How competitive is Syracuse's sophomore point guard Gerry McNamara? Sitting in the Orangemen's locker room at the Pepsi Center in Denver last Friday afternoon, McNamara's roommate Matt Gorman doesn't need to ponder the question long. "We play darts," he says. "Gerry and Gary Hall against Josh Pace and me. We're up 20-7 in the series...." Hall, lying on the floor nearby, swivels his head when he hears this. "Where's Gerry?" he says, springing to his feet. "He needs to get in here!" Ten seconds later McNamara, who has been quietly eating his lunch in an adjoining room, appears and sets the record straight. "Those guys are terrible at darts!" he says. "They don't win! They aren't beating us!" Says Gorman, "That's how competitive he is."
McNamara showed his competitive drive during fifth-seeded Syracuse's first-round game against No. 12 seed BYU last Thursday. With leading scorer Hakim Warrick in foul trouble, McNamara almost single-handedly rescued the defending national champs from an early exit by scoring 43 points, including nine three-pointers, in an 80-75 win. Both Orangemen coach Jim Boeheim and Maryland coach Gary Williams would say it was among the greatest performances they had ever seen. In a 72-70 win over the Terps two days later, McNamara, who suffers from asthma, displayed even more guts. He showed immediate signs of fatigue and struggled against the furious defensive pressure by Terps guards D.J. Strawberry and Chris McCray, who held him to 13 points on 2-for-11 shooting. "After four minutes Gerry had no legs left," says Orangemen assistant Mike Hopkins. Nevertheless McNamara played 16 minutes in the first half and 19 in the second. The Syracuse medical staff thought he might be dehydrated, but McNamara refused an IV at halftime.
"I thought he was even better today than he was the other day," said Boeheim. "He almost couldn't play. He couldn't get a breath. Yet he was the guy making plays for us, taking the ball, getting by the press. When he got his fourth foul, I couldn't take him out. If he had been out one minute, we would have lost the game."
The win over Maryland improved McNamara's record to 8-0 in the tournament. McNamara has averaged 17 points and 3.6 three-pointers per game in the NCAAs. Of the five players who have made the most three-pointers in tournament history, only one, Loyola's Jeff Fryer, has averaged more per game (5-4). ( McNamara needs 14 more treys to break the career record of 42 set by Duke's Bobby Hurley in 20 tournament games.) "Gerry is a big-lights kind of guy," says Hopkins. "These are the games where he shines."
McNamara doesn't look like a big-lights kind of guy. He is pale, wears an old-school crewcut and appears to be about two inches shorter than the 6'2" at which he's listed. He has become a sharpshooter through years of hard work. When he was becoming a local legend in Scranton, Pa.—he first caught the city's fancy by leading his team to the state CYO championship in eighth grade—McNamara took hundreds of shots after each practice. "Now I'm to the point where I just want to leave the gym feeling confident about my shot," he says. "I'll shoot it a little bit after practice, and if it feels good, that's the way I want to leave."
McNamara's is so focused on his team's performance that he's only faintly aware of his postseason accomplishments. "Maybe in years to come I'll look back and think about the championship and the BYU game and just how great it was," he says. "I don't want to think about it too much now because I'm still in the present. We still have games to play—games to win."