Day 9: Syracuse | Traveling Violations
So Carmelo Anthony is gone – a one, won and done player for the Syracuse Orangemen. Which has left SU without a lot of people believing it can repeat as national champions.
"We've got some other guys though," points out coach Jim Boeheim.
Like three starters from that NCAA title team. Like a deep bench. Like four big-time freshmen (although not Carmelo Anthony big time). And every last Orangeman is motivated by the current perception of the program.
"Everyone is telling them, 'Carmelo led you to a title and Carmelo's not here,' " Boeheim said. "That motivates them.
"We have six guys back that all feel they have a little bit to prove. They had a lot to do with us winning the national championship also. No question we'll miss Carmelo and Kueth [Duany]. But as I said, we've got some guys."
If Boeheim sounds a bit delighted in this development it is because he probably is. Motivational tools are coveted by a guy who has been tilting at windmills up in central New York for 40 years, stubbornly staying and building a program as head coach the last 28 years that used slight as a driving force.
It finally culminated in last season's dramatic championship run – avenging two national title game losses and cementing his long-ago earned reputation as one of the game's very best coaches.
It has even allowed him to become an endearing figure nationally, overcoming the reputation as a dry, complaining coach. In winning it all, Boeheim has become cool.
"There is a big difference between finishing first and second," he said. "Finish second and everybody forgets about it after about two weeks. Win it and it probably goes on forever."
So Boeheim spent the summer enjoying the fruits of his championship labors. He did Letterman, the ESPYs, the White House. He got more speaking offers and golf invitations than ever.
"Up until now it has been a whirlwind," he said. "But [I'm] cutting everything off right now. It is nothing but basketball during the season. I'm kind of eager to get back to the basketball stuff. I was so busy in the offseason. I'm kind of looking forward to the season.
"I might be less busy."
One of the funny things for Boeheim was finding all sorts of new fans in airports and restaurants around the country. It seems everyone was a SU fan last year, or at least claims so now.
But everyone also seems to think that without Anthony, things might not go quite as well this season.
So Boeheim, who loves disrespect as a motivator, has found some at an unlikely time, the season after winning it all.
"This could be a good team," he said. "I think it is a little like last year. I've got all these guys back for another year. I hope the same things happens though, [that] we arrive a year early."
Anthony was, in hindsight, college basketball's best player last year. He was shut out of national player of the year honors only because voters weren't comfortable choosing a freshman. So he'll be missed.
But Gerry McNamara – he of the six three-pointers in the title game – is back. So too is Hakim Warrick, the long-armed wing who averaged 14.8 points and 8.5 rebounds a game. So too is 7-foot center Craig Forth, strong sophomore point Billy Edelin, wing Josh Pace (who made the title-clinching block against Kansas) and big Jeremy McNeil.
Then there is an excellent freshman class eager to contribute.
"I think Gerry is better," Boeheim said. "Hakim is better; he is stronger and better outside. I think Billy has stepped it up a little bit. Craig has stepped it up a little bit; he's looking to score more.
"And the freshmen look good right now. We need help from them."
All of which is to say that SU isn't going anywhere. And until someone knocks them out of the 2004 NCAA Tournament, the Orange are the national champions.
"There are a lot of good teams out there," Boeheim said. "But we've got a chance to be there in the end. I think we can be real good. Although, we are probably a year away.
"But maybe we can fool everyone again."