College Basketball Team Reports: Syracuse Orange
From Pearl Washington to Jason Hart to Sherman Douglas to Jonny Flynn to Michael Carter-Williams, Jim Boeheim has guided plenty of precocious point guards in his 37 seasons at Syracuse. Add Tyler Ennis to that group. Says Boeheim, "He's probably the most advanced freshman I've coached in terms of running a ball club."
Ennis won't score like Pearl, defend like Hart or dish like Douglas -- at least not right away. But his basketball savvy is exactly what the Orange need as they enter the ACC without backcourt mainstays Carter-Williams and Brandon Triche.
With no capable backup, Ennis will play at least 38 minutes a game. He's comfortable as a distributor, having played AAU ball with such top talent as Anthony Bennett and Andrew Wiggins, but the Brampton, Ont., native can score if needed. He led all players at the FIBA U-19 Championships this summer, with 20.9 points per game.
Boeheim predicts his frontcourt will be even better than it was last season, when Syracuse reached the Final Four. Senior forward C.J. Fair is the ACC preseason player of the year; sophomore wing Jerami Grant should be a breakout star after polishing his jumper; and bruisers DaJuan Coleman (280 pounds) and Rakeem Christmas (250) will anchor the low post. "Tyler understands that he's playing with really good players," Boeheim says, "and he gets them involved."
Ennis says he went unrecognized around campus before classes started, but now everyone asks, "Are you the new point guard?" If he also stands out on the court, the Orange will have a sixth straight season with at least 27 wins. Boeheim, who turns 69 this month, has been energized by the move from the Big East to the ACC. With so much core strength returning, a solid year by Ennis should produce familiar results.
Syracuse's non-conference schedule (finally) isn't a punch line this year. "It's a little harder than I'd like it to be," says Boeheim. The Orange play in the Maui Classic and against Villanova, St. John's and Indiana in non-league games. The Orange close ACC play with four of five on the road, including trips to Duke and UVA.
It's been a hallmark of the past few Syracuse seasons for a first-round pick to be waiting on the bench. From Fab Melo to Dion Waiters to Carter-Williams, talented players have waited their turn to start at Syracuse. Jerami Grant, a lanky 6-foot-8 sophomore, appears to be next. He'll come off the bench for Syracuse, but he's talented enough that he made the USA U-19 team this summer (he did not play because of mono) and led the Orange in scoring during its Canada trip. Grant always had hops, but he's polished his jumper and bulked up. Says Syracuse assistant Mike Hopkins; "He looked like a different dude."
Syracuse has 43 consecutive winning seasons, the longest streak in Division I. That streak should fittingly reach 44 this year.
SI.com: You've been asked about the ACC 1,000 times, I'm sure. Is this exciting for you?
Jim Boeheim: I think it is. I think it does change. I'm always pretty anxious to go. When you're not anxious to go and ready to play you shouldn't be coaching. It is a good challenge.
SI.com: You've averaged just under 30 wins a season the past five years. Is this the best run your program has been on?
JB: I think this is the best run we've had. I think the talent level now in college basketball wasn't what it was in the 1980s. Across the board, there's not as much talent, if you compare that era to this era relatively. This has been the best talent and success that we've had. Previously we were around 24 wins, which is a significant difference. I just think it's been the consistency of the program and the new practice facility added to it. In the long run, the move to the ACC helps recruiting.
SI.com: What's impressed you so far about Tyler Ennis?
JB: He plays more like a veteran. He doesn't make mistakes. He understands the game. Tyler understands that he's playing with really good players and he lets them get involved and gets them the ball. He's not a score-first type point guard. He can score and will. But he's looking to get other people involved, and I think that'll be good for this team. We have other guys who can score. That's not what his strength is. He plays like a veteran guy. I've had a lot of talented point guards over the years. He's probably the most advanced freshman in terms of running a ball club and getting the ball to people. He's a true point guard, not a hybrid and we're lucky to have him.
SI.com: On the way to the Final Four last year you said that the zone was the best you've had at Syracuse. Will defense be a hallmark again?
JB: I think our frontcourt is better than it was last year. I think Jerami Grant has gotten bigger and stronger. I think our inside guys are better. I think without question our frontcourt is better than it was last year. Obviously you lose the size and experience in the backcourt. That's why we're a little weaker than last year. We have good pieces in the backcourt. (Duke transfer) Michael Gbinije and Trevor Cooney are third year players. We're a little more balanced and better than people might think. I'm optimistic that our backcourt will be fine.