The other one
McNamara shows nation Anthony isn't only SU froshPosted: Thursday April 03, 2003 6:52 PM
NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- Ever since Gerry McNamara started playing basketball a dozen years ago, he's heard the criticism: too skinny, too slow, too weak.
All that does is make him more determined.
"I like it when people tell me I'm not the strongest guy and I'm not the fastest. It's good for me to hear that," he said.
Unfortunately for Syracuse's "other" freshman, the days of being overlooked and underestimated are pretty much over.
An afterthought earlier in the season when other first-year players around the country -- Matt Walsh, Rashad McCants and, of course, Carmelo Anthony -- were being touted, McNamara is now budding star. The 6-foot-2, 170-pound guard is a big reason Syracuse finds itself in the Final Four, preparing to play Texas in the semifinals Saturday.
"He's a no-holds-barred kid. He plays with everything he's got, injuries, anything," assistant coach Mike Hopkins said. "And he's a big-game player. He lights up for those games."
Once recruited hard by Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, McNamara has become an integral part of the team a lot more quickly than expected. When freshman teammate Billy Edelin, the projected starter at point guard, was forced to sit out the first 12 games of the season for violating an NCAA rule, coach Jim Boeheim turned to McNamara to fill the void.
It didn't take long for the 2002 Pennsylvania high school player of the year to take full advantage. Edelin's fate was announced only hours before the season opener against Memphis at Madison Square Garden, and McNamara went out and hit three straight 3-pointers to key a 22-5 Syracuse run. He finished with 14 points, three steals, three assists and only one turnover in 38 minutes.
The Orangemen lost the game, but won in another respect -- they found a fiery leader.
"It was just my way of going out and saying, 'I can play, too. I'm here, too,"' said McNamara.
McNamara averages 13 points a game and leads the Orangemen with 76 3-pointers. He finished the year with the best free-throw percentage in Big East history (96.4) and ranked third in steal average (2.11) and assist-to-turnover ratio (1.97). His 150 assists are the fifth-best total for a freshman in school history. He was a unanimous selection to the Big East All-Rookie team.
"I have enough confidence in myself and my basketball game that I'm going to get my minutes, regardless," McNamara said. "It was just a matter of me going out there playing and getting to a certain comfort level."
McNamara's hard-nosed play has made him something of a celebrity around Syracuse. He was invited to be grand marshal of the St. Patrick's Day parade (he declined for fear of violating an NCAA rule). And he's transformed his hometown of Scranton, Pa. into as big an Orangeman hotbed as Syracuse itself.
When Notre Dame visited the Carrier Dome in February, a caravan of 42 buses carrying some 2,000 Scrantonians -- many of them fanatics of the Fighting Irish -- made the two-hour trip north to cheer for McNamara. Fittingly, he hit a 3-pointer with 18 seconds left to give Syracuse an 82-80 victory and send the crowd into a frenzy.
"We're spoiled by him," Boeheim said. "He plays like a senior and we expect him to play like a grad student sometimes."
McNamara has been doing that sort of thing almost since he started playing the game at age 6 under the watchful eye of his father, whose buddy ran the local gym and gave him a set of keys.
"He went to every practice and stayed after. He shot, I fed," Gerry McNamara Sr. said. "He's been great because of all the work and dedication behind the scenes."
And he's wildly popular because of his grit. During a state semifinal game when he was a sophomore at Bishop Hannan High School, McNamara played most of the second half with a separated right shoulder and even scored a couple of points despite not being able to raise his hand to shoot.
Bishop Hannan coach John Bucci was dumbfounded because McNamara never said a word.
"I felt it, but just didn't tell anybody," McNamara said. "It was the last game of the year and I wasn't coming out."