Basketball Guide 2017

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NEW WAVE BASKETBALL GUIDE 2017


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Dear readers, Rethink (almost) everything you know about Syracuse basketball, and brace for new program faces trying to keep pace in the ACC this season. Our 2017 basketball preview introduces you to those trying to steady Syracuse in times of turnover. There’s Tyus Battle and Gabrielle Cooper, the only returning starters on the men’s and women’s teams. There’s grad-transfer guard-for-hire Geno Thorpe and remade forward Desiree Elmore. There’s explorations of how the women’s team lost the national championship but won something more, and of how point guard Frank Howard hopes to settle a position that’s churned through five starters in as many seasons. Inside, we detail Howard’s predecessors, and online, we gab on a season-preview podcast and launch didsyracusewin.com for your quick reference and trash-talking preference. This guide has everything you need to know to get ready for tip-off, and we’ll have coverage all season to keep you thinking. Thanks for reading, Sam Fortier, sports editor

inside More than a number

Syracuse sophomore Gabrielle Cooper’s father died in 2011. She honored him by donning the number 11 as a star for SU. Page 6

To be Frank

Frank Howard was supposed to be SU’s point guard last year, but things didn’t work out. Now, it’s his turn to lead Syracuse again. Page 11

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BATTLE TESTED All eyes are on Tyus Battle as he tries to develop into the alpha Syracuse needs By Sam Fortier sports editor

N THE OPENING MOMENTS OF SYRACUSE’S

first exhibition game this season, against Division II Southern New Hampshire, Tyus Battle heard from himself the same things others had been telling him for years. The Orange trailed by five and, in its last five possessions, had missed one shot and turned the ball over four times. Looking around, the playmakers Battle had depended on last year were gone. At 20, he was the leader of a program usually reliant on its veterans. see

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BATTLE Practically since he learned to dribble, those close to Battle wanted him to be more “selfish.” Battle prefers the word “aggressive.” Either way, he heard it last year as a freshman at Syracuse. He heard it from coaches and teammates. He heard it in youth hoops and high school and playing internationally for USA Basketball. He heard it from his dad. Battle sized up his undersized defender and drove, with each step he closed in on the player his old coaches wanted and his new coaches needed. Rather than spin or pull-up, Battle went over the defender for a lay up. That bucket sparked a 22-0 run in Syracuse’s eventual win. “Toward the end of my freshman season,” Battle said, “I started to get the green light from coach (to shoot more). This season, that’s how I have to play right away.” That’s because Syracuse needs Battle’s best for a shot at success. Due to a transfer, exhausted eligibility and the NBA draft, Syracuse lost five of its six most-played players and about 43 of the 57 shots it took as a team per game last season. The Orange now fills that void with four true freshmen, a redshirt freshman, a graduate transfer, a junior climbing back from point-guard purgatory and a redshirt junior whose multiple eye surgeries limited him to seven games last season. And Battle. With that roster, expectations plummeted. Syracuse did not receive a single vote in the preseason Top 25 and, in the Atlantic Coast Conference preseason poll, the Orange’s peers ranked it 10th in the conference, the program’s lowest projected finish since it has played in a league with at least 10 teams. Now, Battle knows he’ll be the focal point of opponents’ scouting reports and teammates looking for leadership. Added attention from opponents forces the athletic, slashing guard to reckon with the crux of his game: When to be selfless and when to be selfish. “He’s a wait-and-see-how-it-goes kid,” his father, Gary Battle, said. “He feels out (the situation) and then he explodes. This year, we can’t really afford that.” In taking control, Battle realizes the vision he had for himself in July 2015 when he committed to Syracuse. He explained to ESPN: “(The coaches) told me I could be a versatile guard who could have the ball in my hands a lot.” This also puts Battle in the role that Gary has often sought for his son and said he would excel in. In summer 2014, Battle switched from an AAU team in Philadelphia to Team Scan in the Bronx, at least in part because the coach promised Gary to play Battle at point guard. After nearly every game, Gary and his son analyzed what had worked and what didn’t. Often Gary couldn’t wait, opting to direct Battle from the stands. “Take control!” or “That’s your shot!” Gary often yelled, said Reeves Wiedeman, a journalist who chronicled that AAU season. “The whole summer was about getting Tyus to take charge,” Wiedeman said. “He was the best athlete compared to the other guards, but that was his challenge. (Other guards) wanted the ball, and they were tougher and grittier. He was more reserved about it, because that’s who he was personality-wise.” In fall 2015, for his senior year, Battle transferred from Gill St. Bernard’s (New Jersey) High School to St. Joseph’s (New Jersey) High School, a local basketball power. That season, Battle averaged 19.1 points and 9.1 rebounds per game and won New Jersey Gatorade Player of the Year. Yet in the last game of the Falcons season, the South Jersey Non-Public A title game against St. Augustine, Battle mostly distributed from the Falcons’ motion offense. In the stands, athletic director Jerry Smith thought, “Jesus, please let him shoot more.” At halftime, Smith waited outside the locker room as he had a few times that season. When the team emerged, Smith said, he pulled Battle off to the side and again implored him to be more selfish. Battle never attempted more than 10 shots in a game in high school, Smith said. “This is not the NBA,” he remembered telling his team’s star guard. “We need for you to take over the game as soon as you possibly can. This is not (Michael Jordan) letting everyone touch it.” Battle broke into his usual big smile, Smith remembered, and said, “I got you.”

When asked about his expectations for Tyus Battle this season, Syracuse assistant coach Gerry McNamara said: “Very high. Very, very high.” sam lee contributing photographer

“When someone tells me to take over,” Battle said recently, “I love it. That just means go get a bucket. I love moments like that. … That green light is amazing. It’s fluorescent green.” Battle scored 10 of his 15 points in the fourth quarter and overtime. On the last play of the game, with the Falcons down two, Battle drove for the lane and seemed to gain a step on his defender. But then another defender slid in front of him. Smith thought Battle was going to attack the basket and draw a foul, but Battle pulled up and turned away from the hoop. He rifled a pass to his friend Breein Tyree, who hoisted a 3 for the win. The shot fell short. Battle doubled over as if he were about to be sick.

THAT GREEN LIGHT IS AMAZING. IT’S FLUORESCENT GREEN. TYUS BATTLE SU STAR GUARD

“Tyus is just a really, really unselfish kid,” Tyree said recently. “Sometimes he struggled with knowing when to score and when to pass. It wasn’t a major problem, though, because there are other ways to win.” Now, Syracuse will likely lean on Battle more than a team ever has before. His teammates last year knew this might happen and tried to prepare him for it, said former Syracuse forward Andrew White, because they saw the initial hesitancy. White tried to serve as a big brother “without overdoing it,” and he understood that freshmen often hear

HEADED DOWNTOWN

36.6 PERCENT

Tyus Battle sharpened his skill set this summer to improve his freshman mark of 36.6 percent beyond the arc

43

Syracuse lost about 43 shots per game from last season. Battle, who took just 8.6 shots per game a year ago, now figures to assume the lion’s share of those looks.

things like, “Be unselfish!” and “Make the extra pass!” So, he reminded Battle everything the offense did was to help the team score. If Battle put the Orange in the best position to do that, then he should shoot. “He passed up a lot of shots early on,” White said. “As a team, we said, ‘Hey Tyus, it’s alright if you shoot on an open shot.’ We wanted him to be confident and make plays, because once we got (to ACC play), we depended on him to score.” In ACC play, opponents swarmed the Orange’s top scoring options, so Battle throttled up. He increased his minutes per game from 23.6 in nonconference to 35.7, and he attempted double-digit shots nine times, compared with just once in nonconference play. Last season, when Duke guarded Battle “like he was the forgotten stepchild,” White said, the veteran forward knew his 18 points meant more. White saw Battle growing into the player he needs to be this season. That mentality extended into the summer, Battle said, as he realized he needed to lead the team. Battle is his own biggest challenge this season, his father said, and that he needs to ensure he leads vocally and not just through action. “I’m a laid-back guy, kind of shy, so this is something I really have to work on,” Battle said. “But I think I’m improving with it. It was tough at first, but you know... I have to do it. I’m accepting the challenge.” Then, in Syracuse’s first exhibition, the buzzer sounded and Tyus Battle, the player who has never been the player he’s supposed to be this season, got that much closer. He was, on the first night, everything he said he would be. He was Syracuse’s alpha in beta. sjfortie@syr.edu | @Sam4TR

11.3

KNOWN THREAT Tyus Battle leads Syracuse’s returning scorers in production — by a lot 4.5 1.7 0

TYUS BATTLE

FRANK PASCHAL SIX OTHER HOWARD CHUKWU SCHOLARSHIP PLAYERS


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BEHIND THE NUMBER


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The death of Gabrielle Cooper’s father fueled her passion for basketball, which led her to become a star at Syracuse By Charlie DiSturco asst. sports editor

T WAS ABOUT 6:30 A.M. ON Feb. 10, 2011 when Benji Hardaway reached for her phone to call her mother-in-law, Margaret. But when she picked up the phone, she saw Margaret’s number already calling. Margaret told Hardaway that her ex-husband, Torrance Cooper, had died after being rushed to the hospital. Stunned, Hardaway began to cry. She turned to Gabrielle, the daughter she had with Cooper, who lay in bed beside her in a downstairs room. Hardaway choked out the words. Hardaway and Gabrielle woke up the rest of the house with their cries. Gabrielle’s stepbrothers, Justin and Johnathan, ran downstairs to find out what had happened. Justin recalls running in and looking from Gabrielle’s face to his mother’s. The story slowly spilled out to the boys. Torrance had gone to warm up his car after work early in the morning when he passed out. His daughters and stepsons all knew he had been dealing with sarcoidosis, an inflammatory disease that attacks different organs and, in Torrance’s case, built up tissue in his lungs that made it harder to breathe. It is rarely fatal. Gabrielle’s family thought, at 39, Torrance would be OK. But outside on that cold day, he collapsed and never got back up. “It was unexpected,” Gabrielle said. “It wasn’t like you see him and be like he’s looking bad. It was completely a shock. I knew he had it but I never thought anything of that.” Gabrielle was 12 years old when she lost her father in 2011. In that moment, she never could have known the significance of that year. How it would become a symbol of her dad’s passing. How his death led her to picking up basketball competitively. And how the last two digits, 11, would soon be donned by the new face of Syracuse basketball. ••• hortly after her father’s death, when Gabrielle was in middle school, she decided to play basketball more competitively. Before then, she had only played in recreational leagues and pickup basketball. She had watched her older siblings play, attending every game she could. When they shot around on the hoop outside their house, she tagged along. Despite being the youngest child by five years, she wanted to imitate her two brothers. Without her father, they became her basketball foundation. But if she wanted to play in the lot, her brothers would treat her like “one of us,” Johnathan, who is seven years older than Gabrielle, said. Her age, gender and size were irrelevant. That meant when driving to the hoop, her layups and jump shots were swatted into the neighbor’s yard. It wasn’t until she was 10 or 11 when she could actually get a shot off.

S

29.8

“It was, ‘You going to the rim?’” Justin, who is five years older than Gabrielle, said. “Your shot (is going to) to get blocked.” Back then, Gabrielle couldn’t beat her brothers, but she never stopped trying. There were times she cried and walked away, but she wanted to get better. Instead of driving to the hoop, Gabrielle practiced the jump shot that became a staple of her game. In 2011, Gabrielle joined multiple AAU teams to improve her play. Ebony Jones, her middle school coach, led one of the teams she joined, called the Orange Crush. There, Jones told the Orange Crush they were allowed to pick their numbers. She walked from person to person, asking their choice. When she got to Gabrielle, it was an easy decision. Later that year, on the middle-school team, Jones laid out the jerseys for her players to choose. Gabrielle, once again, secured No. 11. “At the time, I really started picking up basketball,” Gabrielle said. “That’s when I made my decision to choose a real number.” Gabrielle donned that number until high school, when it became unavailable. So, she wore No. 15 until the player who wore No. 11 graduated. With hopes to improve even more, Gabrielle joined another local AAU team, the Lady Hurricanes. The training and competition took off from there. In addition to the Crush and her middle school team, the Lady Hurricanes practiced twice a week, trained another day and played about 120 games from November to August every season, head coach Gary Lewis said. At those games, Gabrielle sometimes peeked into the stands. She always knew her mother would be there, and that her father would not. She especially missed her dad during the training sessions. One day at the end of the training, the players ran a 5-on-5 scrimmage against men, including players’ dads. The person she matched with was “calling the weakest fouls,” Gabrielle said. The situation became tense and Gabrielle grew upset. On the drive home from the scrimmage, Gabrielle broke down. When her mother asked what was wrong, Gabrielle responded, “I wish dad was here.” Gabrielle’s coaches tried to fill the void. At times, Lewis drove her to practice to help the family. He wanted her on the Lady Hurricanes and convinced Gabrielle’s mom to let her stay on the team, though, he said, Hardaway thought her daughter might be outmatched by the competition at that age. So, Lewis worked with a raw Gabrielle on various dribbling drills and off-ball movement. He started using her at the free-throw line in games. Over the years, she slowly moved toward the 3-point line. By high school, she transformed into the team’s main shooting threat. Even the brothers who once schooled her in their driveway noticed. One day during a pickup game, Gabrielle tightly

LEADING THE PACK

Gabrielle Cooper leads all returning Syracuse players in minutes per game with 20.8 more minutes per game than the next player 9.0

GABRIELLE DESIREE COOPER ELMORE

7.8

ABBY GRANT

4.6 CHELAYNE BAILEY

GABRIELLE COOPER is the only returning starter from last year’s Syracuse team that finished 22-11. josh shub-seltzer staff photographer

guarded her brother Johnathan, who saw it as an opportunity to embarrass her. He crossed her up, dribbled between her legs, spun and tried to cross her up again. But Gabrielle stole the ball. She went on a breakaway. Johnathan turned to trail behind her with a plan. As she went up for a layup, he took flight after to pin her shot against the backboard. But the ball wasn’t where he expected. His sister had ball-faked and hit a reverse layup. “That was the turning point,” Johnathan said. “When I knew my sister had it.”

AT THE TIME, I REALLY STARTED PICKING UP BASKETBALL. THAT’S WHEN I MADE MY DECISION TO CHOOSE A REAL NUMBER. GABRIELLE COOPER SU GUARD

Gabrielle started receiving letters from Division I programs. Recruiting picked up in the latter years of high school after shooting 7-for-8 from beyond the arc in a Tennessee tournament and then 12 more 3s a year later in North Carolina, Gabrielle remembered. “Her passion, desire and drive went up a level (after Torrance’s death),” Jones said. “… Mentally she got very tough, that’s very difficult to teach any kid.” ••• n September 2015, when Gabrielle officially visited Syracuse as a senior year, two-time captain Brittney Sykes hosted her and the two players bonded. After verbally committing to the Orange, Gabrielle traveled to watch SU play in its first-ever Final Four. Sykes walked up to her and remembered telling Gabrielle to “hurry up and get to Syracuse so we can get back here.” In that tournament, Syracuse won its Final Four matchup before falling to Connecticut in the national championship.

I

2011

Gabrielle Cooper’s father died in 2011, so she wears the number 11 in honor of the man whose memory pushed her to become who she is today

The next year, Gabrielle immediately found herself thrown into a starting role as a freshman. She started 32 games, was the only non-senior in the starting lineup, and served as the team’s main 3-point shooter. Sykes saw the freshman’s improvement and became a mentor to Gabrielle. Sykes saw Gabrielle’s role as similar to her former teammate Brianna Butler’s, who had been put in an “uncomfortable position,” Sykes said, by being told to shoot the ball while playing alongside more experienced teammates. Despite Sykes being a fifth-year senior and Gabrielle a freshman, the two became close friends. “That’s my kid,” Sykes said. “I guess I adopted her. … She doesn’t know how much she changed me as a person, as a player and as an individual.” In her first game, Gabrielle shot 4-of18 from 3 and followed it up with a 3-of-14 performance from behind the arc against Siena. In SU’s sixth game, the first big one Gabrielle played in against top-10 Ohio State, Sykes walked over to Gabrielle in the locker room. “It was one of those moments when I was like, ‘I need to tell her this,’” Sykes said, “because she didn’t realize how important she is.” In the middle of a shooting slump, Sykes reminded her that next year she would be the lone returning starter. That it didn’t matter how far in the postseason Syracuse got because she would be the one everyone is going to talk about. That she was a freshman with a green light to shoot despite her slump. That she had to lead because of the players she played with before. “Now you have to be that player everybody else wants to play with,” Sykes remembered telling Gabrielle. ••• orrance’s death became the fire that helped Gabrielle to transform basketball from a hobby to a fulltime commitment. It fueled her to hustle in AAU, to become a three-star recruit and to lead Morgan Park (Illinois) High School to its first-ever trip to the state semifinals. If she ever needed to gather her thoughts, she’d go to the park alone

T

see

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HOT HAND

72.3 PERCENT

Of Syracuse’s returning players, Cooper makes up 72.3 percent of the team’s scoring


8 BASKETBALL GUIDE 2017

ON TO THE NEXT ONE Point guard is arguably the most important position on the basketball court. Syracuse has had a bevy of good point guards recently. You could make the case that Tyler Ennis and Michael Gbinije were the best players on their respective teams. But one thing the Orange as a program has lacked at point guard is stability. Syracuse is entering the sixth season in which it’ll need to replace the player who saw the majority of minutes at point guard. Here’s a breakdown of SU’s most recent point guards.

nge file p daily ora

hotos

2012-2013 MICHAEL CARTERWILLIAMS Michael Carter-Williams played 26 games off the bench his freshman season before assuming starter duties after Jardine left. Though he struggled shooting the ball from the outside, Carter-Williams still put together a solid season for SU, particularly as a long defender at the top of the zone. Syracuse made it to the Final Four that year, and Carter-Williams decided to leave for the NBA Draft. He was taken with the 11th pick by the Philadelphia 76ers, going on to win Rookie of the Year. He’s now with the Charlotte Hornets in his fifth season.

23

Games started

Points per game

5.4

10.5

Assists per game

2013-2014 TYLER ENNIS Tyler Ennis took over for Carter-Williams as a freshman starting point guard. Although Syracuse lost many pieces from the previous year’s Final Four team – Brandon Triche and James Southerland, along with Carter-Williams – Ennis helped lead the Orange to a shocking run. Syracuse started 25-0, the best start in school history, and a No. 1 rating. The Orange then went on to lose six of its last nine games, and Ennis left for the draft after his one year at SU. He was selected with the 18th pick by the Phoenix Suns and has played 132 games over three full seasons, bouncing between the NBA and G-League. He’s currently on the Los Angeles Lakers.

34

2014-2015 KALEB JO

Kaleb Joseph was thr after Ennis’ departure in the Class of 2014, J through most of his fr shot just 37.6 percent defense. Syracuse we missing postseason b of a self-imposed ban his sophomore seaso games, starting none minutes once Atlantic play started. He trans the season to Creight

30

Game

Points per ga

Games started

Points per game

5.5

12.9

Assists per game

3.9

Ass


BASKETBALL GUIDE 2017 9

5 OSEPH

rown into the void e. The No. 50 recruit Joseph struggled reshman season. He t and struggled on ent 18-13 that year, basketball because n. He returned for on but played just 18 e and playing only 18 c Coast Conference sferred at the end of ton.

es started

ame

5.9

sists per game

2015-2016 MICHAEL GBINIJE Michael Gbinije transferred from Duke after his freshman season, playing sparingly during the 2012-13 season before starting the majority of games at small forward during his redshirt junior year. During the summer of 2015, Gbinije transitioned into the Orange’s starting point guard. Gbinije had a dominant regular season and was named to the ACC Second Team. The Orange snuck into the NCAA Tournament as a No. 10 seed and made an improbable run to the Final Four. Gbinije entered the NBA Draft and was taken with the 49th pick by the Detroit Pistons. He played just nine games in the NBA last year, spending most of his time in the G-League.

37

Games started

Points per game

4.3

17.5

Assists per game

2016-2017 JOHN GILLON John Gillon came over as a graduate transfer from Colorado State. He initially split time with then-sophomore Frank Howard before Gillon took over the starting job once ACC play began. He had several signature moments in what was an up-and-down but ultimately disappointing season for SU. Gillon dropped 43 points in a road win against North Carolina State and hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to beat Duke at home. Syracuse was the first team to miss the NCAA Tournament and fell in the second round of the NIT. Gillon graduated and wasn’t selected in the NBA Draft. He played this past summer in The Basketball Tournament for Boeheim’s Army. He was recently selected in the G-League draft by the Texas Legends.

23

Games started

Points per game

5.4

10.5

Assists per game


LAST STOP

10 BASKETBALL GUIDE 2017

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Geno Thorpe brings experience to Syracuse in final year of college basketball By Matthew Gutierrez senior staff writer

HIS SUMMER, GENO

Thorpe strolled into The Scoring Factory, a gym on Pittsburgh’s South Side, wearing a cutoff V-neck, light shorts and flip-flops, ready to work out in preparation for the biggest stage of his career. In a few months, Thorpe would debut for Syracuse, his fifth team since his freshman year of high school, expected to do what he’s always done — bring size and stability to the point guard position. But, on a warm summer day, Thorpe meandered in a mostly empty gym in beachwear. Henry Pwono, a professional playing overseas, whom Thorpe trains with, laughed. “So laid-back,” Pwono said. “He’s always been the coolest kid on Sesame Street. He could have walked from the gym onto a beach.” While the move to Syracuse from South Florida will be a significant one, Thorpe maintains a sense of calmness that has worked both for and against him.

HE BRINGS IMMEDIATE CREDIBILITY WITH HIS ABILITY TO SCORE AND HIS EXPERIENCE. HE HAS THE ABILITY TO SHOOT, SOMETHING WE REALLY NEEDED. GERRY McNAMARA SU ASSISTANT COACH

GENO THORPE has played at three colleges in the past five years, including Syracuse. The graduate transfer guard led USF in scoring last season. Now, Thorpe has made SU his final stop. sam lee contributing photographer

SHOTS IN THE ARM 18.5

ANDREW WHITE

Thorpe’s 15.1 points per game last year would have placed him second on SU

DOING IT ALL

15.1

423 Total points 1.6 Steals 4.6 Assists 27 Starts 925 Total minutes played

GENO THORPE

13.2

TYLER LYDON

11.3

10.5

TYUS BATTLE

JOHN GILLON

Thorpe led South Florida in several major categories:

Thorpe wasn’t on the floor in the first exhibition game, but Syracuse’s third graduate transfer over the past two seasons is a long, easygoing point guard who will try to usher in experience and direction to the Orange and prove to other schools that overlooking him was a mistake. He flew under the radar coming from a city known for hockey and football, not basketball. Even this spring, after graduating from South Florida, he drew interest from only a few schools, including Pittsburgh and Seton Hall. Nevertheless, the fifth-year transfer now joins Syracuse in search of a launchpad for a pro career. Thorpe has moved from school to school because he felt he had to: Shady Side Academy to Shaler High School, to Penn State, to South Florida. All of it strengthened him and forced him to adapt, as he had to learn a new style of play under a new coach. “I want to be consistent,” Thorpe said. “Every year my shooting has gotten better, just being older. This is my last stop ... ” Thorpe, who turns 23 on Wednesday, see

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AT THE CORE

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Frank Howard has put last season’s disappointment behind him as he gets ready to lead Syracuse By Tomer Langer

senior staff writer

LOT

IS

NEW

FOR

Syracuse this season. Six of the 10 scholarship players for the Orange are in their first year at the school. Many of the practices are highlighted by four freshmen and one graduate transfer spending extra time with assistant coaches, asking questions as they learn the system. But as Frank Howard trotted out from the locker room at the start of practice the day before SU’s first exhibition game against Southern New Hampshire, he seemed comfortable. He shared a laugh with center Paschal Chukwu as the two stretched together. He jokingly chided assistant coach Adrian Autry every time Autry missed a 3-pointer while shooting around. He broke down the team huddle with a “hard work” chant to start practice. The offseason evolved Howard from a disappointing prospect to a comfortable veteran leader. A year ago, he was expected to emerge as the Orange’s starting point guard after showing flashes as a freshman. Instead, he lost most of his playing time once Atlantic Coast Conference play began, dealing with an injury to his core muscles as he watched graduate transfer John Gillon develop a stronghold on the position. The entire team, not just Howard, fell short of preseason expectations a year ago when Syracuse failed to make the NCAA Tournament. Howard is the last piece remaining from SU’s 2016 Final Four run. For the Orange to rebound it’ll lean on its most senior member, who’s entering the season more confident than he ever has. “First thought was next season, what do I need to work on, get better,” Howard said of his mindset at the end of last year. “I feel like I’m the best-ever right now.” The first step to getting past last season was healing from the core injury. Howard doesn’t remember a specific play he got hurt on, but from early January through the end of the year, he felt pain every time he made a movement. In the offseason he had surgery to fix the four torn muscles. But, this wasn’t the first time Howard addressed a significant injury. At Paul VI (Maryland) High School, he missed his junior season while rehabbing an ACL injury. He became an assistant coach that season and was able to contribute to his team’s run in the state championship tournament. The core injury, Howard said, caused him more pain than the torn ACL. The mental strain of the injury weighed on him too. Howard wasn’t as frustrated with losing playing time as he was with not knowing why he felt physically unable to play the way he knew he could. Meeting with team doctors at the end of the season, he said, helped him move past the frustration, because it provided the clarity he lacked. “I think people have the misconception that I was letting (lack of playing time) affect me or letting coach affect me,” Howard said. “But nah, I just wasn’t confident in myself and my body. I knew something was wrong with me and I knew I couldn’t get the job done.” The injury is no longer an issue. Other than some occasional soreness after practice, Howard feels fine. Now, at full health, Howard must maintain steady level of play. A year ago, the then-sophomore point guard started 14 games. He started the ACC opener against Boston College on New Year’s Day, which the Orange lost,

FRANK HOWARD was supposed to be Syracuse’s starting point guard a season ago, but he never played extensively. John Gillon and a core injury limited the then-sophomore. sam lee contributing photographer

96-81. He lost his consistent spot in the rotation after that, playing only 11.3 minutes per game in conference play compared to his 21.3 minutes prior to that.

WE FEEL LIKE HE’S TURNED THE CORNER MENTALLY. HE’S FOCUSED. GERRY MCNAMARA SU ASSISTANT COACH

Even in the nonconference portion of the schedule, the problem for Howard was his disappearance against stronger opponents. In eight wins, Howard averaged eight points on 51.2 percent shooting and 8.4 assists to just two turnovers. In five losses, the numbers dropped to 5.6 points on 23.1 percent shooting. He had 14 assists and 14 turnovers in that span.

“That’s the thing moving forward that we hope changes,” assistant coach Gerry McNamara said. “We feel like he’s turned the corner mentally. He’s focused, and the consistency factor is everything.” Howard isolated his ball handling and his 3-point shot as two facets of his game that needed improvement. He shot just 32 percent from 3 last season compared to Gillon’s 42 percent clip. He’s taking more jump shots while in rhythm to strengthen those two areas and feels like he’s improved in both. But Howard’s also taken another part of his game to a higher level. He’s willingly stepped into the leadership role that SU needs him to fill with four of last year’s starters no longer on the team. “One thing about Franklin,” his high school coach Glenn Farello said, “is that he’s never shied away from big moments.” Howard’s been a lot more vocal during practices, McNamara said. He holds himself and other players accountable when

they slip up during a drill. When practices get stale and monotonous, Howard is the one to inject life into them. “He works hard,” head coach Jim Boeheim said. “He’s getting better. I think that he’s a much better player this year at this stage than he was last year.” The spotlight is on Howard to produce now. He’s changed his number from 1 to 23, which he said was the first number he wore when he started in AAU. He said he wants to go back to his roots with that number. Despite his discouraging sophomore season, Howard said he never seriously thought of leaving SU. The injury, which he stressed he didn’t want to use as an excuse, is behind him. So are the struggles of losing his starting job. Now, all he needs to do fill the role that’s there for him to take. “I had to learn, get better. I feel like I’ve done that,” Howard said. “I feel like I’m in the right spot.” tdlanger@syr.edu | @tomer_langer


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BASKETBALL GUIDE 2017 13

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UP TO SPEED Desiree Elmore “won” the offseason and is ready to step into a bigger role By Billy Heyen

asst. digital editor

T THE END OF THIS SUMMER, EACH Syracuse player wrote down the name of their teammate who had the most impressive offseason. About 80 percent of the ballots chose Desiree Elmore. The summer before that, the one before her freshman year, Elmore didn’t have any idea what to expect from college basketball, and it showed. “Desiree was a kid who had to develop a work ethic,” said Tammy Millsaps, her high school coach. “Sometimes when you come along in today’s generation of social media, sometimes there’s a mindset that I’m very, very good and I don’t need to do too much more.” Elmore was a five-star recruit and ranked No. 51 by espnW HoopGurlz for the Class of 2016. She graduated from Capital (Connecticut) Prep as a four-time state champion and, as a senior there, she averaged 26.7 points and 15.7 rebounds per game. Looking back on her freshman season at Syracuse and now understanding college basketball, Elmore said she wasn’t prepared for the pace. This year, she needs to be. The Orange lost four of its starters to graduation, returning only Gabrielle Cooper. There is opportunity and Elmore’s offseason mindset has her ready to seize it. “I noticed major change,” guard Jasmine Nwajei said. “Even in her aura and her demeanor, how she moves. She’s just more hungry about things.”

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Quentin Hillsman said 80 percent of his team picked Elmore as having the team’s most impressive offseason

Elmore’s freshman season was an adjustment. She wasn’t sure what to expect coming from a small high school in Connecticut to the Atlantic Coast Conference. Elmore averaged just nine minutes per game, a number that dipped even lower during conference play. She had three assists and 15 turnovers. In her end-of-season meeting with the SU coaching staff, Elmore wanted to know what she could do to “actually help the team throughout the year.” They told her number one was her conditioning. So she went home and did, “as much running as I could.” Leon Elmore Sr. said his daughter worked out more than she ever had. Before, he said, Elmore never needed to work that hard because she was just “that good.” It shocked him to see her waking up to get to the gym by 7 a.m. Elmore focused on her diet, her father said, and she drank strictly water. “That’s the first thing coach Q said, ‘Man, we’re gonna have to get her new uniforms. Look how much weight she lost,’” Leon said. “That’s a sign of somebody who gets it,” Leon added, “somebody who wants to be better. When you don’t have to be told what to do, when you just initiate everything and you go do it.” Elmore also faced the challenge that she didn’t know where she belonged on the floor. Her height, 5-foot-9, puts her between a guard and a forward. She’s been tasked with being a post player at SU, which meant she spent a lot of time working with Bria and Briana Day last season. Their messages have only begun to sink in for Elmore now, even after the twins graduated. “Every little thing that they’ve got on me about that they’ve told me for advice,” Elmore said. “It literally is all making sense this year.” When Elmore arrived back in Syracuse to start the Orange’s offseason conditioning program this summer, she took that advice and didn’t let up. Elmore and her teammates ran the steps on Euclid Avenue. They did a variation

DESIREE ELMORE averaged just 9 minutes per game last year. She’ll be one of the team’s more experienced players after SU lost five players to graduation. josh shub-seltzer staff photographer

of 400-meter repeats, 800-meter repeats and even ran two-mile loops on the track. The team ran a mile together about six times throughout the summer, junior guard Isis Young said. Each player was timed and expected to improve upon that mark on each run. Elmore’s performance in the last mile test was “amazing,” Young said. Some players dropped about 10 seconds from their times, and Young recalled Elmore shaving 40. At the end of the summer leading into her freshman year, Elmore remembers barely breaking eight minutes in the mile. This summer, her last mile time was 6:46. Though Elmore may have not known what to expect at Syracuse, she knew it was the place for her to go out of high school, her father said. Elmore wants to be a broadcaster for ESPN, Leon said, and was impressed that Hillsman himself recruited her and not just an assistant. So choosing SU over other high-major schools she considered, like Baylor and LSU, became easy. When Elmore committed to Syracuse in October of her junior year, the program still hadn’t reached the Final Four once. But a year and a half later, in the spring of Elmore’s senior year, the Orange made it past the Final Four to the national championship game. Those who once were not surprised with her commitment, Elmore said, now believed

she couldn’t compete at that level. “There were a lot of people who doubted me after that, because they didn’t think I would be able to play on (a team) competing for a national championship,” Elmore said. “So it was just a lot of motivation to help me get to that point and it’s just something that I’ve always wanted.” On a team full of transfers and freshman, Elmore finds herself in a leadership role as a sophomore. Elmore said no one really understands the positions she plays. That means she now passes down the Day sisters’ messages. Elmore always excelled at taking charges, Millsaps said, and that as a slightly undersized forward she always relished the opportunity to shut down a taller opponent. Now, with the frontcourt starting spots wide open, everything is falling into place for the sophomore. “I call myself a whatever type of player because I’m able to do whatever is needed,” Elmore said. “I just feel like I can be more useful because I’m not as tired.” Instead of losing her breath, feeling winded and not playing much at all, Elmore feels ready to become a regular starter and help the team. “I think I’m just gonna have to keep doing what I’m doing,” Elmore said. “I can’t let up.” wmheyen@syr.edu | @wheyen3


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EARNED INTEREST Two seasons after Syracuse appeared in the 2016 national championship, the platform has attracted talent to the program

AMAYA FINKLEA-GUITY By Andrew Graham asst. sports editor

N APRIL 5, 2016, SYRACUSE played Connecticut in the program’s first national title game appearance. The contest, an 82-51 beatdown by the Huskies, drew a total television audience of nearly 3 million viewers. Syracuse was on the biggest stage in program history. And although it may not have been a moral victory, the loss benefitted the Orange in the form of eight players — three transfers and five recruits. Since that national title loss, SU has seen an influx of talent. After the 2015-16 season, guard Isis Young, forward Miranda Drummond and guard Jasmine Nwajei, who led all of Division I in points per game that season, all transferred to Syracuse. At the same time, five then-high school juniors — Nikki Oppenheimer, Amaya Finklea-Guity, Digna Strautmane, Maeve Djaldi-Tabdi and Marie-Paule Foppossi — took favor to Syracuse and eventually committed. Last season, the Orange graduated four of its five starters including program greats Alexis Peterson and Brittney Sykes, and the team now leans on these eight new players to replace lost production. None of the new faces have played a minute together in a Division I basketball game, but with the three transfers having a year to learn the system and three five-star freshmen on the roster, SU feels this team can reach the game that brought these players to central New York in the first place. “Coach Q took a team of great talent and brought it to that next level where it hadn’t been before,” Young said. “Then, to know that this coach is looking at you to recruit you and think that he can obviously use you to get the next level and get to the national championship is amazing.”

ISIS YOUNG

The national championship game isn’t the direct reason Oppenheimer chose SU, because she was already committed, but when the Chicago native found out SU would be playing in the Final Four just a few hours away in Indianapolis, she knew she had to go. Attending the game, she said, only deepened her desire to come to Syracuse. Young, Nwajei and Drummond looked on from afar. All three of them finished their respective seasons by the time Syracuse and UConn squared off, Nwajei at Wagner and Drummond and Young both exiting the NCAA tournament in the first weekend at St. Bonaventure and Florida, respectively. With no basketball to be played, their eyes turned to the Final Four.

WE’RE GROWING INTO THE IDENTITY SYRACUSE HAS BIRTHED ALREADY. IN DUE TIME, IT WILL COME TOGETHER. JASMINE NWAJEI SU GUARD

“It impacted my decision in a major way,” Nwajei said. “When … I watched the game, I felt like I could play in that system.” Of the five incoming freshmen, three were five-star recruits ranked inside the top 40 of espnW’s HoopGurlz 100 player rankings. The lowest of the three, FikleaGuity, will be the starting center for the season-opener on Nov. 10 against Morgan State, Hillsman said. The SU head coach also praised Strautmane and how she can play three positions on the floor. “Digna has been fantastic,” Hillsman said. “She’s been playing really well for us.” As for transfers, Syracuse brings in proven scoring

DIGNA STRAUTMANE

in Nwajei. In her junior season at Wagner two years ago, Nwajei led the entire country with 28.7 points per game. Young and Drummond don’t bring as much scoring — both averaged fewer than 10 points a game at their stops prior to SU — but both had decorated high-school careers, and Young was the No. 12 guard in her recruiting class. The inherent advantage all three Division I transfers wield is the year spent on the bench learning SU’s system. Young, Nwajei and Drummond have all had a chance to build bonds with other players. They have learned the intricacies of the press and fast-paced offense the Orange will run this year. “We’re growing into the identity Syracuse has birthed already,” Nwajei said. “In due time, it will come together.” Another critical component is communication on defense when SU full-court presses opponents. A major tactic SU is deploying, Oppenheimer said, is a call-andresponse when Hillsman calls for an adjustment. He barks an order to a player who relays it to the other four players. Then, everyone responds to ensure there’s no confusion. Outside of basketball, every player has made an effort to get close as a team. In October, Strautmane said, the team had a book club meeting where players recited their favorite quotes from books. Other times, they watch movies as a team. Young and Abby Grant are roommates, and Young dubbed the duo “Sniper Gang” because of their shooting prowess. Now, on a run of four-straight NCAA tournament appearances, the new faces are embracing the chance to make it five. Doing that, players said, would cement the winning culture they all saw in 2016. “Our expectation is to go to the Final Four and win a national championship,” Young said. If Syracuse does make the Final Four again in 2018, it’s likely that other prospective players around the country will be watching too. aegraham@syr.edu | @A_E_Graham


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from page 7

COOPER

and shoot around. “It made me want to go even harder,” Gabrielle said. While her mom traveled to every game or practice she could, she was new to the basketball circuit and didn’t know as much as other parents did. Hardaway sacrificed every summer until 2016 because of AAU basketball and even became a stylist so she could work for herself and make time for Gabrielle. Yet it’s different than the fatherly guidance that Torrance once bestowed upon Gabrielle. She was a “daddy’s girl,” Hardaway said. She idolized her father because he always stuck around to watch her before and after school. After Hardaway and Torrance divorced, Gabrielle always made it a point to see her father. from page 8

THORPE is well aware the effect Andrew White and John Gillon had on the team last year with their experience. (Thorpe has not spoken with either player.) He knows that as much as they may have helped SU, the Orange did not make the NCAA Tournament for the fifth time since 1996. Thorpe, Syracuse’s oldest player, knows that if he is a lesser version of himself or doesn’t learn his third college system quickly, the Orange has a chance to miss out on backto-back Big Dances. Much of Thorpe’s life has prepared him for Syracuse, from the first time he touched a football, on a kickoff return, and ran it back for a touchdown. He realized he wanted to play college basketball when he was “scoring all of these points” in the seventh grade. He reinforced that point when he was dunking as a 6-foot-1 ninthgrader on varsity. Throughout high school, he hopped on the Megabus for six-hour rides to New Jersey to play in tournaments with his AAU team, the New Jersey Playaz. That commitment unintentionally prepared him to step into a crucial role for the Orange. This spring, having lost John Gillon, SU desperately needed an experienced guard to work alongside Frank Howard and Tyus Battle. A few weeks after Allen Griffin was hired as SU’s new assistant coach, Syracuse recognized the perfect addition would give SU the option of running three guards at once, while providing a veteran presence and court awareness. In the first week of June this year, Griffin phoned Thorpe. Griffin had seen the thenthree-star recruit play AAU ball for the Playaz and kept track of him as he traveled to Penn State and South Florida. Griffin knew he led the Bulls in most major statistical categories a year ago, including scoring, assists, steals and minutes played. Griffin wanted him to play for SU. Thorpe told Griffin he wanted to move forward and play for Pittsburgh, which offered him out of high school. “No, no, no,” Griffin remembered saying. “We’ll get you on the phone with coach (Boeheim) right now. This is the right fit for you.” Boeheim spoke that day with Thorpe and his father, Gene. Thorpe came up for a visit and committed a few days later. “From the moment he stepped on the court, he proved he was a tough competitor,” Syracuse assistant coach Gerry McNamara said. “He’s a tough kid who’s been through it, seen the ropes.

One day, driving to Wisconsin for vacation, Gabrielle made her mom turn the car around because her father was coming into town because she never wanted to miss a moment with him. In high school, as homecoming, graduation and other milestones passed, her brother Justin saw that Gabrielle missed her father. “You could never see it on her face,” Justin said, “but you knew.” When she needed an outlet for that frustration and sadness, she turned to basketball. It was a way to give her all. A way of carrying something bigger than a sport. A way of giving back to her father, wearing that No. 11 to serve as a constant reminder. “Basketball helped me get through a lot,” Gabrielle said. “It’s always been there for me. “Basketball never changed.”

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He brings immediate credibility with his ability to score and his experience. He has the ability to shoot, something we really needed.” Thorpe’s ability to adapt and improve, at an age most other undrafted guards had ended their formal basketball careers, only reinforces his maturity. Thorpe turned down offers from Wisconsin and Kansas State, among others, and committed to Penn State out of high school because he was promised to contribute at point guard, his father said. With the Nittany Lions, Thorpe played 18.3 minutes per game over 66 contests. CBS Sports called him an “under-the-radar freshman.” That season, he scored nine points in a Big 10 Tournament game and finished third on the team in steals, but he only started three times. He did not play as much as he was promised in recruiting, his father said. Thorpe wanted out after his freshman year. Heeding his father’s advice, he stuck with it for one more season.

FROM THE MOMENT HE STEPPED ON THE COURT, HE PROVED HE WAS A TOUGH COMPETITOR. GERRY McNAMARA SU ASSISTANT COACH

As a sophomore, his scoring bumped to 8.7 points per game, but he started in only half of the games. Thorpe felt he deserved more playing time. The following June, he transferred, saying it “wasn’t the right fit.” “He just kind of fell through the cracks up there at Penn State,” his father said. He sat out the 2015-16 season at USF, due to NCAA transfer rules, and shined in his lone season with the Bulls. His 15.1 points per game would have ranked second on SU a year ago. He made 37.5 percent of his 3-pointers, which ranks first among SU’s current players. Now he’s at SU, with a chance to earn a starting guard spot and get one step closer to fulfilling that dream. “Geno is thrilled to be at Syracuse,” said Pete Strobl, the owner of The Scoring Factory. “Sure, he was wishing, hoping other schools had come into the fray, was under-recruited early. But he’s like, ‘I’m here now, let’s work this.’”

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