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James Southerland Sees Syracuse’s 2013 Final Four Team in This Year’s Squad

Throughout Orange Nation, SU fans are hoping his year’s team can duplicate what last year’s squad did — put it all together when it counts the most after flaming out at the end of the regular season. The turning point in 2013? When James Southerland went off in the Big East Tournament at the Garden — hitting 19 3’s in four days, and suddenly the Orange was on a roll to Atlanta. 

In a college hoops landscape that’s dominated by talk of “one-and-done” players, the Queens native — who only played in 13 games as a freshman and averaged less than five points per game as a sophomore — was a late bloomer, but indeed blossomed as a lethal three-point shooter and reliable rebounder.

James signed with the Bobcats during the offseason and remained in the NBA with Charlotte for more than a month, although only playing a total of three minutes. He was waived in mid-December but quickly acquired by the Lakers. Ever since, J-South’s suited up for Los Angeles’ D-League affiliate, the LA D-Fenders. In 33 games, he’s averaged 13.9 points and 6.8 rebounds in 29 minutes a night.

Tuesday, James was with the D-Fenders (who don’t exactly play up to their name — they score 120 a game but give up 116) in Fort Wayne, Ind., to take on the Mad Ants. The Fizz’s Midwest Bureau was at Allen County War Memorial Coliseum to catch up with the former Orange star. There were about 30,000 less people in the building than a big game in the Dome, but James was as effervescent as ever in updating us on his post-grad life and offering his take on SU heading into the Dance. 

Fizz: Before we reminisce about the ‘Cuse, how’s life as a professional basketball player in Los Angeles?

James Southerland: It’s going well. Definitely can’t complain about the weather in LA. I mean, I know I’m in the D-League right now, but that’s a great place to be.

Fizz: And while you’re in LA now, you started the season with the Bobcats and were with Charlotte for more than a month. For any kid who’s ever picked up a ball, the dream is to make it to the NBA. What was that experience like for you?

JS: It was a great experience. I met a lot of talented guys — superstars like Al Jefferson and also a guy I grew up with, Kemba Walker — definitely showing me the ropes. It was cool being with them and I’m definitely going to learn from that experience.

Fizz: Both during your time in the NBA and now in the D-League you’ve gone up against former teammates like Dion, Mike, Arinze, Fab, and Scoop. What’s it like to run into your teammates at the highest level of basketball?

JS: It’s great. I like to see that they’re doing well. The D-League guys are like me trying to fight to get themselves back to where they were. Arinze did a good job, coming off a 10-day with the Cavaliers. I spoke to him. He’s looking great out there. It’s just great to catch up with these guys no matter where we are.

Fizz: What have you been told you need to do to break back into the NBA?

JS: I haven’t really been told much, but I just have to go out there and worry about what I’m doing right now and hopefully it’ll get me back to where I was.

Fizz: Not that it was very long ago, but when you think back to SU, what comes to mind first?

JS: Just the great teammates I had up there. It’s nice to see them around. That’s one thing you miss the most — the people you met at school and also your teammates.

Fizz: What’s your analysis of this year’s SU team heading into the NCAA Tournament?

JS: I definitely think they’re going to be a team that no one wants to go up against. Having that little slump isn’t uncommon, especially after you win 25 games in a row. I feel they’re going to be fine in the Tournament. A lot of teams aren’t going to want to play them. It’s similar to last year’s team. We were struggling. This is the perfect time to get hot — people are sleeping on you and you don’t have any pressure like they had before they lost those games.

Fizz: What was it about last year’s team that allowed you to put that losing skid to the side and refocus when it mattered most?

JS: We just all came together. We had great guys — some of the guys who are still on the team, like CJ, Rakeem, and Baye. Those guys are veterans and they know what we did last year, and they can definitely pick up the slack.

Fizz: What do you like about this year’s team to make you think they can replicate what you did a year ago and reach the Final Four?

JS: I like their composure. They never get rattled. They stick within the game. They don’t get too outside of themselves. And when it comes down to crunchtime, they’re always ready to step up.

Fizz: You obviously played with a quality point guard last year in MCW, who’s probably the NBA Rookie of the Year this season. What are your impressions of Tyler Ennis?

JS: I feel like he’s just as good, watching him play. He knows how to conduct his players. He knows how to get guys open for shots as well.

Fizz: You were the go-to shooter on last year’s team. This year, it’s Trevor Cooney, who’s been in a slump of late. What are your thoughts on Trevor going into the Tournament?

JS: I think he’s going to do real fine. He’s going to be going against guys who know he can shoot but don’t know his whole game. I think he’ll get open shots with CJ and Jerami back down low scoring inside. All he’s gotta do is take his time. He’s only a sophomore. It’s tough, but if he just stays focused, he’ll be fine.

Fizz: Will you be breaking out the Orange and watching Thursday’s game?

JS: Of course. I’ve always got my Orange jersey on me and I’ll definitely watch the game.

Fizz: Any shoutouts back to the ‘Cuse?

JS: My fratboys in PIKE — those are my guys. What’s up to those dudes and also my teammates. I wish them the best.

Fizz: James, thanks so much for the time, and hope to see you with the Lakers soon.  

JS: Definitely. Appreciate it. 

Posted: John Nolan
John Nolan grew up during the glory days of the Fizz, reading the work of legendary wordsmiths like Mike Couzens and Ted Conroy. He graduated from SU in 2013 and now works as a play-by-play broadcaster for the Fort Wayne TinCaps (a Single-A affiliate of the San Diego Padres). He covers NBA D-League games in Fort Wayne when former Orange come to town.
The Fizz is owned, edited and operated by Damon Amendolara. D.A. is an ’01 Syracuse graduate from the Newhouse School with a degree in Broadcast Journalism.

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