No, I don’t mean a team made up entirely of Rick Jacksons.
Inspired by TNIAAM’s extensive review of the decade in Syracuse football (broken down by best games, worst games, QBs, RBs, WRs) I’m pleased to present my Cuse Country SU Men’s Basketball All-Decade Teams. It’s slightly different from football because of the way basketball seasons overlap two calendar years. So I decided to exclude the seniors from the 1999-2000 team (Hart, Thomas, Blackwell) who did most of their work in the 90’s. (Please note: this is my opinion only, and my fellow CC contributors may choose to differ with some of my selections.)
Without further ado — here we go!
Honorable Mention (in no particular order)
Demetris Nichols - grew from a nervous, tentative freshman into a scoring monster by his senior season. Made the All-Big East First Team as a senior, when he averaged nearly 19ppg.
Allen Griffin - the often overlooked gritty guard who is the most recent Orangeman to record a triple-double (2/27/01). A two-year starter but only one of those years was during this decade. Still, that was a good year.
Paul Harris - came into the program with freakish athletic ability; never quite seemed to get a handle on what he needed to do to become a complete player. Still, he went all out all the time, was damn fun to watch, and remains Tom’s favorite player. As time goes on, we will forget about the untimely turnovers and missed shots, and instead remember stuff like this:
Wes Johnson - the most talented transfer SU has got in perhaps forever; it is mainly the brevity of his tenure on the team that is keeping him off the first and second teams. Once he leads us to the national championship, we won’t be worrying about such details.
Donté Greene - say what you want about his shot selection, the consistency of his effort or his commitment to the team concept, he is still one of the most naturally talented guys to come through the program and when he was on he was unstoppable.
Josh Pace - the “anti-Donté”, Josh played in almost every game of his four-year career and became a personal favorite (not just because of his name). Despite one of the uglier jump shots in Cuse history, Josh was a double-digit scorer by his senior year, getting his points on offensive rebounds, steals, and general “hard hat”-type play. His contributions were sorely missed when he moved on.
Billy Edelin - the “if only”s are never louder than they are with Edelin. Various troubles kept him off the court for long stretches of his career and ultimately cut it short; yet when he was on the floor, he shone. He could score at will once he got in the lane, and was a deft passer and a big body at the top of the zone.
Kueth Duany - remembered mainly as the “fifth guy” on the National Championship team, Kueth’s career was much more than that. He was a key reserve on the 00-01 team, started in 01-02 and was the #3 scorer on the team, before becoming the senior leader in ‘03. I bet you didn’t know he averaged double-figure scoring for both his junior and senior seasons.
DeShaun Williams - this is not “honorable mention” because he didn’t have a particularly honorable career. It was plagued by numerous off-the-court issues, and his game on the court was often selfish and turnover-prone. However, he could score the heck out of the ball when he wanted to, and was the 2nd most important player on the 00-01 and 01-02 teams. Any review of the decade in SU hoops must give him that credit at least. I also thank him for getting kicked out of school at the end of 2002, clearing the way for the 02-03 championship season.
First team: Arinze Onuaku
Second team: Craig Forth
This was a tough call. Forth started every game of his career and was a consistent player throughout. Though he did not block a ton of shots, his size was a big factor in shutting down opposing offenses. He had a well-defined role on offense, which was mainly to set screens and facilitate ball movement with his above-average (for a 7-footer) passing ability. But he rarely stepped out of that role. And even though he spent all that time on the court over the course of his four years, he never really improved his offensive game or his rebounding. He was basically the same solid role player as a senior that he was as a freshman.
Onuaku, on the other hand, has been a very effective and efficient offensive player, despite having only a few useful post moves. Those few moves are nevertheless bounds ahead of Forth’s offensive arsenal, which consisted mainly of missed layups. Arinze has also been the better rebounder (although his numbers in that category are down so far this season). He set the single-season SU record for field goal percentage last year, and could potentially break that record this year. He has better hands when it comes to catching entry passes, and he knows what to do with them once he gets them. And don’t forget this:
Though none of us could have predicted it when he arrived as a lightly-regarded recruit, Arinze gets the nod as the best Orange center of the decade.
First team: Hakim Warrick
Second team: Damone Brown
Brown played the bulk of his SU career in the 1990s, but his senior season was 2000-01 and it was a darn fine one. Damone improved every year, becoming SU’s second-leading scorer and top rebounder as a senior. That year he also stepped very ably from his supporting role on the senior-laden 99-00 team to a leadership role on a team that was otherwise in great transition and needed that anchor. He was a long, athletic, springy type, not your prototypical power forward “bruiser”. But he held his own against the Mike Sweetneys of the Big East, becoming a sort of prototype for the man who would succeed him in the 4 spot:
Hakim Warrick. He was only able to come to SU after Julius Hodge decided to spurn the Orangemen and head to N. C. State. Thin as a rail his freshman year, his ability was nonetheless evident. He was already throwing down crazy dunks and jumping out of the Dome. As a sophomore, he took off, both figuratively (3rd leading scorer on the team) and literally:
His junior season, Warrick stepped into the void left by Carmelo Anthony to become the team’s leading scorer and rebounder, averaging nearly 20 points per game and being named to the All-Big East First Team. As a senior he averaged over 21ppg and was the Big East Player of the Year (the only Orangeman to win that honor besides Derrick Coleman and Billy Owens in 1990 and 1991 respectively). The scrawny leaper from Philly built himself into a dominant post scorer, a great rebounder, and even a decent jump shooter. Oh, and of course there is this:
Bring your lunch, indeed.
First team: Carmelo Anthony
Second team: Preston Shumpert
People (media, bloggers, fans, whoever) compiling these “best of” lists for SU hoops tend to have trouble with ranking Carmelo. “He was only there for one season,” they say. “It was a great season. Magical. But it was only one year. How can you compare his career when it was only one year?” I say, that’s a load of donkey blossoms. Carmelo is the best player to play at SU this decade. Just in terms of complete and utter talent. Period. He is quite possibly the best player who has ever played for SU. The tops would have to be Anthony, Bing, Coleman, Douglas, and Owens. There have been other great, great players over the years, but those guys are in their own class as far as I’m concerned. It doesn’t matter to me that he was only here for one season. Have you thought about that season recently? And I don’t only mean that we won the championship. Forget that for a moment and just look at Carmelo’s individual season. He averaged over 22 points per game. He led the team in scoring in 24 of their 35 games. But he also grabbed 10 rebounds per game. That’s the best single-season rebounding average since Owens in 1991. He was the focus of the opposing defense each night and he still dominated just about every game he played.
Shumpert is kind of the forgotten man of recent SU basketball. He was a key reserve as a sophomore in 1999-00, then came into his own for his final two seasons — the first two seasons of this decade. He averaged nearly 20ppg as a junior, then topped 20ppg as a senior, becoming the first SU player to achieve that level of scoring since John Wallace. He led the team in scoring both years, and was named to the All-Big East First Team both seasons as well. He had a silky jump shot and a Moten-like ability to be in the right place at the right time. He was never a great rebounder or defender, but was one hell of a scoring machine. He has been somewhat overlooked since his teams underachieved in 2001 and (especially) 2002, leaving him little postseason legacy to stick in local memories. But he was a great college player and deserves to be recognized.
First team: Eric Devendorf
Second team: Andy Rautins
This was a tricky category, since Gerry McNamara spent a lot of minutes at shooting guard alongside Billy Edelin and Josh Wright. But ultimately, those guys faded away and Gerry really became the floor leader. That bumps Devo up to the #1 slot and gives Rautins a chance for some much-deserved props. Devendorf strutted and mouthed off, but more often than not he backed up his yapping with inspired play and seemingly unstoppable scoring ability. He was an emotional wellspring for the teams on which he played. He averaged in double figures every year, and had he stayed for his senior season he had an outside chance at becoming the school’s all-time leading scorer. He almost certainly would have made it into the top three. As it is, he is 14th on the list. His patented drives down the lane, finishing with the left handed scoop shot, were things of beauty. He never learned to play “within the game”. He always felt that he was the best player on the floor and could do whatever he wanted; this tended to result in a few busted plays each game, and earned him the nickname “Unforced Eric”. But when he was hot, he was blazing. You had to accept his sometimes wild play, because you always knew he had a chance to get going — and if he did, it was lights out for the opposition. Eric took over a number of games in his career, willing SU to victory. He was by no means perfect, but he certainly was the best “scoring guard” we’ve had recently.
Andy Rautins came in with a famous last name, a reputation as a pure shooter, and little else. Like many of the other guys on this list, his game grew up as he did, to the point where he is now being talked about as a possible late NBA draftee. He emerged as a starter partway through his sophomore season, but was still mainly a long-range bomber. As a junior, he still took most of his shots from behind the arc, but his all-around court game had taken a big step forward. He was an important cog in the 2009 Sweet Sixteen run, and when the team needed big shots during the Big East Tournament he was one who stepped up. This season he has elevated not just his play but his leadership. He is unquestionably the emotional core of the team. He’s been a mentor to the younger players. He’s controlled the flow of the game on the court. His scoring is at the same level as last season, but his assist numbers have almost doubled and, oh yeah, for a while there he was leading the nation in steals. He seems to know what the team needs from him each night — if he has to launch 12 threes, he will. If he only needs to score 2 points while handing out 9 assists, he will. His “team-first” ethic has pervaded the 09-10 squad and is undoubtedly a key factor in the team’s unselfish play and corresponding amazing start.
First Team: Gerry McNamara
Second Team: Jonny Flynn
This was the most difficult position to decide. These two players, more than any others, define the past decade of Syracuse basketball. Gerry’s arrival in the fall of 2002 was the beginning of a love affair that culminated in the largest crowd in Dome history congregating for his final home game. He and Carmelo quickly swept away the dregs of the 01-02 season and launched the most magical season in Orange history; three years and hundreds of long-distance daggers later, he carried the entire team, the entire program, the entire city on his back for four days — despite a bum ankle! — in a Big East Tournament run that captured the attention and admiration of the entire country. Then there was the Interregnum of 06-07, when the team was run by a combination of Josh Wright, Eric Devendorf, and prayers for holy intercession. But those prayers were answered the following season when another small guy, who also grew up just a couple of hours from Syracuse, stepped into the spotlight and also captured Orange hearts with his smile, talent, and guts. Jonny Flynn exploded onto the scene, setting a new freshman record by scoring 28 points in his first game, then hitting that game-winning three in his second one. Though he was only around for two seasons, the team clearly belonged to him the entire time. He made his own legend in MSG, carrying the Orangemen through the Greatest College Basketball Game Of The Decade (which I now own on DVD, thank you Santa!) and all the way to the finals. (Please don’t forget that, after everything, SU led Louisville at halftime of the final game that year. Then the fatigue finally caught up to them.) It took him two years, but he also swept away the remnants of unfulfilled potential (embodied by the Roberts-Watkins-Nichols-McCroskey quartet), and restored SU to national prominence.
Gerry’s legacy includes the most three-pointers in school history (naturally) and fourth place on the all-time school scoring list. He’s also third on the school’s assist list; Jonny is 7th on that list in only two seasons, and his assists-per-game average is in third place behind Sherm and the Pearl. (McNamara’s average is, eerily, 7th on the list.) Jonny’s career scoring average per game is actually slightly higher than Gerry’s. But then, Gerry played along Carmelo for a year and then Hakim Warrick for two more; Jonny had to do it himself quite a bit more often. Flynn was clearly the better pro prospect, but in the end Gerry’s overall body of work convinces me to give him the first-team nod here. If you want to disagree with that, I won’t say you’re wrong.
We leave you with some highlights of these two special point guards who have made SU basketball so much fun to watch and follow for six of the past seven seasons. Here’s hoping that Brandon Triche makes it three….