Orange alumni react to Syracuse-Georgetown game

Orange alumni react to Syracuse-Georgetown game

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.

Lazarus Sims 

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 minutes.

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 their strengths."

Arinze Onuaku 

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 the ball."

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 stretch."

Ryan Blackwell 

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 game."

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 full load."

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 that."

Preston Shumpert 

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 shooting well? 

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 falling? 

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).

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