Hakim Warrick Q&A: 2003 Syracuse championship and jersey retirement

Hakim Warrick Q&A: 2003 Syracuse championship and jersey retirement

Syracuse University will honor the 2003 championship team this weekend. It is the 20th anniversary of the title and many of the championship team’s players will make their way to upstate New York to celebrate. The guest list includes Carmelo Anthony, Hakim Warrick, Gerry McNamara, Kueth Duany and more. 

I caught up with Warrick, who will also be honored with his jersey officially being retired alongside his teammate McNamara. The jersey retirements will take place on Saturday, March 4, when Syracuse hosts Wake Forest at the Carrier Dome. Warrick’s jersey will be hoisted into the rafters, joining Syracuse legends such as Dave Bing (22), Roosevelt Bouie (50), Louis Orr (55), Derrick Coleman (44), Sherman Douglas (20), Dennis DuVal (22), Billy Gabor (17), Vic Hanson (8), Lawrence Moten (21), Billy Owens (30), Rony Seikaly (4), Carmelo Anthony (15), Wilmer Sidat-Singh (19), Pearl Washington (31) and John Wallace (44).

Needless to say, he is in some very good company. 

Etan Thomas: Syracuse is going to honor you on Saturday night, a member of Syracuse's only championship team. They’re going to retire your jersey and G-Mac’s jersey. There will be a lot of guys from your team going back for this special occasion. How does it feel? 

Hakim Warrick: "It feels great. It’s definitely an honor. Like you said, this is going to really be a special night. To have my name up there with some of the Syracuse greats, it’s definitely an honor."

Etan: Let's talk about how special that 2003 team was. Y’all were such a deep team. Y’all had so many different weapons coming off the bench. 

Hakim: "It was a really special team. I think one of the things that made us so tough to beat was that everyone knew their roles and played them to the best of their ability. We also had a situation where everyone knew that at some point, it was going to be their night, and we were so selfless that we would just feed the hot man. It didn’t matter who it was. We went like nine or 10 deep. And you know, that’s not regular for Syracuse (laughing). Coach Boeheim has been notorious for cutting that rotation real short, but we had a lot of guys who could really play."

Etan: Of course, Carmelo got a lot of the attention, but y’all were definitely not a one-man show. Y’all had a lot of different pieces. 

Hakim: "Sure, we knew Melo was the focal point and we knew that a lot of teams were going to be keyed in on him. We had guys like Gerry, who kept everyone honest in spacing the floor. He could knock down the three from anywhere. Kueth was our senior leader who provided guidance and picked us up when we were down and motivated us and played with passion. We had bigs in Craig Forth and Jeremy McNeil, who both brought a different element to the center position. Craig was more of a passing big, screen-setter [whereas] Jeremy could block shots like you and was athletic and strong, so they complemented each other really well. We had guys like Josh Pace and Billy Edelin, who would run the team and keep the offense moving and put people in their spots. They really were both floor generals. We just always played as a team and some nights it would be Melo’s night, some nights it would be my night, some nights it would be G-Mac’s night, and we just piggy-backed off each other."

Etan: Can you talk about how competitive your practices were? I’ve heard people talk about that quite often because you guys were so deep and every position had a lot of competition, so you guys really pushed each other and made each other better.

Hakim: "Yeah, we definitely went at each other, but it started in the offseason when everyone first got up to school that year and there was so much hype around this freshman from Baltimore (Carmelo). And I remember looking at him the first day like, 'Who is this little chubby dude that everyone is hyped about?' (laughing) But I knew from those first pick-up games that we were going to be a special team."

Etan: You know, I’ve heard people talk about those early pick-up games, so what was it specifically about those runs that made you feel that this was going to be a special team? 

Hakim: "I mean, I’m not saying I knew we was gonna be a championship team, I’m not saying all that. I mean, at that time, we weren’t even ranked nationally. People from the outside looking in didn’t have high expectations for us. But there was something about when we were working out, the chemistry and how competitive we were, I knew we were gonna surprise a lot of people, and that’s exactly what we did."

Etan: Now, during the season, you all took a few bumps. There were a few spots where things weren’t going well, like all teams have throughout the course of the season. But how did you all bounce back from those bumps? Because what happens with a lot of teams, especially young teams, is that they crumble. They don’t get over those humps, but that didn’t happen with you guys.

Hakim: "We just believed. I think the fact that we were all young and naive probably helped us as well. We didn’t listen to any outside noise and we believed in each other no matter what happened. Like you said, we had some bumps, but our confidence and our swag never stumbled. Also, having someone like Kueth as our leader, he had been through the ringer. He was the wise old veteran, and he did a great job of making sure nobody ever got down — even when things weren’t going well. We just learned from every experience, whether good or bad, and as the season went on, we just kept gaining even more and more confidence in each other and in ourselves. We had a lot of comeback victories that year, and we never thought that we was out of a game — no matter how much we got down. It’s like we just knew we would be able to come back, and a lot of times we did just that."

Etan: Okay, so I gotta ask you about “The Block” against Kansas in the championship game. Every Syracuse fan knows of this block, and many fans have the poster of this amazing play that you made. That really was a game-winning play because I think that three from the corner was gonna go in if you didn’t block it. Walk me through that play. 

Hakim: "So right before that, I missed the free throw, so I’m already like, 'Man, I could’ve ended the game right there with the free throw, but I missed it,' so I knew I had to do something to make up for that. We were not going to lose this championship because of me. I just remember them swinging the ball, and I remember Kueth closing out way past the three-point line, but he had to because they had shooters. And I knew that as far stretched out as he was, there was no way that he was going to be able to get all the way down to cover the corner three. I just sniffed out the play before it happened and pre-rotated out there, but I was all the way under the rim, so I didn’t really think I would be able to get all the way out there to actually block it. I wanted to at least contest it and make it a tough shot for him.

"But as I jumped and was in the air, I thought, 'Man, I may be able to block this!' So I stretched out my arms as long as I could and turned my body so I didn’t get the foul after I got the block, and I was able to get a piece of the ball and there was only a couple tenths of a second left, and we won the game. I really couldn’t believe it. All of the hard work, all of the hours of practice and ups-and-downs of the season finally came into fruition. Absolutely amazing feeling."

Etan: Well, it was a play that will always be etched in stone in Syracuse history. Not just for Syracuse, but also in March Madness and Final Four history. So last question: there are so many guys coming back to Syracuse from that '03 championship team this weekend. How much are you looking forward to seeing all of your teammates again, being in the Dome and feeling the love from the crowd?

Hakim: "I’m really looking forward to it. There are a lot of guys that I haven’t seen in years. This will, in fact, be my first game back at the Dome since my senior night, so I’m really looking forward to that. I’ve seen the team, I was there when they went to the Final Four; in fact, I saw you there. I caught them down in DC a couple of times. But I haven’t had the chance to actually be back at the Dome, so I’m super excited to feel the love and that magical atmosphere and be able to share all of that with my teammates. I’m really looking forward to it. It’s going to be a special weekend."

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