LAS VEGAS – Unlike most Las Vegas tourists, Scoop Jardine returned to Syracuse from Sin City this week a wealthier man.
Not monetarily, but intellectually.
Leadership skills from Rajon Rondo, intensity from Russell Westbrook and humility from Derrick Rose. Jardine said he was a "sponge" while helping the U.S. national team prepare for the FIBA World Championships in Turkey later this summer.
A 6-foot-2 point guard, Jardine was one of 20 college standouts who participated in daily scrimmages against the NBA stars. By the time the week ended he had a new favorite player: Denver's Chauncey Billups.
"He told me I reminded him of himself," Jardine said. "For him to tell me that … wow. My coaches always say not to let my head get too big. But for him to say that was a great experience for me."
Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim may not be a big fan of cockiness. But he certainly wouldn't mind if Jardine took on some additional swagger as he prepares for his junior season.
After losing starters Wesley Johnson, Arinze Onuaku and Andy Rautins from last year's team, the Orange are counting on Jardine to play an increased role for a program in search of a second straight Big East title.
Last season Jardine averaged 9.1 points off the bench.
"Every year you want to get better and play a bigger part on your team," Jardine said. "I've been playing and preparing hard. The cherry on top is just coming out [to Vegas] and working with these guys. It adds fuel to my fire as far as what I want to do."
Jardine had actually hoped to be one of Syracuse's leaders last season, but things didn't go exactly as planned. It was around this time last summer when Boeheim announced that incoming freshman Brandon Triche would be the Orange's starting point guard.
Jardine was confused. He had missed the previous season with a knee injury, but by then he had almost fully recovered and figured he'd at least get the chance to compete for a starting job. Still, instead of complaining, Jardine kept his frustrations inside.
"I think I handled it as well as anyone could've handled it," Jardine said. "I could've went to the [media] with it or let my frustration show on the court. But Coach Boeheim is a Hall of Fame coach. He knows what he's doing. As long as I was getting the minutes, I was OK."
Jardine's selfless attitude paid dividends on the court – especially toward the end of the season. Jardine played 20 minutes or more in 13 of the Orange's last 14 games. He averaged 14.6 points over his final seven contests.
"Coach saw that I had great character, because I didn't worry about myself and I put the team first," Jardine said. "I think he'll give me a lot more leeway this year because of that. I hope I set an example for a lot of people."
Jardine is planning to do the same thing this season. He said he expects to start at point while Triche moves to shooting guard, his natural position.
"We were on the court together a lot last year," Jardine said. "I know how to get him going and he knows how to get me going. It's going to be a great backcourt.
"My goals are all about team success. Team success always leads to individual success. I'm a team player. I just want to win the most games we can possibly win and go as far as we can possibly go in the tournament. If that's winning the championship, so be it."
At times it seemed as if Syracuse would pull off the feat in 2010, when it finished 30-5 overall and 15-3 in Big East play. But Onuaku was injured in the first round of the Big East tournament and never returned. The Orange ended up losing to eventual national runnerup Butler in the Sweet 16.
Still, the setback hardly spoiled the season for a Syracuse team that was picked seventh in the Big East in a preseason poll of league coaches. Expectations were low for the Orange because of the losses of Jonny Flynn, Paul Harris and Eric Devendorf.
"We surprised the country," Jardine said. "Now we're in the same situation this year because three of our guys [Onuaku, Johnson and Rautins] are gone.
"Every year you lose guys to the NBA because of graduation or guys leaving early. But that's why our coaches go out and try to get the best players they can possibly get."
Boeheim signed a recruiting class that's been ranked as high as No. 2 nationally. Incoming freshmen center Fab Melo and guard Dion Waiters are expected to contribute immediately.
"Our young guys are as talented as any young guys in the country," Jardine said. "I was training with them for two weeks before I left for [Vegas]. They worked hard every day. We had 6 a.m. workouts that usually kill freshmen. But they got up and we all got after it together. It showed me a lot.
"I've been calling them from out here. I'm telling them about the fun I've had but I've also told them it's all about business."
Syracuse also returns starting forward Rick Jackson and the versatile Kris Joseph, who was the top sixth man in the Big East last season. Jardine, though, will likely be the clear-cut leader.
"Scoop is as good with the ball as I've seen," assistant coach Gerry McNamara said near the end of last season. "He can make other players around him better – and he can score. Once he puts those two things together, he's going to be tough to deal with."
That's something Billups apparently noticed last week in Las Vegas, where he complimented Jardine for his ability to keep defenders off-balance by changing speeds. It's a trait the 34-year-old Billups said he respects.
"This opportunity is going to help me so much," Jardine said. "I've always been a confident kid as far as how I prepare myself for these moments. To be able to go back to school after getting to play against these guys for a week … it will benefit everyone.
"They pressured us and got after us on every possession. I always had to keep my team under composure and get us in a set. When I get back to the college level, it'll probably seem easy."
And as for Syracuse?
"I can honestly guarantee that we'll be right there in the end," Jardine said.
- Scoop Jardine