Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim poised for win No. 800
Maybe it was his new digs or knowing he's going to have a pretty good team again. Coach Jim Boeheim seemed so content at Syracuse's basketball media day that he actually asked reporters to move closer to his lectern before he began. "Glad to take your questions," he said, smiling inside the sparkling new $19 million Carmelo K. Anthony Basketball Center. Entering his 34th season as head coach at his alma mater and on the verge of his 800th career win, Boeheim has had to retool the Orange since he lost his top three scorers from last season - point guard Jonny Flynn, shooting guard Eric Devendorf, and swingman Paul Harris, who also led the Orange in rebounding. "We had three high-volume shooters that are gone, so the ball will get spread around a little more and more guys will get opportunities," Boeheim said. That would include freshman Brandon Triche, a Syracuse native who started at point guard alongside Andy Rautins in both of the Orange's exhibition games, and Iowa State transfer Wes Johnson, who's ready to roll after sitting last season. "We have some young guys that we think are good players," Boeheim said. "When you look at overall experience, we have as much experience as most teams have, and that's a very important ingredient." On the roster are two fifth-year players - Rautins and 6-foot-9 center Arinze Onuaku - and a third-year player in 6-9 forward Rick Jackson. They helped Syracuse finish 28-10 last season, giving Boeheim his 31st season with at least 20 wins, an NCAA Division I record. "I expect more out of Andy than he's given us," Boeheim said. "I think he's played well. I think he hasn't really had the platform to give him the ball." Rautins, who did not play in 2007-08 because of a torn knee ligament, emerged as an effective outside threat last season with 102 3-pointers, five off Gerry McNamara's school record for a season. He welcomes the extra responsibility of being one of the veterans. "It feels good," he said. "I take on the challenge of being a leader out here mentally and keeping these guys in it vocally." Onuaku (10.3 points and 7.3 rebounds per game), who's been recovering from a bad case of tendinitis in both knees, has dropped 15 pounds but has devoted a lot of energy to the weight room the past few months and needs to get in game shape. "Arinze has had a slow recovery process. We've taken it very easy with him," Boeheim said. "He has played some, but not a lot. His wind and stamina are going to be down, but he looks good. He feels good. He hasn't been pain-free for the last three years." Guards Scoop Jardine and Mookie Jones are pain-free after being injured last season. Jardine missed his sophomore season with a stress fracture in his left leg and Jones, a redshirt freshman, played sparingly in nine games before a hip injury required season-ending surgery. Kris Joseph gained valuable playing experience in 34 games his freshman year. The 6-7 Johnson, who averaged more than 12 points per game at Iowa State, had 34 points in the Orange's exhibition loss Tuesday night to Division II Le Moyne. Besides Triche, Syracuse has two other freshmen in 6-7 James Southerland and 6-11 center DaShonte Riley. Southerland was 7 of 7 from the field, including five three-pointers, to lead the Orange in an exhibition win over Division IICal State-Los Angeles. Syracuse, led by Flynn's 17.4 points per game, had five players average in double figures and averaged 80 points per game in 2008-09. That was tops in the Big East, as was the Orange's 48.7 field goal percentage. Boeheim thinks this team can be even better defensively, though the Orange's lackluster defensive performance against Le Moyne led to a half-hour postgame locker room analysis by the Hall of Fame coach. "Defensively, we were a little underrated last year. Our defense was pretty good. We gave up a lot of points, but field-goal percentage defense was pretty good, one of the better teams," Boeheim said. "We should be a better defensive team than we were last year, size-wise and experience-wise. Offensively, we won't be as explosive as we were, but I think we can still be a very good offensive team this year."