Basketball is back in Syracuse

At SU Basketball media day, coach Jim Boeheim says he's excited for combination of veteran leadership and youth.

Before the 2010-2011 season’s first practice this afternoon, Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim took the podium for this year’s SU Basketball Media Day, and while many things were discussed, the conversation seemed to always fall back onto one resonating theme: how will the veteran players mesh with one of the nation’s top recruiting classes? 

 Boeheim knows how important it is to have a strong combination of both experience and youth.

“You win in this league with having some veteran guys," Boeheim said "We have some young guys who we think are very good.”

With Wes Johnson, Arinze Onuaku, and Andy Rautins leaving this year, it leaves a hefty vacancy in veteran leadership.  Boeheim said Kris Joseph, Rick Jackson along with Scoop Jardine are ready to move into that spot. 

 “They understand what needs to be done," Boeheim said. "They’re obviously very good players, and they have to now take that next step forward and be the guys that everybody looks up to.” 

Jim Boeheim glances around the gym during SU's Basketball media day. (Photo: Nate Shron)

With Jackson, Jardine, and Joseph serving as the anchors, there are still a few question marks as to who will be filling out the rest of the lineup.  Now that Joseph is starting, the team will be looking for this year’s standout sixth man coming off the bench. It’s not entirely established who that will be right now.  Boeheim says Mookie Jones and James Southerland will have an opportunity to significantly increase their playing time, especially with DaShonte Riley having surgery on his foot sometime next week.  However, Boeheim also said the freshmen will get plenty of chances to step up and prove their worth as well.

“We think the 10 guys we have can play," Boeheim said.  "We don’t think any of the 10 guys that we have will not be ready.”

The ability to shoot the 3-point shot may be a concern, and Boeheim is aware of that.  With Andy Rautins, a 40% shooter from beyond the arc, moving on to the NBA, there is no clear candidate to make consistent three point shots when the team needs them. 

 “We have more guys that can shoot threes," Boeheim said.  "We just have to find out if we have guys that can make ‘em.” 

 Boeheim mentioned Jardine and Brandon Triche as players who can step up and make a 3-point shot, and also said Joseph is capable, but has “the biggest jump to make” in terms of developing his long range shot. 

 However, even the players know Rautins will be impossible to replace. 

 “I don’t want to sit here and say we’re going to fill what Andy did,” said Jardine.  “It was an honor to play with Andy.  I’m happy I was able to play with a guy who could shoot the ball like he could.”

Triche, like Jardine, has made a large effort this offseason to improve his three-point shooting and overall.  First off, he’s wearing his high school number 20, Sherman Douglas’s old number.  But more importantly, he believes he’s developed as a player. 

 “The biggest thing has got to be confidence.  You’re going to see me being more mature,” said Triche.  “I dropped about 15 pounds or so, so I’m going to be a little lighter, be a little quicker, be a little faster, and try to be a little more athletic as well.”

Now that Triche has a year under his belt and Jardine is ready to step into a leadership role, it’s the perfect time for them to help the four freshmen transition into Syracuse Basketball.  The team knows they’re going to need the freshmen to contribute, and they’re excited about what the class brings to the table.  

“I don’t know who did this schedule.  I could not have done this,” Boeheim said poking fun at past criticism of non-conference schedules some believed to be relatively easy. 

 This year's schedule however will not be easy.  Georgia Tech, UTEP, NC State, and Michigan State are all on the docket.  If that’s not tough enough, the Big East schedule is, according to Boeheim, one of the toughest in a while.  Two of the three teams that the Orange play twice, Georgetown and Villanova, Boeheim thinks will be in the top four of the Big East.  In addition, Syracuse plays Louisville, Marquette, Pittsburgh, and Connecticut all on the road.

Despite these challenges, the Orange knows what the goal is: to get past the Sweet 16.  Jackson is one of the few on this year’s team who was on the two Sweet 16 teams of the past two season. 

 “We know what we have to do to get back to the Sweet 16 and go farther.  We have to dispatch the knowledge to the younger guys” Jackson said.  “Both years we were expected to go further than we did.  We’re just hungry right now we’re ready to go.  We’re workin hard and just trying to get back to that place.”