but let’s be honest: our traditions are pretty terrible. What’s the first tradition you think of when you think of Syracuse basketball? Outside of the 2-3 zone – which isn’t really a tradition so much as a good strategy – it’s probably standing and clapping until the first basket. Ugh! We can do better.
Helpfully, Otto’s Army has produced a list of the other SU basketball traditions. Unfortunately, the only one of these that stands out as more than an extension of the standard cheerleader cheers is the “Who’s he!? So What!? Etc.” introduction for the opposing team. That’s always amusing – especially at road venues like the Verizon Center – but it’s not exactly a tradition to hang your hat on.
I’m sure that many of the other “traditions” on the Otto’s Army list are fun, but they’re not really traditions. “I believe that we will win!” is a Navy football tradition and was most recently co-opted by the U.S. Men’s National Soccer Team. It’s no more a Syracuse tradition than humming “Seven Nation Army” is for the hundreds of teams that do that.
Let’s put it this way: I graduated in 2006, the first year of Otto’s Army. It makes me feel old to say this, but 9 years is not nearly long enough for a tradition to be called a “tradition.” And most of those chants were not done 9 years ago.
So, the very long answer to question number one is: yes, Syracuse basketball could use a tradition as strong as football’s 44. Of course, the legend of 44 is not something you can just conjure up out of thin air or a mid-aught’s alternative rock song. It takes players like Jim Brown, Ernie Davis, and Floyd Little to create the legend.
The Syracuse Lacrosse Team has number 22. Should basketball create its own tradition?
It could, but there is already a strong tradition of 44’s on the SU men’s basketball team. Most recently, John Wallace donned the jersey while leading the Orangemen to the 1996 NCAA championship game. Derrick Coleman’s 44 jersey is already hoisted to the Carrier Dome’s rafters. Syracuse retires jerseys, not numbers, so another basketball player could still wear 44. Even the legendary Jim Brown played two seasons on the basketball teams wearing 44, in between his dominance at football and lacrosse.
Given this tradition, it hardly makes sense for the basketball team to recreate the wheel. If a player decides to wear Carmelo Anthony’s 15 or Gerry McNamara’s 3 and does well, terrific! If enough players do so, perhaps we will have a new tradition on our hands. But there is no need to force it when 44 already has several of SU’s all-time greats – not to mention the aura from football.
So should a Syracuse men’s basketball player bring back 44? Yes! There is no better time to reach for tradition than when faced with adversity. With the NCAA sanctions leveled against Syracuse, recruits and fans alike could use a reminder of SU’s rich basketball history.
So who will take on the mantle? Frank Howard has worn number 4 for Team Takeover in AAU. That’s just one digit off. Tyler Lydon prefers 14, which also contains a 4. Malachi Richardson normally dons number 1, but he has previously worn 22. That’s half of 44.
Perhaps the most likely candidate is Moustapha Diagne. Diagne has worn number 44 itself for both Pope John XXIII High School and the NJ Playaz AAU squad. The wait for a new 44 may finally be over.
Regardless, we should not be too picky. As Sean Keeley wrote at Nunes Magician, these numbers should be proven not earned. Any one of Syracuse’s incoming recruits could take up the challenge. If they can prove they deserve it during their time on the hill, that’s a good way to restart a tradition.