Minor tragedy struck Syracuse basketball Friday afternoon when the Syracuse Post-Standard reported that center DaShonte Riley is suffering from a lingering foot injury. The report indicates that the injury wasn’t sustained at any certain point, but has been nagging over the course of time and has apparently come to the point where it needs to be more seriously addressed. There seems to be two courses of action for Riley and the coaching staff to take:
1. Opt for surgery, which would cause Riley to miss the entire season, though he would be granted a medical redshirt and have three years of eligibility remaining.
2. Give the injury time to heal on its own. This option leaves open the possibility of a return, but it would take a good deal of time before he’s 100% and the pain could still be nagging even after he comes back.
In either case, Baye Moussa Keita, once a potential redshirt candidate, will now have to be ready to play. In the Big East, you can’t carry two big men on your roster and expect to compete for the conference title (unless you’re Villanova circa 2005-07 and have a lightning-quick stable of supremely talented guards, which SU doesn’t).
At this point, you have to feel for Riley. He didn’t get much run last year until Arinze Onuaku went down at the end of the season, and if he were healthy this season, he’d play an important bench role, spelling Rick Jackson and Fab Melo. Riley’s 2010-11 season could be shot, and waiting in the wings next year is a stud center in Rakeem Christmas, to say nothing of the possibility of Melo returning for his sophomore year, plus Keita in the fold. If Melo stays, Riley would be buried on the depth in 2011-12 as he was last season, and have to prove himself all over again.
But, as SU knows all too well from recent years, injuries are part of the game and as a coaching staff, it’s important to have the personnel in place to adapt and move on. Before the 2006-07 season, Arinze Onuaku had surgery on his left knee and missed the entire campaign. As a result, Syracuse had to rely excessively on Terrence Roberts and Daryl Watkins, two seniors who had trouble producing on offense due to foul trouble and a limited array of post moves. ‘Cuse fans know how this movie ended – with a disappointing trip to the NIT, however undeserved it may have been.
This season, it may be a similar situation, but instead of Terrence Roberts and Daryl Watkins, a pair of underachieving bigs who couldn’t prosper even with three full seasons under their belts, SU has Rick Jackson, a player whose numbers have improved with each season he’s been on campus; and Fab Melo, a McDonald’s All-American who has the size and shooting touch to win any matchup he encounters all season. While missing Riley would hurt from the perspective of the depth he provides, the contributions he makes in practice towards making the starters better and all the other things that bench players like Riley are lauded for, there is enough talent in the remaining roster to keep Syracuse a contender, and that just wasn’t the case four years ago.
There’s also silver lining in the fact that redshirting Riley would give him an extra season of eligibility at the expense of sitting out this season. If given the choice between having a center this season whose limited role is to merely keep the team in games for 10-12 minutes while Melo and Jackson rest, and having a center in 2013-14 who has filled out his body and is polished in the system to the point where he can shoulder a bigger responsibility, I think most ‘Cuse fans would rather have the latter. That means Joseph may spend some time out of his position at the 4 spot this year, but he’s athletic and developed enough where not much would be lost.
The injury bumps Keita up on the depth chart, but if Jim Boeheim isn’t confident in what he can bring to the table at such an early point in his career, he could expand the guard rotation to include Mookie Jones as well as Dion Waiters while Kris Joseph slides to the four spot and one of Jackson or Melo anchors the big man spot. Whatever the case may be, Boeheim has options.