“What did he end up with?”
That is what Christian Brothers Academy head basketball coach Buddy Wleklinski asked me after a varsity basketball against Corcoran in the 2004-05 season.
“43 (points), 11 (rebounds), nine (assists) and nine (steals),” I responded.
The “he” was Greg Paulus, who orchestrated the best athletic performance I have witnessed in person, even to this day. As a student at Syracuse University, I minored in coaching, which led me to CBA. The final class of our minor was an internship of sorts, where we got to pick a school and sport where we wanted to be a volunteer coach. And, well…who wouldn’t want to coach a two-sport high school All-American?
During games, I kept stats for CBA. Paulus, a five-year varsity basketball player, had maybe turned in the best individual game of his career (a career where he averaged 23.5 points, six rebounds and eight assists per game).
Coach Wleklinski told me at practice the next day, “I looked over the game tape twice last night trying to find and extra assist and steal.” The quadruple-double would have been a rare feat, indeed.
Paulus was a rare breed, too. A four-time all-state selection in basketball, he accomplished the same feat as a quarterback on the football team. Months after leading CBA to a state championship on the gridiron and being named U.S. All-American and Gatorade National Football Player of the Year, he equaled those accolades as a McDonald’s All-American and Gatorade New York Player of the Year on the hardwood.
As the top-rated point guard in the country his senior year, Paulus had his pick of which school he wanted to go to. And although he later came to SU to play quarterback as a graduate transfer, the local hero, had his heart set on Duke University basketball as an undergrad. He went on to be a three-year starter (in his first three years, oddly enough), averaging 8.6 points and 3.4 assists as a team leader.
A two-sport star. A natural born leader. A kid who will have his pick of where he wants to play hoops at the collegiate level. That sounds an awful lot like Glens Falls High school senior and Syracuse recruit Joe Girard III.
Syracuse hopes, this time around, the local product will choose to stay close to home.
After averaging 50 points a game in his junior season, Girard is a Top 10 recruit in the state of New York and a fringe Top 100 recruit nationally. Many of the same schools that were after Paulus are after Girard, with Duke and Syracuse are at the forefront again. All of them want a chance to land a kid with leadership skills and good character who will most likely stay at least a couple years.
The comparisons are all there. For Syracuse fans, he reminds them of the guy who has become the Orange’s lead recruiter of Girard, four-year point guard Gerry McNamara from nearby Scranton. He is like Jimmer Fredette because they both attended Glens Falls High School. Most notably, though, Girard is like Paulus because they are New York kids who were elite point guards and quarterbacks.
Quarterbacks and point guards are the generals of their teams, needing to know each and every other player’s jobs as much as his own. They are extensions of the coaches, possessing the knowledge to carry out the coach’s game plan and the ability to cultivate and rally a team together. Paulus was and Girard is the most talented players on their teams and also the undisputed leaders.
With an average of 50 points a game, Girard certainly has some of that big-game potential like Paulus’ near quadruple-double that fateful night in 2005. Now, those numbers will come back down to earth at the next level. At Duke, Paulus never averaged more than 11.8 points a game, less than half his career average at CBA. McNamara, who once scored 55 points in a high school game, averaged 15.5 in his Syracuse career. Fredette averaged 18.7 points during his BYU career, but scored 28.9 points a night in his senior season.
Meanwhile, as a freshman, coach Mike Krzyzewski placed trust in Paulus to lead a group that included seniors J.J. Redick and Sheldon Williams. In his senior season, Paulus was unseated at point guard by Nolan Smith, starting in only five games after starting in 95 the previous three seasons. You think that wasn’t a test of a young man’s character? The class Paulus displayed in going from three-year starter to backup tells you all you need to know about what kind of leader he was.
So what kind of character does Girard possess? In January, when he passed Lance Stephenson to become the all-time leading scorer in New York boys’ high school basketball history, how did he handle it? His coach (his dad’s cousin), Rob Girard, simply said, “He takes it pretty good in stride and he does what he does.”
After next season, Syracuse will have to replace guys like Tyus Battle, Frank Howard and Oshae Brissett on the perimeter. While all of them are good scorers, none of them possess elite shooting abilities. Syracuse’s three-point shooting as a team last season (less than 32 percent) was less than superb. Of the incoming freshman this season, only coach Jim Boeheim’s son, Buddy, is labeled a shooter. And a lot of playing time is not guaranteed, with Syracuse having some of the best depth its had in years.
Syracuse could use a stabilizing force at guard for the 2019-20 season and beyond. As a four-year starter and national champion, McNamara knows it. As those in the Syracuse area who watched guys like McNamara and Paulus provide consistent production and leadership know, the Syracuse fans know it.
But can Syracuse wrestle him away from the allure of Duke University and Coach K? The Blue Devils were too good to pass up in Paulus’ eyes. Syracuse is trying to avoid the same result again this time around with New York’s latest prodigal son.