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CLOSING A CHAPTER Syracuse enters its final season in the Big East after a long, illustrious history in the conference

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to the readers,

This 2012-13 Basketball Preview provides an in-depth look back at Syracuse’s run in the Big East as it heads into its final season in the conference. In this issue, you will find a story outlining the league’s rise during the 1980s, a profile of SU’s coach-inwaiting Mike Hopkins and learn some of the players’ favorite memories of the Big East growing up. You can also find a look at some of Syracuse’s top moments in the conference in addition to a story on the women’s team’s highly touted freshman class. With those stories and more, we hope this issue highlights the significance of SU’s final season in the Big East and provides some insight into the season ahead.

lauren murphy | asst. photo editor



t h e i n de pe n de n t s t u de n t n e w spa pe r of syr acuse, new york

Mark Cooper

Laurence Leveille



Sports Editor Presentation Director Photo Editor Copy Chief Asst. Sports Editor Asst. Sports Editor Asst. Photo Editor Asst. Photo Editor Asst. Copy Editor Asst. Copy Editor

Ryne Gery Ankur Patankar Chase Gaewski Cheryl Seligman Jon Harris Chris Iseman Sam Maller Lauren Murphy Jacob Klinger David Wilson

3NEVER THE SAME The Big East’s era as an elite basketball conference comes to an end with Syracuse’s departure

General Manager Peter Waack IT Director Mike Escalante IT Assistant Alec Coleman Advertising Manager Kelsey Rowland Advertising Representative Joe Barglowski Advertising Representative Allie Briskin Advertising Representative William Leonard Advertising Representative Sam Weinberg Advertising Designer Olivia Accardo Advertising Designer Abby Legge Advertising Designer Yoli Worth Advertising Intern Jeanne Cloyd Advertising Intern Carolina Garcia Advertising Intern Paula Vallina Business Intern Tim Bennett Circulation Manager Harold Heron Circulation Michael Hu Circulation Alexandra Koskoris Circulation Arianna Rogers Circulation Suzanne Sirianni Circulation Charis Slue Digital Sales Lauren Silverman Special Projects Rose Picon Special Projects Runsu Huang

4THE TOP 10 A rundown of the all-time highlights for Syracuse in its proud run in the Big East

WAVE OF THE 6TRANSCENDING 7 TIME FUTURE Syracuse players recall witnessing captivating moments in Big East history


Hopkins spends his career perfecting coaching model as he prepares to take the helm at Syracuse


The Carrier Dome proved to be key facSyracuse hopes to take a step further tor in the Big East’s growth during the as program with group of elite fresh1980s men front page photo: andrew renneisen | staff photographer graphic illustrations by ankur patankar | presentation director

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NEVER THE SAME The Big East’s era as an elite basketball conference comes to an end with Syracuse’s departure By Ryne Gery



he league started as an idea. A vision in one man’s mind. A dream to make the Northeast the center of college basketball. It required a leap of faith from six athletic directors and their coaches, the formation of a television network and the ability to pull in the best players in the country. The Big East was born in 1979. The dream became a reality six years later when Georgetown, St. John’s and Villanova reached the Final Four in Lexington, Ky. “It was somewhat surreal because you have to look around and say, ‘My God it’s never been done before,’” former Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese said. “We were only 6 years old and we were there.” It’s the moment Tranghese and others point to as the conference’s arrival on the national scene. It cemented its place as the premiere league in the country and grabbed the attention of anyone who hadn’t already taken notice. The Big East has evolved over its history, adding and losing programs as college athletics constantly changed. But as it enters its 33rd season, the conference is preparing to say goodbye to one of its founding members. When Syracuse moves to the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2013, the Big East will lose its identity as the best conference in the country — a title it first earned during its meteoric rise in the 1980s. —— Dave Gavitt’s grandiose vision for a basketball league had been developing for years. By January 1979, he decided it was finally time to make it a reality. The Providence athletic director sold his dream to his counterparts from six other Northeast schools at four meetings over five months, painting a picture of a league that would provide the independent schools with a bigger stage, generate television exposure and create rivalries. The seven-school conference was established in the following September. There were only two employees — Tranghese and a secretary — and they worked out of an office leased in Duffy & Shanley public relations firm in Providence, R.I. “We were running the thing by our shoestrings,” said Tranghese, who was Gavitt’s right-hand man and the league’s commissioner from 1990 to 2009. “And we did everything from managing this little office to doing PR and marketing to scheduling championships to running the basketball tournament.” Gavitt, who served as the acting commissioner while remaining at Providence until 1982, directed Tranghese as he also worked to create the Big East television network. The games would be syndicated on independent stations in New York, Boston and Washington, D.C., among others, broadcasting a “Monday night game of the week.” But the first matchup billed as a “Monday night game” on the conference’s network was played on a Wednesday between Seton Hall and Ivy League opponent Princeton. The bizarre television debut continued when Len Berman began his postgame broadcast and Walsh Gym was immediately enclosed in darkness. The lights to the arena had been shut off. “That’s how far the league came from very, very humble beginnings,” said Berman, who was the first television announcer for the Big East. Those humble beginnings provided a solid foundation for the future. Big East games were soon featured on delay by a fledgling sports television network called ESPN. And the pillars of the league — Syracuse, Georgetown and St. John’s — all finished the first season ranked in the top 13 in the nation. “The steps were small at the beginning, but obviously very quickly the league took off,” Tranghese said. —— The league meeting rooms became battle zones. The coaches went at each other, getting into shouting matches over everything from recruiting to officiating. Tranghese remembers the tense atmosphere well, but


daily orange file photos, bottom left: courtesy of georgetown sports information PEARL WASHINGTON was responsible for helping the Big East become an elite conference in college basketball. Washington dazzled the Carrier Dome crowds with his electrifying performances. Many of the Orange’s games became must-see televisions. As SU prepares to leave the Big East, the conference will take on a different appearance.

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daily orange file photo PEARL WASHINGTON was one of the most beloved players in Orange history. He is remembered for making “The Shot� against Boston College from half court as time expired.

THE TOP 10 A rundown of the all-time highlights for Syracuse in its proud run in the Big East

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yracuse, along with Georgetown, St. John’s and Providence, was a founding member of the Big East in 1979. Thirty-three years later, Syracuse has won the conference tournament five times and the Big East regular-season crown 10 times. The Orange, the fifth-winningest Division-I men’s basketball team in history, has missed the NCAA Tournament only seven times since the Big East was founded. But on July 1, 2013, Syracuse will leave the conference it helped create more than a quarter of a century ago. Here’s a look at the 10 best Big East games the Orange has played in:


No. 24 Syracuse edged No. 2 Pittsburgh in the Carrier Dome by a score of 67-65. Syracuse’s Jeremy McNeil, then backup for Craig Forth at center, hit two free throws to tie the game with 46.9 seconds left, then converted his only field-goal attempt of the game with three seconds to go in the game. On the season, McNeil was four for 14 from the free-throw stripe. The attendance at the game — 30,303 — was the season’s largest in the nation to that point. The win pushed Syracuse to 14-3 on the year, with the 2003 season ending with the school’s lone national championship.

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March 5, 1990 A then-record crowd of 33,015 in the Carrier Dome witnessed an 89-87 overtime victory against No. 7 Georgetown. Syracuse, No. 10 at the time, defeated the Hoyas in a game that featured a 10-point play. Georgetown coach John Thompson picked up three technical fouls on the same play, resulting in a 10-point possession for Syracuse. Syracuse forward Derrick Coleman finished with 27 points, 13 rebounds and six assists, while Stephen Thompson had 15 points. Both were seniors, with Coleman becoming the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA Draft. That year’s team would eventually be upset by Minnesota in the NCAA Tournament.


Syracuse won its second consecutive

Big East championship with a 65-61 victory over sixth-seeded Pittsburgh, becoming only the third team to repeat as conference tournament champions. Syracuse, the No. 9 seed in the tournament, became the lowest seed ever to win the Big East championship. Syracuse senior Gerry McNamara scored 65 points in the tournament and was awarded the Dave Gavitt Trophy, given to the tournament’s most outstanding player. Syracuse had finished 7-9 in the Big East that year and would have likely been left out of the NCAA Tournament had it not pulled off four wins in four days.

winning streak at 26 games. Georgetown had a chance to win the game in the closing seconds after Washington’s jumper put Syracuse ahead 64-63. But a Georgetown long inbounds pass sailed high with six seconds left. The Hoyas then put Washington on the line, and he made one of two with four seconds remaining. Georgetown then missed a 35-foot desperation heave. That made the more than 32,000 fans in the Carrier Dome go wild, as many stormed the court. Earlier in the game, the fans had disrupted the game by throwing oranges onto the floor.


Feb. 13, 1980

Jan. 28, 1985

Pearl Washington did it again. This time with a jump shot with eight seconds remaining, giving No. 9 Syracuse a 65-63 victory over No. 2 Georgetown in the Carrier Dome. The game ended the Hoyas’ road

NO. 4, THE RIVALRY BEGINS It was the final game for Syracuse at Manley Field House before moving into the Carrier Dome. And it didn’t go according to plan. Georgetown mounted a huge comeback in the game, beating No. 2 Syracuse 52-50 and snapping the Orange’s 57-game home winning streak. Georgetown coach John Thompson grabbed a microphone after the game and said, “Manley Field House is officially closed.” Thompson’s words set off a rivalry that has been raging ever since. While Manley Field House’s tenure as a men’s basketball venue came to an end, a bitter rivalry was born.

NO. 3, “JUST ME AND 34,616 OF MY FRIENDS” Feb. 27, 2010


The week leading up to No. 4 Syracuse’s matchup with No. 7 Villanova included hundreds of students camping out inside the Carrier Dome, T-shirts that read “Just me and 34,616 of my friends” and College GameDay paying a visit to a snowy Syracuse University that had late classes canceled earlier in the week. The hype surrounding the game was well deserved, as Syracuse set an on-campus attendance record of 34,616 and dominated Villanova 95-77. The win put the Orange at 27-2 on the season and showcased the depth that placed the team among the country’s elite.

March 5, 2006

A reported 33,633, at that time an all-time NCAA record for an on-campus regularseason game, came to send off Gerry McNamara, one of the most beloved players in Orange basketball history. More than 3,000 fans — dubbed “McNamara’s Band” by the media — came from the senior’s hometown of Scranton, Pa. McNamara’s 130th consecutive start was honored with a pregame ceremony. McNamara scored a game-high 29 points in the game, but No. 4 Villanova escaped the Carrier Dome on an emotional night with a win. Senior Day would set the stage for a postseason in which McNamara and the Orange won the Big East championship in dramatic fashion before losing to Texas A&M in the Big Dance.

NO. 2, “THE SHOT” Jan. 21, 1984

Pearl Washington made national headlines and cemented his legend in a game against Boston College inside the Carrier Dome. Martin Clark of BC made a free throw to tie the game with only seconds left on the game clock. But Clark missed the second. Washington got the rebound, raced down the court and let a shot fly from half court as time expired. He made it. As the ball left his hands and eventually went in the basket, Washington continued running all the way to the locker room. Washington had hit “The Shot” and sent the Dome into a frenzy.


Syracuse defeated Villanova 83-80 in a three-overtime game in the Carrier Dome that gave the Orange its first Big East championship in school history. At the end of the third overtime, Leo Rautins tipped in a missed shot with three seconds left to give the Orange the lead 81-80. Rautins would be named the tournament MVP. That was the end of the good news. The Big East conference, only two years old at this point, did not yet have an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. So Syracuse was snubbed by the selection committee, ending its streak of eight consecutive seasons with a tournament bid. The team would finish the season 22-12, ultimately losing to Tulsa 86-84 in the NIT Finals.



NO. 1, MARATHON MEN March 12, 2009

daily orange file photo GERRY MCNAMARA played in some of the most memorable games in Syracuse basketball history. The former guard scored a total of 65 points in the 2006 Big East tournament.

The game took three hours and 46 minutes, and ended at 1:22 a.m. SU won 127-117 in a game with 102 total points scored after the buzzer. Eight players fouled out. Six registered double-doubles. The Big East quarterfinal game between Syracuse and Connecticut that went into six overtimes was one for the ages. Syracuse point guard Jonny Flynn had 34 points and 11 assists in a game-high 67 minutes, only three fewer minutes than were played. Paul Harris added 29 points and 22 rebounds in the contest. Syracuse didn’t lead in overtime before the sixth extra period. —Compiled by Jon Harris, asst. sports editor,

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daily orange file photo

Syracuse players recall witnessing captivating moments in Big East history By Michael Cohen



very so often there comes a moment in sport that transcends time. An instance of greatness so profound, a performance so breathtaking that the memory is indelible, etching itself deep in our minds as our eyes widen with disbelief and our mouths remain agape. These moments ensnare our senses, perhaps even heightening them, so that each miniscule detail of our surroundings is captured and stowed away, able to be recalled vividly in an instant. The beauty of these moments is that they are broad in scope. We can be dazzled as easily by an internationally historic display — the 1980 Miracle on Ice — as we can by a local stunner — Wilt Chamberlain scoring 100 points in a tiny gymnasium in Hershey, Pa. We can be moved by the same event in different ways, and the memories produced are uniquely ours. One of those rare moments took place just more than three years ago in the limelight of New York City, inside the World’s Most Famous Arena, at the center of basketball’s mecca. A six-overtime classic between Syracuse and Connecticut was instantly recognized as one of the greatest games ever played. For many of the players on the current Syracuse roster, this was their moment, their inerasable flashback. Too young to remember most of the polarizing events of sport from the 20th century, this unforgettable game in the early part of the 21st century is their treasured keepsake. “Craziest game that I have ever seen,” senior guard Brandon Triche said.

And as Syracuse enters its final season in the Big East, the memory is unlikely to be dethroned before the impending move to the Atlantic Coast Conference. In all likelihood, it will always remain their favorite flashback of a league with which their school became synonymous and for which their coach was an iconic figurehead. It is their moment that will transcend time. —— They watched from various locations around the country. One was in Colorado on spring break and kept pushing back the time he said he would go to sleep. Another was at home in Virginia with his parents waiting to play “Call of Duty.” Still another was in Jamesville, N.Y., just outside Syracuse, on a three-way call with his friends, chattering frantically about each and every overtime. Wherever these soon-to-be Syracuse players were, they watched. And they couldn’t turn away. “I was in the living room with my mom and my dad,” sophomore guard Michael Gbinije said. “And we were just like, ‘When is this game going to end?’” It finally ended at 1:22 a.m. After an unthinkable six overtimes, after 244 total points, after Jonny Flynn played 67 minutes, after a walk-on played meaningful minutes and after Syracuse outlasted Connecticut by a score of 127-117 in a game that spanned the better part of four hours. Gbinije, who grew up in Virginia, was eating milk and cookies in the kitchen while he watched the game with his parents. He had no rooting interest on either side, no rooting inter-


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Hopkins spends his career perfecting coaching model as he prepares to take the helm at Syracuse daily orange file photo, ryan maccammon | staff photographer

By Chris Iseman



ll Mike Hopkins could do was watch the developments of the O.J. Simpson trial. After his playing career came to an end, Hopkins was still trying to figure out what he would do next. So while he decided, he sat in his California home and watched the trial along with the rest of America. The lull in his basketball career wouldn’t last long. The former Syracuse shooting guard found his way into coaching and, in 1995, made his return to SU to join Jim Boeheim’s coaching staff. Hopkins has never left and is now Boeheim’s successor. “Coaching kind of gave me life and the kids gave me life,” Hopkins said. “And Coach Boeheim gave me life.” Hopkins played at Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, Calif., where he helped lead the team to a state championship in 1987. At Syracuse, he was the Orange’s starting shooting guard for

two seasons. When he left, his playing career didn’t last much longer. Hopkins said he was “fired from playing.” A brief professional career in the Continental Basketball Association with the Rochester (Minn.) Renegades and then in Turkey and Holland was the end of his playing days. Hopkins said he had to come to grips with it. He returned to his native California where he planned on working for his father’s company, which made absorbency products for hospitals. But those plans ended quickly. His father’s business had a down year, and he had to fire six of his salespeople. He didn’t feel that it would be right to then hire his son. “I’m fired, my career’s over, I probably had to have knee surgery and it’s so bad, my dad can’t even hire me,” Hopkins said. So Hopkins watched the O.J. Simpson trial unfold while he waited for his next career move. Soon enough, Hopkins received a call from Marv Marinovich, the father of Hopkins’ friend,

Todd. Marinovich trained kids from around Los Angeles and said he needed a basketball coach. Hopkins started giving individual lessons to a pool of about 30 kids. Shortly after, he started working as an Amateur Athletic Union coach. From that point on, Hopkins the player became Hopkins the coach. It’s exactly where he felt he was meant to be. He said he loved it then, and now as Boeheim’s top assistant at Syracuse, he continues to relish his job. “I never thought I’d get into coaching, and then when I did it, I loved it,” Hopkins said. “I’m 43 years old, I’m losing my hair, I don’t have a tan anymore, I’m having a hard time getting at the rim, but I don’t feel like I have a job.” Seventeen years after joining the Syracuse coaching staff, Hopkins is still able to relate to his players. Hopkins listens to Pearl Jam or Eminem when he needs to be hyped up. He brings all the energy the Orange needs to feed off during practice to make the most of the two hours. And

perhaps most importantly, he knows how to teach the game of basketball in a way every one of his players can understand. “He does a great job of that,” said SU assistant coach Adrian Autry, who also played with Hopkins at Syracuse. “He’s very good at describing things, painting pictures and being visual. I think a lot of times, a lot of these kids, they’re visual learners.” Where Hopkins’ true skill lies, though, is in his ability to connect with his players. It’s something he’s perfected. Hopkins is more than a coach for many of them. His role transcends the basketball court as he has become a mentor or father figure. “I think the biggest thing is when you really get to know somebody, you have a better chance of coaching them,” Hopkins said. “I think it’s the best way to do it. It’s my style and it’s something I pride myself in.” Former Syracuse point guard Scoop


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Jardine said Hopkins’ intensity never fades, even when he’s sick. Jardine said he remembers one practice when Hopkins was visibly sick, but insisted on running drills with the players. He tried to work through his illness, continuing to yell and maintain his high level of intensity. As the team ran through a drill, former Syracuse point guard Jonny Flynn hit Hopkins in the chest with his shoulder. Hopkins quickly turned and bolted to a trash can near the side of the gym and vomited. As soon as he finished throwing up, he took his spot in the drill and continued to coach. Boeheim couldn’t get him to go home. No one could. “That was one of the biggest things he taught us that year,” Jardine said. “No matter how you feel, you’ve always got to bring it.” Former Orange guard Jason Hart first met


1989-90 1990-91 1991-92 1992-93



20 55.6 31 51.4 31 44.8 29 43.8


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Hopkins when he was playing AAU basketball out in California. When he arrived at Syracuse, Hopkins had only been on the coaching staff for one season. Even then, though, Hopkins understood the importance of getting to know his players. He built up a relationship and earned their trust, especially Hart. When Hart made the nearly 3,000-mile trip from Los Angeles to Syracuse, he found himself in a new world. He was playing for a team that drew thousands of fans and captured the attention of an entire city. The spotlight was always on the Orange. Hart had never experienced anything like it. “Since Syracuse is the only ticket in town, you have to do things a little differently,” Hart said. “You have to almost become a pro. He taught me how to deal with the media, instead of running, dealing with them and speaking after a good or bad game. Those are the things I had no idea of doing.” Hart said Hopkins’ attitude, personality and genuine interest in the players’ lives were consistent. Whenever Hart needed help with something, basketball-related or not, he knew he could go to Hopkins. And he spent hours with Hopkins and his wife, Tricia. “I think I was more like his little brother or son,” Hart said. “It was more like my comfort zone, being away from California, he was another guy I could relate to. Obviously as my coach, he was more of a friend and a mentor.” Now as an assistant coach at Pepperdine,

Hart said he’s trying to follow Hopkins’ coaching model. When Hart received the Vic Hanson Medal of Excellence in 2011, he referred to Hopkins as his “white angel” in his acceptance speech. Hart said he saw Hopkins tear up. After everything he had been through, Hopkins was always there for him. From an 18-yearold kid from South Central Los Angeles to a married father of two children, Hart said Hopkins helped him develop into who he is today. Hart showed Hopkins his appreciation. “It was me coming back and giving a speech, and me appreciating what he did for me during those four years I was in school on and off the basketball court,” Hart said. Jardine shared similar sentiments about Hopkins. He was a father figure and a role model. In his phone, Jardine has Hopkins listed as “White Dad” in his contacts. “He’s a guy that anytime I need a shoulder to lean on, somebody to talk to and who’s always going to listen to me, give advice, Hop is always the guy to call,” Jardine said. “He’s always been big in my life. Probably one of the biggest influences in my life.” Jardine said the most important lesson he learned from Hopkins was to treat everyone with respect. On the court, Jardine said he also learned to work as hard as possible and stay motivated at all times. Syracuse guard Brandon Triche said Hopkins’ energy at practice is infectious. It forces

the players to work as hard as they can. His enthusiasm challenges them to keep up. “He brings energy to practice every day and I don’t know when he sleeps, if he sleeps,” Triche said. “I don’t know how he does it.” Soon, Hopkins will likely do it as head coach. Hopkins’ contract was reportedly reworked in 2009 to guarantee he takes over for Boeheim when he retires. And in the wake of the Bernie Fine sexual abuse scandal, Boeheim acknowledged during a press conference that Hopkins will “win” as head coach of the Orange when he takes over. “Roy Danforth won here, Fred Lewis won here, the guy next, Mike Hopkins, will win here as well,” Boeheim said. Hopkins’ name was brought up when the Charlotte head coaching position opened up in 2010. But Hopkins opted to stay at Syracuse. Hart said it shows his loyalty to the program and to Boeheim. At some point, the team will be his. The years of building relationships with players, perfecting his coaching methods and learning the best way to draw every ounce of energy from players will carry over to a headcoaching role. Hopkins won’t be seeing another lull in his basketball career any time soon. “We’ll see when his day comes, I think he’ll be ready,” Hart said. “I think he has his gift of coaching.” @ chris_iseman


27-4 (14-4)

NCAA Tournament finish: Elite Eight


moment. He hit the game-winning shot in the waning seconds in the Orangemen’s 65-63 victory over No. 2 Georgetown at the Carrier Dome on Jan. 28, 1985. The shot capped another memorable chapter in the teams’ rivalry, one in which the SU fans hurled oranges at Patrick Ewing and John Thompson. The third-largest crowd in Carrier Dome history at the time — 32,229 — witnessed the instant classic and rushed the court after the win. Washington’s heroics created a similar scene a year earlier when Syracuse took on Boston College. Washington’s running prayer from half court as time expired was answered, and the SU guard famously veered right off the court with his hands in the air. “That’s all over the country that day so we got incredible, incredible exposure,” former Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese said. “And the Dome played a really significant role in helping promote the conference in those early years.” The television exposure played a major role in Washington’s decision to come to Syracuse. The highly touted guard out of Brooklyn said he decided he would attend SU during his junior year in high school. Washington wanted to play on national television, something only the Big East could offer.


26-5 (13-5)

NCAA Tournament finish: Sweet 16


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NCAA Tournament finish: Elite Eight

“I knew that when I came to Syracuse, I knew coming into the Carrier Dome was going to be great,” Washington said. “And I knew that we were going to be on TV too just about all our games also, so for me, that was perfect for me.” The same factors grabbed the attention of high school players across the nation as the Big East continued to establish its presence. They watched Washington and his Orangemen teams regularly take part in games in front of 30,000 fans against Georgetown and St. John’s. Suddenly, they flocked to Syracuse and other Big East schools rather than UCLA and the ACC powerhouses. They wanted to play in the Carrier Dome and become a part of the rivalries. “Jim Boeheim was recruiting kids from California to play at Syracuse and I said to myself, ‘Have they ever been to Syracuse in the winter? Why anyone would leave from California to come to Syracuse, New York,’” Berman said. “But that was the appeal. That was the allure of the Carrier Dome.” Tranghese called the Carrier Dome “a huge factor” in the league’s growth. Lappas said he was always excited to make the trip to Syracuse. Washington considers the Dome the “second mecca” of basketball behind Madison Square Garden. And Berman said the arena — like the league — was simply “big time.” “The fact that it was on campus and you’re getting over 30,000 fans dressed in Orange,” Berman said, “that was pretty eye-opening for a national audience.”

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chase gaewski | photo editor

BUILDING MYSTIQUE The Carrier Dome proved to be key factor in the Big East’s growth during the 1980s By Ryne Gery



he building was unlike anything seen before in college basketball. Opened in 1980 on the Syracuse University campus, the Carrier Dome could seat more than 30,000 fans. It quickly became a national phenomenon while the Big East fought to establish its place in the game in its second year of existence. “Then the Carrier Dome helped the Big East to just explode,” said Len Berman, the first television announcer for the Big East. “It seemed like every time we were there we were setting an on-campus record for attendance and there were 30,000-plus for some wild SyracuseGeorgetown games. “And that’s where it really exploded.” The Carrier Dome became a symbol of the Big East in its early years, serving as the backdrop for so many classic matchups and ESPN broadcasts. But more than 30 years later, the Dome’s run as the Big East’s iconic arena will

end in 2013 as Syracuse will make the jump to the Atlantic Coast Conference. It’s a move that will bring new visitors to Central New York each season. And it’s hard to believe for those who witnessed the conference grow up with the arena that captured the imaginations of college basketball fans. Steve Lappas, who was an assistant coach at Villanova from 1984 to 1988, said the Dome, coupled with the personalities of SU head coach Jim Boeheim and star guard Dwayne “Pearl” Washington, were crucial to the Big East exploding onto the national scene. “Those three things together created a real aura for the Big East, for TV, for Big Monday, the whole thing,” Lappas said. “And you put those things together and now all of the sudden you really have something special.” Washington was the showman who electrified the Syracuse crowds and national television audiences. His dazzling moves were matched by his penchant for making the big shot in the big



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photo by sam maller | asst. photo editor


Syracuse hopes to take step further as program with group of elite freshmen By David Wilson



ong an afterthought at Syracuse, Quentin Hillsman’s work in progress that is the women’s basketball team has given people a reason to pay attention. There’s an electricity around the team after the head coach brought in the best recruiting class in program history. The freshmen are not only potential stars in years to come, but they may also finally give Hillsman the consistent winner he’s been trying to build. “During the summer, to walk the campus and everybody asks are we the freshmen on the women’s basketball team, we were proud to say, ‘Yes,’” SU forward Brittney Sykes said. “All in all, we’re extremely happy to show why we came here.” In 2007-08, SU reached the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2002. There was finally something tangible for Hillsman to sell his program on. In the last five years, Hillsman has signed top-

level recruits like Kayla Alexander and landed elite transfers like Iasia Hemingway. But the program also hasn’t been back to the NCAA tournament since 2008, instead competing in the Women’s National Invitation Tournament for four straight seasons. With three top-100 recruits in Hillsman’s 2012 class, including McDonald’s All-Americans Brianna Butler and Brittney Sykes, SU appears to have the talent to get back to the NCAA tournament. Syracuse landed its first top-100 recruit in Cornelia Fondren in September. Then in early November, Brittney Sykes, a second top-100 recruit, committed. Two days later it was Brianna Butler. The five-player class was ranked No. 6 in the nation by ESPN. It was perhaps the most important piece of the structure Hillsman is building at SU. “We’ve brought in some very good players that have a chance to come in and immediately impact,” Hillsman said. “So we’re excited about the progress we’ve

made in our roster and our depth at positions, and we’re really excited about our young kids.” But the crown jewel, the shining light atop Hillsman’s structure, could have come in February 2011. Breanna Stewart was a star forward at Cicero-North Syracuse High School. Hillsman had a prized recruit — a potential program-changing piece — in his own backyard. But Connecticut, the most storied program in the nation, swooped in and grabbed the nation’s top recruit. “When you look at recruiting, you lose more than you get,” Hillsman said. “If you tell me that I lose Breanna Stewart, but I get the No. 6 class in the country, I’m very satisfied.” Fondren, Sykes and Butler are joined by Taylor Ford and Pachis Roberts — both highly regarded recruits in their own right — to make up the freshman class. Each brings a unique skill set to the table, and all are expected to contribute immediately. Fondren is the leader of the tight

freshman class. The cement that could hold this team together long-term. Sykes is incredibly athletic. As a participant in the McDonald’s All-American Game dunk contest, she brings excitement the program has rarely seen. Butler could be the star. She was the highest-rated recruit. Ford is a knockdown shooter who could thrive in Syracuse’s inside-out offense. Roberts gives the Orange another elite shooter who can also attack the rim. Alone, none of them may be Stewart, but together they create a formidable force that could make up at least parts of the Syracuse starting lineup for the next four seasons. “We’re a system where players don’t leave early, so obviously we’ve got a great group of players to really grow up together in this program, and that for us is the most important thing,” Hillsman said. “We’re just really excited to have the kind of players that we have where they can compete at a high level.”



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said he can’t reveal the details of the fierce arguments. Gavitt made it clear the spats could never leave the room. “He said, ‘In the room, you can say whatever you want, but when we leave here, we’re a family and we promote,’” Tranghese said. “And that’s what everybody did.” The coaches were at the heart of the conference’s birth and its rise to prominence. Jim Boeheim, John Thompson, Lou Carnesecca and Rollie Massimino all became names synonymous with winning and the Big East. The battles spilled from the league meetings onto the court as their programs emerged as the conference’s elite. They all had their own styles in a tough, physical league, and their personalities grew with the conference’s popularity thanks to the television deal with ESPN. Those personalities left Steve Lappas in awe at his first league meeting in 1984. An assistant coach at Villanova, Lappas compared the experience to being “like a kid in the candy store” as he sat alongside the biggest names in college basketball. “Those guys were the all-time coaches and Jim Boeheim is still doing it,” said Lappas, now an analyst for CBS Sports Network. “Their recruiting, their coaching and their personalities were the things that made this league what it was.” The Big East’s growth was playing out just how Gavitt had envisioned. The coaches came together to promote the new league, and the television exposure gave them everything they needed to land the best players on the recruiting trail. ­­—— Thirty years later, those coaches are legends. But those who witnessed the Big East at its peak say it was a “players’ league.” It all started with the 1981 freshman class highlighted by Georgetown center Patrick Ewing and St. John’s guard Chris Mullin. Two years later, a guard out of Brooklyn named Dwayne “Pearl” Washington — the No. 1 recruit in the nation — arrived at Syracuse. “We don’t do anything without those players,” Tranghese said. “It’s as simple as that.” All-time great rivalries formed around those stars. Monday night broadcasts on ESPN became an event because of them. The Big East became best conference in college basketball. Tranghese called Ewing the best player to ever play in the Big East. He said Chris Mullin was the best shooter he ever saw in the college game while Pearl was “without question the most exciting, creative player” in the league’s storied history. Former Georgetown coach Craig Esherick counts Mullin and Washington among the five toughest players his teams ever had to face. “As a coach, you always measure the quality of the player by how happy you are when they’re taken out of the game by the opposing coach,” Esherick said. “And I can’t tell you how happy we were when Chris Mullin and Pearl Washington were taken out of the game.” Washington brought his famed crossover dribble to Syracuse from New York City and captivated Big East fans with his flashy style of play. “Every place that I went to, it was always the same way,” Washington said. “People wanted to see Pearl Washington play.”


Washington said even he is amazed at the shows he put on when he watches old tapes of his glory days before recalling a particular memory in the Big East tournament at Madison Square Garden. The Syracuse guard dribbled his way through three players on the vaunted Georgetown defense, leaving Ewing all alone waiting for him in the paint. “When I went up to the other side of the basket, he didn’t even jump,” Washington said. “And you know that’s not Patrick Ewing because Patrick Ewing tries to get everything. He tries to block every shot. “But I think what he was so confused about when he saw me get by those guys like that and he was watching by the time I got to him, it was like he couldn’t even move.” Washington said with a laugh that he can understand how Ewing got caught watching the show. The Georgetown center and Mullin took center stage, too, like when they met for the eighth time during the regular season in their careers in a historic No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup at the Garden in 1985. Those players are what Esherick said he’ll remember when he thinks back to the original Big East. They’ll also be the lasting memory for Berman. “You think of the big names, you think of the players,” Berman said. “The players made it.” —— John Thompson III grew up with the Big East. A quick look through the conference’s media guide doubles as a trip down memory lane for the Georgetown head coach. He was at “The Sweater Game” in 1985. And he was at so many Big East tournaments in Madison Square Garden, watching intently as his father’s teams fought for conference supremacy. As he scanned the ninth floor of the New York Athletic Club at Big East media day in October, Thompson III said he still sees a conference defined by the same principles of Gavitt’s vision 33 years ago. “Much like then, we have a group of teams in this room that are going to be among the best teams in college basketball,” Thompson III said. “You have a group of coaches in this room that are among the best in college basketball. You have a lot of players in this room that are the best in college basketball.” The league has maintained that reputation despite a constant evolution that saw it balloon to 16 teams in 2005 and dropped to 15 programs this season after West Virginia’s departure. “The league is still here, it’s still very good and it will still be very good in the future,” Boeheim said. “It’s constantly changed and it’s always been good.” Though the Big East hasn’t been what Washington and others consider the “true” Big East for years, the pillars of SU, St. John’s and Georgetown kept the connection to its proud past alive. But when Syracuse leaves after this season, the Big East will be the same conference in name only. The league built by Ewing, Mullin, Washington and the legendary coaches will become a memory without its f lagship member. “People have come and gone, but Syracuse was a staple,” Lappas said. “Syracuse was always there. With Syracuse gone, that is a tremendous void for the league. “Is it still a good league? Sure, it’s still a good league. But it will never be the same.”

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est in the Big East in general. He was on his way to Duke, where Gbinije began his collegiate career before transferring to Syracuse this past offseason. At the time, he was watching the game simply as a basketball fan. A fan that was eager to play video games once the Big East quarterfinal matchup ended. “I couldn’t leave the game,” Gbinije said. “The game was very important, so I was waiting for the game to end so I could play some ‘Call of Duty.’” Except it didn’t end. Out in Colorado, Baye Moussa Keita and his host family watched the game on a two-hour time difference. He was home on spring break from the national basketball power Oak Hill Academy in Virginia — the same high school Carmelo Anthony attended. With the start of each successive overtime session, Moussa Keita told himself that it was the last one he would watch before going to bed. But every time he changed his rule, extended his deadline and soaked in what he called “something I’ve never seen.” “I remember my friends texting me saying, ‘Are you ready to have eight or nine overtimes?’” Moussa Keita said. “I started laughing. That’s probably one of the greatest memories.” While Moussa Keita and his friends texted back and forth excitedly, Triche and two of his best friends were on a three-way call. Triche watched the game sitting on the floor of his living room in Jamesville, and every heartpounding sequence — beginning with Eric Devendorf’s near-buzzer beater at the end of regulation — prompted a phone call to either Mickey Davis or Alshwan Hymes, two of his teammates at Jamesville-DeWitt High School. In a game full of moments that caused pulses to race, the phone rang incessantly with questions of whether or not each person had seen the last play. But of course each one had. No one dared turn off the television. “After the first overtime it was, ‘Oh! You seen that shot? You seen that shot?’” Triche said. “Then by the third overtime we kept getting phone calls, so we ended up just being on a three-way.”


With the departure of Hemingway, the offense is expected to take on a bit of a different shape. Each of these freshmen will be immediately responsible for part of that change. The Orange will use more of an inside-out offense — feeding the ball in to returning leading-scorer Alexander and kicking it out to shooters on the perimeter — rather than the high-low it employed in the past. That’s where guards Ford and Roberts come in. SU will also utilize a more open-court, fast break-oriented offense to put Sykes’ skills on display. And while some excel with certain skills, they all bring all-around games to the table. “They all can shoot,” junior guard Rachel Coffey said. “They’re all vocal, they see the floor, play defense, they work hard.” The freshmen first came together over the summer. The five players enrolled in SU’s SummerStart program. The six-week program not only gave the freshmen the opportunity to get to know the campus, but also to spend six weeks getting to know their teammates for what could be the next four seasons. A tight-knit bond was forged during those six

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Triche went to school late the following morning. —— When the news broke that Syracuse would join the ACC, Gerry McNamara’s mind raced to New York City. His initial thought was not the loss of rivalries with Georgetown or Connecticut, nor was it the potential for new rivalries with North Carolina and Duke. Instead, McNamara was hit first by the loss of the Big East tournament and Madison Square Garden — the event in which he starred and a venue he repeatedly electrified. “My immediate thought was, ‘Wow, no more Big East tournament,’” McNamara said. “That’s kind of the way to top off a great season is to go to Madison Square Garden and play on ESPN and be in the limelight. “It’s going to be sad to say goodbye to that.” And though no one on the current Syracuse roster has captivated a Garden party like McNamara did, they share his fondness for the tournament. Even Gbinije, who has never played a collegiate game at Madison Square Garden, called it “the best gym to play at.” Four of Syracuse’s five Big East tournament titles were won on that floor, in front of crowds speckled with more orange than any other color, as the arena transformed into a second home for New York’s College Team. But the 2012 season represents the final act. It offers one last opportunity to electrify a city, a school and the next wave of future players around the country. C.J. Fair said he wants to leave the fans with something to remember. Michael Carter-Williams said he plans to take the Big East championship home to Syracuse. The collective desire is to create one final piece of magic in an arena where Syracuse has played the role of sorcerer so many times. To have a moment — even just one — that enthralls millions like McNamara’s running three-pointer against Cincinnati in 2006 is what all players crave deep down. Because every young kid deserves that tantalizing memory he or she couldn’t possibly forget. That sense of amazement after witnessing the impossible. That moment that transcends time. “It was really mind blowing,” Moussa Keita said. “So I just kept watching.”

weeks, and that could be what separates Syracuse’s freshman class from other elite freshman classes nationwide. “I’m a huge fan of team chemistry,” Sykes said. “The freshmen, we’re all like basically family. We have a pretty strong bond. … We love each other — too much.” But the group did know each other before coming to Syracuse for the summer, at least somewhat. During the recruiting process, several of the players talked to each other. They all made their decisions within just a few months of each other and were influenced by the potential to play with other elite freshmen. “We knew each other kind of coming in,” Butler said. “It was one of the key factors that helped me decide coming to Syracuse, so I think that helps when you’re coming in, and also the chemistry was already there.” The freshmen’s accelerated growth should help that. So far, their older teammates rave about how game-ready they are. This class could be the one to put Hillsman’s program over the top. “She’s going to do well, obviously,” Hillsman said. “But I really thought that these players that we brought in are going to get us to the level that we need to be.” @DBWilson2


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NOV. 9 Battle on the




NOV. 30



SEC/Big East Challenge

DEC. 15

Gotham Classic

CANISIUS DEC. 17 Gotham Classic










(at Madison Square Garden)

DEC. 31



JAN. 12





FEB. 2





FEB. 16







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The Cardinals return leader Peyton Siva, a scrappy guard who was named 2012 Big East Tournament MVP. Junior Russ Smith (11.5 points per game last season) joins Siva in the backcourt, and the frontcourt led by Gorgui Dieng and Wayne Blackshear completes the wellrounded team. The Cardinals have a lethal blend of offensive talent and defensive grit, and famed head coach Rick Pitino returns for his 12th season at Louisville. The Cardinals made the Final Four as a No. 4 seed last year, and appear poised to improve on that seed for 2012-13.


Jim Boeheim and the Orange will need to quickly bounce back from the loss of key contributors. Senior guard Brandon Triche provides the bulk of experience in the backcourt and will be supported by sophomore Michael Carter-Williams. Junior C.J. Fair is a playmaker who can change a game in an instant, and supporting forwards James Southerland and Rakeem Christmas are solid complements. If newcomers Trevor Cooney and DaJuan Coleman can make a difference, the Orange can maintain its perch among the conference elite.


The Fighting Irish surprised early last season and kept it up, finishing 13-5 in the Big East despite losing key player Tim Abromaitis early in the season. Notre Dame is poised to keep it up in 2012-13, returning senior 6-foot-9-inch forward Jack Cooley and a host of other contributing veterans. Sophomore guard/forward Pat Connaughton is ready to improve on a solid freshman campaign, and junior guards Eric Atkins and Jerian Grant bring a strong presence to the offense. If the Irish can stay healthy, they can contend for a high NCAA seed under 13th-year head coach Mike Brey.


Coach Mick Cronin has fostered continuous improvement as he enters his seventh season at the helm, and is charged with maintaining the momentum despite the loss of emotional leader Yancy Gates. Cronin returns several key pieces from the Bearcats’ trip to the Sweet 16 last season, especially in the backcourt. Guards Cashmere Wright, JaQuon Parker and Sean Kilpatrick all return to give the Bearcats one of the top guard groups in the country. Cincinnati will be hard-pressed to replace Gates, though, and the new-look frontcourt will determine whether the team can make a return to the Sweet 16 and beyond.

run the point. This could be a promising year in D.C., but the team’s overall inexperience could be a recipe for disaster.


Golden Eagles have yet to miss the NCAA Tournament under Buzz Williams, and that should be no different this year, even with the loss of leading scorer Darius Johnson-Odom and Big East Player of the Year Jae Crowder. Marquette does return quality guard play, including senior Junior Cadougan and junior Vander Blue. Juniors Davante Gardner and Jamil Wilson will team up to provide a solid presence inside, and the team has enough depth to maintain tempo for a full game.


After a rare down year for the Panthers in 2011-12, the team shouldn’t struggle as much this year. Senior guard Tray Woodall (11.7 ppg, 6.1 assists per game last year) is ready to run the offense in his final season, and versatile Central Michigan transfer Trey Zeigler can also take control if needed. The Panthers lost dependable guard Ashton Gibbs to graduation, though, along with leading rebounder Nasir Robinson.


The retirement of legendary coach Jim Calhoun will bring change to Connecticut, but newcomer Kevin Ollie should keep the Huskies in good hands. Connecticut returns adequate talent and depth, notably junior point guard Shabazz Napier (13 ppg, 5.8 apg last year) who can be one of the premier playmakers in the conference. Sophomore guard Ryan Boatright complements Napier well in the backcourt, but the less-proven interior could be cause for concern. Also a drawback is the loss of stars Jeremy Lamb and Andre Drummond, who have moved on to the NBA.


After missing most of last season recovering from prostate cancer treatment, third-year head coach Steve Lavin returns to the Johnnies bench. Lavin is building a solid foundation for the Red Storm, but the team’s depth is a concern. Senior forward God’sgift Achiuwa (5.8 rpg last year) has the size and ability to wreak havoc inside, and sophomore guard D’Angelo Harrison is a dynamic playmaker who could be one of the best in the Big East by the end of his college career. If Big East rookie of the year Moe Harkless hadn’t left for the NBA, an NCAA Tournament berth would be easily within reach.

5. 10. VILLANOVA GEORGETOWN Villanova experienced a swift fall last season after seven consecutive NCAA Tournament

John Thompson III has assembled a strong collection of young talent, which he will rely on to make an impact right away. Freshman guard D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera was ranked No. 32 overall in his class by Rivals. com, and should see immediate playing time along with fellow freshmen Brandon Bolden and Stephen Domingo. Sophomore swingman Otto Porter (9.7 ppg, 6.8 rebounds per game last year) has the ability to make a few impact plays every game, and junior guard Markel Starks will

appearances, going 5-13 in conference play and 13-19 overall. This year’s team could be better, but not by much. Last year’s leading scorer Maalik Wayns (17.6 ppg) is gone to the NBA, and the Wildcats will struggle to score. Sophomore forward JayVaughn Pinkston could have a breakout campaign.


The Bulls had an interesting 2011-12 campaign, going 12-6 in the Big East and making the NCAA Tournament despite ranking 321st in the nation averaging 59.3 points per game. No Bulls player averaged doubledigit points per game last year, and leading scorer Augustus Gilchrist has been lost to graduation. With the loss of Gilchrist and Ron Anderson Jr., the Bulls also lose two of their top three rebounders. USF achieved its first NCAA Tournament bid in 20 seasons last year because of defense, and the offense needs quick improvements for the team to replicate the feat.





The Scarlet Knights tend to play tough, hard-nosed ball under third-year head coach Mike Rice, but have yet to turn the enthusiasm into sustained success on the court. Rutgers returns its top two scorers from last year in sophomore guards Eli Carter and Myles Mack, but suffers the loss of big man Gilvudas Biruta to Rhode Island. Rutgers impressed early last season with wins over Florida and Connecticut, but faded down the stretch with a late six-game losing streak against a tough schedule. The Knights may struggle with consistency and depth.


The Friars come into the season with reasons for optimism, notably senior guard Vincent Council, who averaged 15.9 points and 7.5 assists per game last season. Council can carry the team on his back when he’s on. But Council is the only senior on the young Friars squad, and the team suffered a blow when touted recruit Ricardo Ledo failed to qualify for the season academically. The Friars have finished 4-14 in three consecutive Big East campaigns, and second-year head coach Ed Cooley has his work cut out for him.


The Pirates had a respectable 201112 campaign, going 8-10 in conference play and notching victories over the likes of Connecticut and Georgetown. But this year’s team will be a young one, and growing pains should be pronounced. Solid contributors Herb Pope and Jordan Theodore are gone, and Seton Hall carries only one senior — guard Kyle Smyth, who transferred from Iona for this season after averaging 7.9 points per game in four seasons with the Gaels. Versatile junior Fuquan Edwin (12.5 ppg, 6.2 rpg) can play, but isn’t surrounded by much depth.


The perennial Big East doormat Blue Demons have seen recruiting improvements over the last few seasons, but still have work to do to become fully competitive in conference play. Junior forward Cleveland Melvin, the Big East’s leading returning scorer averaging 17.5 points per game, could contribute on any conference team, but finds himself surrounded by lower-level talent. Junior guard Brandon Young (14.5 ppg last year) should complement Melvin well, though. ­­-- Compiled by Kevin Prise, staff writer,

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