Ten years ago, can you believe it? The ’02-’03 season ended with Syracuse cutting down the nets in New Orleans, site of so much horror for the program before that. The kid that erased all those ghosts was back in the Dome this week.
The critics can howl until their orange-and-blue in the face about Carmelo Anthony. You’ve heard it all before: He doesn’t make his teammates better. He doesn’t play any defense. The offense stops when the ball touches his hands. He’ll never win a ring.
There are plenty of very valid criticisms of Melo as an NBA player (although many are breathlessly overblown because of the type of star he has become, and the city he plays in).
Some even point back to his college career and take potshots at being a one-and-done player. Did he even bother showing up on campus his spring semester? Was he at Syracuse for an education or an eight-month vocational program?
But one thing was made certain this week: Melo (and his merry band of underclassmen) made Syracuse basketball better. Forever. That was once again hammered home as the Knicks came to the Carrier Dome to play the Sixers in an exhibition game Sunday.
Scroll through KnicksNow.com Jonah Ballow’s Instagrams from the trip. That look of respect Melo is giving Boeheim on the stationary bikes is just priceless. There’s a general joy that Anthony has for his college experience. An earnest give back to the campus and the community. A bond that has deepened over the years.
There are plenty of reasons to wonder if Darryl Gross is the right man for the job. There’s always rumblings about how clumsy he is socially, how administrators in athletics don’t really trust him. He’s led us down the primrose path with Nike, allowing a sneaker company to have their way with SU’s jerseys and colors and swoosh-tastic-ness. (I mean, freaking Otto has a swoosh on him, now? Argh.)
But Gross’ ability to engineer Melo’s name on the front of the basketball practice facility is an enormous difference maker (although maybe we should give Boeheim the assist on this). How often does a program have a current professional athlete (not to mention super-duper star) donating $3M to his alma mater?
Eighteen-year-old recruits who view Melo as their idol are walking into his facility and looking at his history of just nine years ago. Amazing. And its working. Before Anthony, Syracuse was in a decade-long era of recruiting projects, instead of elite national talent. The classes before Melo included guys like Todd Burgan, Ryan Blackwell, Etan Thomas and Jason Hart. There were some stars (like Lawrence Moten and John Wallace), but SU wasn’t an NBA factory.
Look at what’s happened since Carmelo left for the league. Regular lottery picks (Flynn, Wes, Dion). First rounders (Hakim, Dont’e, Fab). SU is constantly fishing for McDonald’s All-Americans.
The three words are trite, but Melo changed everything. He took the monkey off Boehiem’s back. Now, The Per’fesser is viewed much more Peyton Manning than Dan Marino (he can win it all). His natural defense mechanisms softened, and Boeheim became a favorite for the national media (the local ones still seem to have their run-ins).
SU’s recruiting has only sped up, the Orange pluck from the nation’s best every year. Syracuse is a preseason top-10 program annually, looked at in the same regard as UNC, Duke, Kentucky and Kansas (albeit with less titles).
Now a decade gone by, Carmelo’s affect on the program is arguably getting more impactful every season. Say what you want about his NBA career. Throw all the grenades you want. Orange Nation knows the truth. The game changed when he stepped on campus. For good.