Syracuse was abuzz this week after Dior Johnson announced his commitment to SU. He is a five-star point guard and ranked in the top five for the class of 2022 by both Rivals and 247Sports. For SU, he is the highest ranked prospect to commit since Carmelo Anthony and we all know how that turned out. It is the type of move Blue Blood programs make all the time in college basketball.
However, Johnson’s commitment offered a sobering view about the state of this iconic program. His quotes about why he chose to don orange were meant to inspire, but I think tell a very different story. “I don’t have anything against the Blue Bloods,” he wrote in a blog post announcing his decision. “But I’m the kind of guy who wants to go to a school where I can play against them and beat them.”
That feels a bit like a backhanded compliment. I am so glad he believes he can win at Syracuse and take down top programs. At the same time, is SU really no longer a Blue Blood? Are they no longer in the same conversation as the Kentuckys, Carolinas, Dukes and Kansases of the world? Consider that by the time Johnson steps foot on campus, it will be 20 years since Anthony’s own historic run. That makes it feel like a very long gap.
Don’t get me wrong, I am thrilled that Johnson is headed to SU and seems intent on bringing some other top recruits with him. It is just a bit tough to acknowledge the fact Syracuse really does not earn “Blue Blood” status anymore.
No, you know what, this is a Blue Blood. There are banners in the rafters of a stadium that hosts the largest crowds in college hoops. We watched the Orange battle through brutal Big East conferences to win conference tournaments at the World’s Most Famous Arena. We have a coach who is as iconic as any in this sport. Or maybe that’s just what I am telling myself to avoid reconciling with the uneven performances of late.
The Orange did miss the tournament in back-t0-back years in 2007 and 2008 for the first time since 1981 and 1982. In more recent years, Syracuse has morphed into a perennial bubble team. SU missed the tournament twice in the past five years and hasn’t earned higher than an eight seed since 2014. This season looks like another year on the fringes for Syracuse as well. The level of excellence fans have become accustomed to has slipped quite a bit.
Even in recruiting, the results have been disappointing. Jim Boeheim has not secured a class ranking higher than 33rd in the country over the past three years according to 247Sports. His last five star commit was Chris McCullough back in 2014.
However, scattered into those inconsistent performances have been two Final Four appearances in the span of four years. Boeheim still has never coached a losing season and if you ignore those absolutely ridiculous NCAA sanctions, he has the second-most wins in NCAA history. In short, this program is not lacking in accolades.
The unfortunate truth is Johnson is right. Syracuse has slipped from Blue Blood status. However, I don’t think it is far from a return. Even in a rebuilding year, Boeheim has this team fighting for a tournament spot.
Programs ebb and flow. Look at UNC this year. UConn is also in a rough spot after winning two national titles in four years. UCLA has had some major bumps in the road. It happens.
Johnson might not want to go to a Blue Blood program, but I hope he is ready to put Syracuse back in that category.