Recently, my colleague Chris McGlynn wrote two stories about how Syracuse basketball has used the transfer portal to their advantage, nailing nearly every one of their incoming transfers.
That got me thinking about whether Syracuse has used another common college tactic well: The redshirt.
There are a couple of caveats to my analysis. For one, I am not including incoming transfers among this list who are mandated to sit out one year per NCAA rules (this requirement is set to change in the 2021-22 season). Most of these players (like Wes Johnson, Elijah Hughes and Alan Griffin) are ready to play right away, and are only sitting out because the (arbitrary) rule dictates they must.
I also didn’t include Anthony Harris who redshirted in his sophomore year because of academic reasons. Harris did go on to average 22.4 points at Hawaii, but doesn’t really count for this list because his redshirt reason wasn’t solely to improve his game.
Another category of redshirt I’m not including in here is the medical redshirt. Players like Andy Rautins and Eric Devendorf aren’t included because from a skills perspective, they were ready to contribute. They were only redshirted because they were physically incapable of playing.
Instead, I’m only looking at players who are otherwise healthy and academically eligible, but were redshirted because the coaching staff felt that an additional year of grinding through practices and physical maturity would make them more effective.
On SU’s current roster, center John Bol Ajak falls into this category.
“We’ve redshirted 8-10 guys that have been starters for us and have been really good players, productive players for us in the last two or three years of their career,” Syracuse coach Jim Boehein said of Ajak’s redshirt following a November 2019 win over Colgate. “I think he’s going to be really good down the road. And I think he can be that player, too.”
After looking back on all of the redshirts in Jim Boeheim’s coaching tenure, his track record with getting productive redshirts is decidedly more checkered than his history with getting top-flight transfers.
Here is a synopsis of all 11 players who have redshirted for non-injury, non-transfer reasons:
- Rony Seikaly (1983-84): Seikaly is perhaps the poster child for successful redshirts. After redshirting his freshman season, Seikaly would go on to average 12.6 points and 8.0 rebounds over the next four years, and carve out an 11-year NBA career.
- Erik Rogers (1985-86): Rogers only appeared in 44 games after his redshirt season, averaging 1.2 points and 1.5 points in those games. By all accounts, he was a bust.
- David Siock (1989-90): Siock made the unusual move of redshirting in his sophomore season, and saw minimal improvements over the next three seasons. Though he started 31 games in his junior and senior seasons, he was mostly supplanted in the lineup by Conrad McRae. He finished with averages of 1.9 points and 1.8 rebounds per game.
- J.B. Reafsnyder (1991-92): Reafsnyder paired up with Otis Hill (another redshirt) at center for the majority of his career. After his redshirt year, he would play in 105 games, starting 24 of them, finishing with middling numbers of 4.8 points and 3.5 rebounds per game.
- Lazarus Sims (1991-92): It took Sims three seasons after his redshirt season to shine, but in his senior year, he averaged 6.3 ppg and 7.4 apg, and was a big part of the reason why Syracuse went to the National Title game that year.
- Otis Hill (1992-93): Though not on the same level as Seikaly, Hill still managed to have one of the more productive careers for a Syracuse center. In his senior season, he was named to the All Big East Second Team after averaging 15.7 ppg and 6.1 rpg.
- Greg Davis (2000-01): Davis redshirted his sophomore year after being buried on the bench in his first season. He transferred to North Carolina A&T after his redshirt season, where he averaged 2.3 points and 2.4 rebounds in his junior and sophomore seasons.
- Matt Gorman (2004-05): Gorman is the only scholarship player at Syracuse I’m aware of that redshirted in his junior season. After playing only 16 games prior to that, he appeared in 59 games following his redshirt season. He finished with averages of 2.6 points and 1.9 rebounds.
- Trevor Cooney (2011-12): Cooney is the most recent success story for Syracuse redshirts. Though he didn’t play much during his redshirt freshman season, he went on to have three very productive years, and finished with career averages of 10.2 points and 2.0 rebounds per game. He is also the only Syracuse player to play in two separate Final Fours.
- Matt Moyer (2016-17): Moyer appeared in all 35 games in his redshirt freshman season, and made 20 starts, with averages of 3.2 ppg and 3.4 rpg. He’s transferred twice since then, the first time to Vanderbilt and most recently to George Washington. While he still has one year to shine, he was a bust in two seasons with the Commodores, with averages of 2.9 ppg and and 2.6 rpg.
- Chinonso Obokoh (2013-14): While Hill and Seikaly greatly benefited from a redshirt year, Obokoh falls on the other side of the spectrum. Obokoh appeared in just 24 games following his redshirt season, and transferred to nearby St. Bonaventure, where he appeared in five games before injuries cost him the rest of his playing career.
So for those of you keeping score at home, I’d grade the Syracuse redshirts like this:
- Clearly benefited (4): Seikaly. Sims. Hill. Cooney.
- Marginally benefited (2): Reafsnyder. Gorman.
- Did not benefit at all (5): Rogers. Obokoh. Siock. Davis. *Moyer (still has eligibility).
In three years time (or perhaps sooner than that), we can figure out what category Ajak falls under. But judging from past history, he has about a one-third chance of joining the category of “really good players, productive players” that Boeheim referenced in December.