For many reasons, Jim Boeheim is one of the greatest coaches of all time. One of the most overlooked aspects of his reign has been his track record with transfers. That would be both incoming and outgoing.
Boeheim has mastered the knack for finding key contributors from other schools while allowing those who don’t quite make the grade to switch programs.
As recruiting top talent becomes more and more challenging with the rise of mid-major programs and alternatives to college basketball becoming more enticing, navigating the transfer market has become crucial to Syracuse’s survival among the blue bloods.
Let’s take a closer look at Boeheim’s track record for bringing talented transfers to Central New York. Over his 44 years as the head coach of the Orange, Boeheim has brought in 17 transfers.
This conversation has to start with Leo Rautins. He was Boeheim’s first transfer in back in 1979 and went onto have three very productive years with Syracuse. That is probably an understatement as Rautins is a member of the Syracuse All-Century team.
The good times did not stop there. LeRon Ellis arrived after two years at Kentucky. He become a solid scorer on a team that featured Billy Owens and Dave Johnson. Ellis would go on to be a first round pick for the Clippers in 1991.
The 90s featured a couple more notable names. Michael Lloyd and Jason Cipolla each carved out meaningful roles in their stints with ‘Cuse. Ethan Cole provided some depth right at the turn of the century after two years at New Hampshire.
The 2000s were leaner years for transfer success. Ryan Cahak (a walk-on) only appeared in four games. Kris Ongenaet earned solid minutes, but never became a big-time contributor.
Matt Tomaszewski kicked off a great decade of Orange walk-on transfers. Carter Sanderson and Christian White were bench warmers as well.
Wes Johnson came from Iowa State and had one of the best seasons in Syracuse history, leading his team to the No. 1 ranking and First Team AP All American honors in 2010.
Then came Michael Gbinjie. After limited minutes as a freshman at Duke, he sat out a year after transferring to Syracuse. He spent a year learning the ropes in a rotational role before becoming one of the most productive players in recent ‘Cuse history. He helped lead the Orange to the Final Four during 2016’s magical tournament run.
Andrew White and John Gillon came soon after, representing graduate transfers looking to extend their college careers and bridge the gap for the Orange. While the team ultimately missed the NCAA tournament during their only season, both players were leaders on and off the court. They had their fair share of memorable moments, particularly this buzzer-beater against Duke.
Braedon Bayer arrived from Grinnell with no intentions of joining Syracuse folklore, but after a rash of injuries left the Orange paper thin at guard, Bayer made his mark as a walk-on. He played only 17 career minutes in orange and white, but he helped close out the upset of Michigan State in the 2018 NCAA tournament.
Also featuring on that team was fellow transfer Paschal Chukwu. As maligned as Chukwu might have been for some of the head-scratching plays he made during his tenure, he still served a vital role in the middle of the vaunted zone defense.
The only really dud from this era was Geno Thorpe, who withdrew from the school midway through his one season with the team.
44 years after Boeheim took the helm, Syracuse’s fate could actually rest on the shoulders of another transfer addition. Elijah “Please Return to School” Hughes started his career at East Carolina, but has spent the better part of the past two seasons carrying the Orange offense.
The Orange also recently added Alan Griffin, a transfer from Illinois. He figures to continue the rich tradition of Orange transfers who have thrived at Syracuse.
Check back in later this week as we review the players who have left Syracuse during Boeheim’s tenure.