By Sal Capaccio
Some thoughts and information collected from press row of Gerry McNamara’s personal playground…….
—Growing up a Syracuse basketball fan, then attending SU, then making much of my living in sports media, it’s hard for even me to believe this week is my first time ever stepping foot inside the Madison Square Garden arena. I’ve been in the building before, and even attended a couple NFL Drafts at The Paramount downstairs, but never inside the actual arena where the games are played. A couple of impressions.
*First, it’s nicer than I expected. It doesn’t look like it is 41 years old, but it’s gone through some renovations which help it keep up with the other more modern arenas.
*Second, it’s smaller than I thought it would be. It’s seats just under 20,000 for basketball, which is about average. I just figured “The World’s Most Famous Arena” would LOOK bigger from floor level.
—Through Wednesday, the Syracuse fan contingent clearly outnumbered every other school. Fans from Louisville, Villanova, and West Virginia outnumbered their opponents when they played, but there’s orange EVERYWHERE no matter who’s playing. I was told by the conference media relations department that UConn will have a huge following Thursday night. Syracuse-UConn in primetime at The Garden with those two fans bases? For the right to play in the conference semis? Better get extra beer……and security.
—Isn’t this supposed to be St. John’s home court? You wouldn’t know it. Either they have no fans or their fans are too embarrassed to wear red and cheer on the Red Storm. The Johnnie’s set a Big East Tournament record for fewest points in a half when they only mustered 10 before the break Wednesday. When Norm Roberts’ team trotted off the court to their locker-room, no one in attendance said a thing. No boos. No cat calls. Nothing. This is the HOME team in NEW YORK! They’ve become completely irrelevant in their own house. To add insult to injury, the back page of The New York Post had three headlines about the game:
1. “Johnnie Rotten”
2. “Storm stink up Garden”
3. “Norm’s program a disgrace.” Ouch!
—The Villanova buzzer-beater occurred right in front of me. Very exciting to see a game end that way. The ball danced on the rim for a few seconds before it dropped at the buzzer. I felt bad for the Marquette kids because they played their guts out for 40-minutes. But their Achilles heel came back to bite them – and beat them – with no time left. A lack of size under the basket.
THE REMINDER IS ALL SYRACUSE-RELATED:
–Yes, Jonny Flynn did tell a local Syracuse TV station that he’s coming back to the Orange next season. But I’ll believe it when I see it. There are a lot of NBA scouts here to see him. What they think about him is anyone’s guess. But Flynn’s comments shouldn’t be taken as a guarantee. Players often say they’re coming back before they ultimately decide to leave a couple months later.
—Speaking of staying or going, there’s a lot of speculation surrounding both Eric Devendorf, Paul Harris, and even Sean Williams. Here’s what I’ve heard regarding all three:
**Devendorf: Considering the issues he’s had off the court, Devo may be leaning towards leaving early (he’s a redshirt junior). If he doesn’t get a crack at the NBA, which most I’ve talked to think he’s not ready to play at that level, he may still opt to play in Europe in order to at least start making some money.
**Harris: He IS on the NBA’s radar, but not as the kind of player a team would use a high enough pick on to make it too tempting for him. However, Harris may also be thinking of going the European route next year to refine his skills and make some money before heading to the NBA.
**Williams: Word is he very well may transfer. If he did, considering the current roster and incoming recruiting class, speculation is the school won’t try to hold him back, and may even try and help him find a place to go in order to open up his scholarship.
—On a positive note. I was told by a couple people that Iowa State transfer Wesley Johnson looks absolutely amazing in practice for the Orange. “They’ll definitely find a lot of minutes for him next year,” once source said. He could even make the starting lineup. Word is Johnson has freakish athletic ability and is a personal highlight reel sometimes at practice. Think Paul Harris with a good mid-range game! That’s a scary thought. Johnson does everything well. Dribble, pass, shoot, rebound. But it’s his leaping ability that had one source’s eyes popping out at me when he was telling me about him. “He can jump through the roof,” I was told. The only concern with Johnson is that he’s been a living transfer student his whole life. Several different high schools and now again moving colleges. Lucky for SU fans he cannot transfer again. But if his game is really that good, he could be a one-and-done player for ‘Cuse. Johnson will be considered a junior with two years eligibility remaining when he finally suits up for the Orange next season.