Saturday afternoon, I had a great time at the
Syracuse-Georgetown men's basketball game. It was great to see all
the alumni in the house from both schools. I took pictures with
Rony Seikaly, Dikembe Mutumbo, Patrick Ewing and Louis Orr, who was
my assistant coach at Syracuse.
The Syracuse fans all showed love. (We have the best fans in
college basketball by the way.) This rivalry has so much history,
and although Georgetown unfortunately came out with the win, I had
an overall wonderful time watching the game.
I reached out to some Syracuse alumni — Lazarus Sims, Arinze
Onuaku, Ryan Blackwell and Preston Shumpert — to get reactions
after the two-game, old-Big East matchups against Villanova and
Georgetown. It still pains me that we are no longer in the Big
East, and yes, I am still holding out hope that, one day, we will
return to the conference we belong.
Here is what all four Orange alum had to say on the team.
Etan Thomas: How do you think we played against
Villanova and Georgetown?
Lazarus Sims: "They were both great games, but
we didn’t have a consistent true point guard on the floor who put
everyone in the right position. I’ll go back to when they won the
championship in '03. Many people will say it was 'Melo [Anthony],
it was Gerry [McNamara] — but really if you go back and watch the
tournament, when they played their best, it was Billy Edelin who
was the key. He put Gerry in his right position, the 2. In contrast
to this team, against Villanova and Georgetown, when they put Symir
[Torrence] in — who is a pass first point guard — it puts your
shooters and your scorers in the right position. It puts Buddy
[Boeheim] at the 3. It puts Joe Girard at the 2, and allows them to
do what they do best. What we’re doing is forcing the 2-guard into
[being] a point guard, so the flow isn’t there. It lasts for
awhile, but it’s not sustainable."
Etan: I couldn’t agree more, and I like Symir.
It’s crazy, I was watching [Seton Hall guard and 'Cuse transfer]
Kadary Richmond play against Rutgers. And the way he was running
the team, [he] put everyone in their positions first, then it
opened it up for him especially in the first half.... then the
second half, he focused on putting everyone in their positions. He
should be in a Syracuse uniform. But I see him how I see Symir in
[that] we need what he brings to the team and he needs to play
more. What do you think?
Sims: "Definitely, and you have to let him play
through certain mistakes like you do with Joe [Girard]. We need
what he does. The offense flows better with a Symir-type of point
guard running the team. That’s no knock on Girard, it’s just not
playing him to his strength."
Etan: Symir should be playing more, the same
way Kadary should’ve been playing more last year.
Sims: You’ll get no argument from me.
Etan: I saw the press conference after the
Georgetown game, and Coach [Jim] Boeheim was saying the guys are
worn down and they’re tired. And I’m thinking 'Well, you got guys
on the bench ready to go.' The starters don’t have to play ironman
Sims: "You saw with Symir, he got in [the game]
at Georgetown. [He] made one mistake, and you didn’t see him
anymore for the rest of the game. It’s hard to play like that. But
we need what he brings, so we need to let him play through mistakes
like we do the starters. I mean, let’s be honest, sometimes Girard
struggles to get the ball up the floor because that’s not his
strength. Well, we have someone on the bench whose strength that
is, just like we did last year with Kadary. We gotta play guys to
Arinze Onuaku: "It’s totally different from
when we were there because obviously, our responsibility was solely
the paint area, so it’s odd seeing Jesse Edwards run from
corner-to-corner. I know they switched the defense to the 1-3-1
[zone] at times and we know it’s the bottom man’s job to run
corner-to-corner, but to have Jesse be that person, it does take
him out of rebounding position."
Etan Thomas: And
that’s the part that I question. I can see [that] if we had Quincy
Guerrier still, but it’s seems like quite a bit to ask of the
Boeheims to be the ones to crash the boards, but that’s our
strategy. And we’ve been getting beaten pretty badly on the
offensive rebounds, which is one of the reasons why I’m not the
biggest fan of that strategy.
Onuaku: "Yeah, for sure and [Jesse] is exerting
a lot of energy sprinting from corner-to-corner, three-point line
to three-point line. That’s a lot to ask of the big man."
Etan: Now, I would like to see him get the ball
more, and I feel he has earned the right to get the ball more with
the way he has been converting. I want them to play inside-out, and
that may be a lot to ask, but the entire half shouldn’t go by and
he only gets the ball two times. That’s ridiculous.
Onuaku: "I agree. Any good team has to have
balance, and he has been doing a much better job of finishing as
well. I think it may take guys a little more time to trust him. He
started off slow last year, and this year, so that trust factor
from the guards is a factor. But as he continues to improve, I
would expect that trust factor to increase."
Etan: But my problem with the trust issue is,
they can jack up three-pointers and they can brick 90% of them and
nobody loses trust in them. The big men get two or maybe three
opportunities, and if you don’t convert or catch their pass,
they don’t trust you?
Onuaku: "Yeah, the game is always gonna be
unbalanced for big men. Jesse is going to have to speak up more,
and as he produces more, they will have no choice but to give him
Etan: Yeah, that’s the story of being a big
man. It was like that when I played and when you played. But that
drag screen he does in early offense situation and [when] he rolls,
I think that’s an easy high pass to him and he finishes. They just
do that a few times every half.
Onuaku: "I agree, and he has shown that he can
catch it off the run and he does a great job of keeping the ball
high and he has been scoring. So you’re right — they should
definitely utilize him much more. And shout out to Frank Anselem,
who came in and really attacked the rim and provided a spark off
the bench. He’s someone we’re definitely going to need him down the
Etan Thomas: You watched both the Villanova
game and the Georgetown game. What was your assessment?
Ryan Blackwell: "The Villanova game, we were
right with them the first half. We were making shots, being
aggressive, playing defense. Then the second half, it seemed like
we just ran out of gas. Same thing with Georgetown; we were up [by]
10 at half, and we let them back in it. We’re gonna have to shoot
lights out to win games. I know Buddy was struggling a little, but
if he’s off and we’re gonna rely on Jimmy Boeheim to post-up or go
1-on-1 or Joe Girard to go 1-on-1, it’s gonna be tough. And if
we’re not gonna get much from the bench... I mean, the first half
against Georgetown we got good production, but [in] the second
half, for whatever reason, the production just wasn’t there. Coach
felt more comfortable going with his starters. And we faltered at
the end, and that was unfortunate because it was a very winnable
Etan: I heard Coach Boeheim at the press
conference say that the guys looked tired and worn down, but then
I’m looking at the bench and they look pretty fresh to me. So I’m
thinking, well coach, there’s a remedy for that. If the guys are
tired and their shots [are] not falling, [they're] not closing out
on defense, not getting back in transition, not rebounding,
whatever — you have people on your bench who can help.
Blackwell: "You and I both know, coach relies
heavily on his starters and that’s never going to change. And we
know Benny Williams is extremely talented, but for whatever reason,
he’s not getting the minutes. Yes, he’s young and he’s a rookie,
and with coach, he has a formula that he has always stuck to. But
yeah, it’s gonna be a real struggle for our starters to carry the
Etan: I’m at the Georgetown game — you can see
it better in person — and I saw Georgetown literally wearing our
guys down. And then, utilizing their bench and getting fresh legs
in there to wear our guys down even more. Aminu Mohammed, who is
just a freshman, was a holy terror against us. And he would get a
break, then come back in fresh and terrorize us some more. I mean,
you can’t be surprised if guys are tired if they are playing
ironman minutes, right?
Blackwell: "Yeah, it’s tough. And yes, Buddy
has improved so much, but he is being asked to do so much and carry
the load offensively. And you’re right, it’s gonna wear on them as
we get into the season. And you’re right, Georgetown was getting in
our shorts and wearing us down. I can’t disagree with anything you
said. And I worry about when we get into conference play, because
it’s not going to get any easier for us at all. And it’s tough to
knock down shots when you’re worn down, no matter how great of a
shooter you are, and we have great shooters. But yeah, you’re right
— hard to shoot threes when you’re worn down. We may need to look
to incorporate some other options and alternatives to go along with
Etan Thomas: The secret’s out now with Buddy.
Everyone knows he can shoot, and teams are devising schemes to make
sure he doesn’t get open shots. What would be your advice to him,
as the elite shooter you were, as to how he can get open and get
his shot off?
Preston Shumpert: "It’s so different once
you’re on the other team’s scouting report. It’s great that he had
the success he had last season, but now, like you said, teams are
going to try to come up with a game plan to stop you from doing
what you do best, which in Buddy’s case, is knocking down shots.
He’s been doing a good job of moving without the ball; he just has
to do more of it. Be a little more creative on getting open and
what he does once he catches the ball."
Etan: You said move without the ball, so let’s
talk specifics. Do you mean off screens? Running the baseline?
Shumpert: "I think it’s a combination of both.
He’s getting pin-down screens and curls. I just think he needs to
stay consistent with it and know he’s going to be hounded and
[that] guys are gonna be on him, because he’s an elite shooter. But
at the same time, if he comes off a screen and two guys jump him,
it’s the point guard’s job to find the open man. Once you start
taking advantage of those situations, then you will be more open.
But he’s gonna have to fade, curl, post up — he’s gonna have to do
a lot of different things to get his shot off, and that’s really a
compliment to him because of how good of a shooter he is. On every
scouting report, I’m sure it says, 'No open shots for him.'"
Etan: That’s definitely true. What is the best
way to come out of a slump? With shooters, you’re going to go
through times where the ball just doesn’t go in the hole. What
would your advice be to Buddy or Cole [Swider] when they are not
Shumpert: "My favorite quote is, 'Shoot when
you’re making it, and shoot when you’re missing it.' You've gotta
continue to be aggressive and have confidence in your shot. Now,
your shot selection is definitely important, but if it’s a wide
open shot, and that’s your shot, fire that 'thang up. That’s what
you do. If you’re a shooter, you've gotta shoot the ball. Shoot
'til you make it, shoot 'til you miss. That’s a shooter’s
mentality. No conscience."
Etan: One thing that you started to develop
through your years was the one-dribble, two-dribble pull-ups
because they were playing you so tight for the three-point shot,
and Buddy has been doing good with that. Do you think he should
keep doing that more especially if the outside shot isn’t
Shumpert: "Definitely, that’s what I meant by
being a little more creative and taking what they’re giving you.
Like you said, guys are gonna be pressing up on you and running out
on you. They’re not going to let you get a free look. So that’s
when you go to the pump fake, one-dribble, two-dribble pull-up. But
another thing — which I’m sure you’re gonna like this — throw it up
to the big [man] or give him that little pocket pass, when they
hedge on him or after he sets the pick a little more often, and let
the big [man] hammer a few down and get all riled up like you used
to. It will open you up more. And the more you involve the big man,
the better your screens will be. The big man will have you wide
open if you treat him right. I learned that myself when we played
together. Keep the big man happy, and he’ll rebound better, block
shots better and work harder to get you open, and will roll harder
which will ultimately help everyone."
Etan: That should be on the wall in every
locker room (laughs).