Let’s be honest. It’s not easy to become a professional basketball player. Then, once you’ve reached the proverbial mountaintop, it’s even harder to stay there. Syracuse has had its fair share of successful alum head to the professional ranks, and while guys like Carmelo Anthony and Dion Waiters are sustaining successful careers in the NBA, it can be taken for granted just how special of an opportunity playing pro ball is.
With basketball season now quickly approaching both in the United States and overseas, a couple of former Orange are getting a shot to make their mark in the pros. While not all of them are going to the NBA, let’s meet the Jim Boeheim disciples who will be playing professionally this winter.
Michael Gbinije (Class of 2016): The most recently graduated Syracuse product to be offered a professional contract over the past week, Gbinije is headed to the reigning NBA Champions. The 6-foot-7 guard inked a training camp deal with the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday. With the deal likely to land the Orange’s 2015-2016 leading scorer with the Warriors’ G-League (formerly D-League) affiliate in Santa Cruz, Gbinije will get some more time to develop his game and hopefully make an NBA roster. He was originally taken with a second round selection in the 2016 NBA Draft by the Detroit Pistons and spent most of last season with the Grand Rapids Drive of the G-League where he averaged 12 points, 2 assists, and 2 steals per game.
James Southerland (Class of 2013): Another former SU star and another contract with the Golden State Warriors. Southerland, a 6-foot-8 forward, played at Syracuse from 2008-2013 where he played a key role in the Orange’s 2013 Final Four run. A member of the 2017 edition of Boeheim’s Army, Southerland helps to spread the floor with his innate ability to shoot the three-ball, something Golden State is known for incorporating into its offense with the Splash Brothers. With the way basketball is trending toward the three-point arc and the fact that the Queens, NY product already spent 2016 with the Golden State organization in Santa Cruz (13.7 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 39% 3FG), we may see Southerland in the big time sooner rather than later.
Rick Jackson (Class of 2011): Moving away from the Association now, Jackson signed a contract to play with Nacional Basquet in Uruguay earlier this week. Playing on the Hill from 2007-2011, the 6-foot-9 center was a do-it-all man for Syracuse, leading the Orange in both scoring and rebounding during his senior season. Since college, Jackson has played both in the D-League and overseas, most notably with Provece in France’s Pro B League in 2016. Like Southerland, Jackson also played for Boeheim’s Army this summer.
Donte Greene (Class of 2008): Rounding out the list of Orange headed to the pros is another Boeheim’s Army product in the 6-foot-11 Greene. The former first-round draft pick, who last played in the NBA in 2012, signed with Al Riyadi Beirut in Lebanon on Monday. Despite his commitment to Riyadi, there is an interesting caveat to Greene’s contract. After receiving interest from the Charlotte Hornets during The Basketball Tournament this summer, Greene’s contract has an NBA opt-out clause which means he can leave if he receives an offer from an NBA team. Greene, who spent just one season at SU, does have a workout scheduled with an NBA Eastern Conference team on Sept. 17, but it is unclear if that team is the Hornets.
With the ever-evolving and changing landscape of professional basketball, it’s always nice to see former Syracuse standouts getting a chance to play at the next level. While not all of them are getting a chance to play in the NBA, it does prove that SU can be a pathway to the pros, which is always an encouraging sight.