Rautins leading Syracuse in 1st year as starter
Jim Boeheim has a pretty good track record of uncovering diamonds in the rough. He struck the mother lode in Andy Rautins, the vocal leader and clutch star of Syracuse's impressive season.
``Coach Boeheim said from Day 1 this kid was going to be a helluva player, and not a lot of people said that,'' Syracuse assistant coach Mike Hopkins said. ``Coach has great vision for players, always has. You've got to be able to look at things and say, 'What could that be?' ``
Though Rautins, a fifth-year senior, has the pedigree of a thoroughbred - his dad, Leo, starred for Boeheim and was a first-round pick in the 1983 NBA draft - his transformation at Syracuse has been remarkable.
Since enrolling as a 175-pound freshman in 2005 and reaching double figures only once in the 20 games he appeared in his rookie season, the 6-foot-5 Rautins has put on 30 pounds of muscle and morphed into a player that teams fear. In his first year as a starter, he's had some eye-opening games: 11 points, seven assists, seven steals, and seven rebounds in an early season victory over North Carolina; 23 points, eight rebounds, nine assists and five steals against Rutgers in mid-January.
``I've always believed in his abilities,'' said Leo Rautins, the first player to record a triple-double in Big East play. ``What people are seeing now, I believed that was what he could be doing.
``I've probably been more impressed with how he's handled everything that came his way - from the adversity to becoming a leader of the team. I guess I'm more impressed with the person, even though I love the player.''
When No. 7 Villanova (22-4) visits the fourth-ranked Orange (26-2) on Saturday night in a game featuring the Big East's top teams, Andy Rautins will be a prime focus of the Wildcats: He's second on the team in scoring at 11.8 points per game, is tied with Scoop Jardine for the team lead in assists with 130, and is tied with Connecticut's Kemba Walker for tops in the Big East in steals per game at 2.1 (Rautins has 58 overall).
``I think hard work overcomes talent any day,'' said Rautins, also the Orange's chief outside threat with 75 3-pointers. He's shooting 41 percent from beyond the arc despite incessant face-guarding and double teams.
``He's improved. He used to be just a spot shooter,'' Louisville coach Rick Pitino said. ``Now, he's a terrific defensive player, he's a great passer, he's a great leader. He's done a great job of improving all of his skills.''
A star for Syracuse's Jamesville-DeWitt High School, Rautins had offers from Providence and St. Bonaventure but clearly wanted to follow in his father's footsteps. And he knew exactly where to seek advice - from his dad, who is a color analyst for Toronto Raptors games and has been his coach on Canada's senior men's national team.
``I'm watching a Syracuse game while I'm on the road and I know he's watching at home,'' Leo Rautins recalled. ``Say Jimmy (Boeheim) is right in the face of somebody, and I'd call up and say, 'That's you, right now. You still want to play for him? Can you handle that?'
``It's a big-time program. Everybody that comes here wants to be an NBA player,'' said Leo, a high school star in his native Toronto. ``A lot of kids don't realize what they're getting into. He never wavered at all.''
Surely, it hasn't been easy.
Rautins tore an anterior cruciate ligament while playing for Canada in the summer of 2007 and had to sit out the 2007-08 season. The injury happened right in front of his dad in a game against Brazil.
``He went down like somebody shot him,'' Leo said. ``It was like someone kicked me in the stomach. He was having a really phenomenal summer. But he's a tough kid. You can bang him and hit him and he's going to keep getting back up.''
Andy's mom, Jamie, was quick with some important advice.
``My wife went in the locker room with him and said, 'Hey, this is going to be the best thing that ever happened to you.' That's the first thing I said, too. 'This will be a blessing in disguise if you do everything you're supposed to do,' `` Leo said.
``Everything happens for a reason,'' Andy said. ``I really feel that happened so I could get my body to where it needs to be, especially being in one of the most physical conferences in the country. I needed to get my weight up so I could compete at this level successfully. Now, I'm fit, where I need to be.''
When Syracuse's season seemed set to unravel a little after a hard-fought win over Connecticut and a home loss to Louisville on Valentine's Day, Rautins was crucial to helping the team stay on track.
Using his quick release to thwart defenders, Rautins scored a game-high 26 points to help lead the Orange to a 75-71 victory at Georgetown after Syracuse had given up most of a 23-point lead, sealing it with two foul shots in the final seconds. That made him 12 for 12 from the free throw line in the final minute of games this season. And on Tuesday night he hit eight 3s and scored a season-high 28 points in a comeback win at Providence.
``There is no doubt in my mind on how important Andy is to our basketball team,'' Boeheim said after the Connecticut game. ``When he was out of the game we lost complete focus of what to do on offense. He came right back in and made a couple of huge plays right away and got us established.''
Heck, Rautins has become so polished that his dad finally has come to a sobering conclusion as he looks at Syracuse's record, the best so far in school history.
``It's funny because you hear all the stuff - 'Who's better?' The guys on TV always talk about it,'' Leo said. ``I'm a firm believer that winning defines you, and Andy's a winner. You look at this year's team and what it's done so far, things that haven't been done at Syracuse, and you think of all the great players and all the great teams. So when people ask who's better, I say, 'He is.'
``I think ultimately now he's living his dream,'' Leo said. ``This is where he's always wanted to be. He's had to play the waiting game, deal with injuries, all that. If you had to write a story, I don't know if you could write one better.''