Wes Johnson made official this afternoon what 99% of the universe expected. He’s declared for the NBA draft where he is a consensus top-ten pick, with an excellent chance of cracking the top five. Thanks Wes for one of the more memorable seasons in recent SU history. This year, with its unique story arc, will go down in Orange lore despite its untimely demise. Wes, too, occupies a unique position in the annals of Syracuse basketball. From the rumors that leaked out of practices the year he sat out, to his explosion onto the national scene at Madison Square Garden (coinciding with the team’s vault from nowhere into the top ten), to his playing through severe pain, to his triumphant return to form against Villanova, to Big East POY and 1st-team All-America honors. His play this year exceeded the expectations of even the most optimistic SU fans. And his joyful, humble personality both on and off the court were a blast of cool fresh air over the landscape of a sport too often dominated by adolescent egos. I think I speak for everyone when I wish him nothing but success in the pros and beyond.
I haven’t wanted to look towards next season, but now that Wes has made it official I think it’s fair (C J Fair) to do so. The team loses three starters for the second straight season, and there is definitely a lot of uncertainty at this stage about how the team will look next season. I think the only 100% guaranteed starters are Rick Jackson and Kris Joseph. But does Rick stay at the 4, with another big man like Riley or Fab Melo manning the middle? Or does he move to the center spot, with Kris as the power forward and someone like Mookie Jones or C J Fair starting at small forward? In the backcourt, Triche is probably 95% to start based on this year, even though Scoop was playing better than Brandon by the end of the season. There is a small chance that JB could move Scoop into a starting role based on offseason and preseason practices. More likely is that they form the starting backcourt. But if Mookie ups his game, he could end up as the starting SG; Dion Waiters will also challenge for that spot. In either circumstance Scoop could remain the supersub. But based on the leadership role that Jardine seemed to be growing into this season, I’d bet he gets a starting nod one way or another. Then there is the question of where James Southerland fits into all this. We know he can shoot, and he is long and athletic, but he seemed lost on the court last season. Can he make the jump to prime time? Finally, there is still an outside chance that Brandon Knight could decide to come to SU (small but nonzero chance) and tangle up this whole scenario.
Whatever happens, only four players are returning who have seen much real game action. So there will be some rawness out there on display. And we know Boeheim is only going to play guys that he thinks are ready. So there is playing time available for whoever can step up and prove to the boss that he is prepared to contribute. Mookie, Waiters, and Riley probably have the best shot at it right now, but a lot can happen over the course of a summer.
I was about to say I’m excited for next season, but “excited” is too strong a word at the moment. Let’s say “tantalized”.