Imagine this: the year was 2010 and LeBron James was NOT in the NBA Finals. Blasphemy right? But believe it or not kids aged 8 and under, there was once a time when the King didn’t make it to the promised land.
After losing to the Celtics in the conference finals, LeBron bolted to Miami where he said he was going to win seven Finals. Fast forward eight years and LeBron has played for a championship in each year and shows no signs of forfeiting that opportunity to anyone else in the Eastern Conference.
Meanwhile in Syracuse, a lot of things were changing that summer. Let’s take a trip down memory lane to the summer of the last LeBron-free Finals.
For starters, the last time James wasn’t in the Finals, the Orange was in the Big East, not the ACC. That move came a couple of years later. However, there were rumblings of SU joining the Big Ten. But the conference would go on to add Rutgers and Maryland shortly after instead. While the Big East is the Orange’s rightful grounds, Syracuse fits the B1G much better than either Rutgers or Maryland. After all, SU is closer to a Great Lake than the Atlantic Coast, something neither of those schools can claim. Sigh… If only conferences used logic.
Syracuse football had some buzz around it. Doug Marrone was starting to build his empire in central New York. After coming off of a dismal 4-8 season, the team began prepping for what was about to be an 8-5 campaign and win the inaugural Pinstripe Bowl. The key cog to that? The quarterback reigns were passed over the summer from Greg Paulus to Ryan Nassib.
The hoops team was on the heels of a lot more success, but disappointment still ensued. After losing to LeMoyne in the preseason (“Everyone keeps complaining about the zone so we tried man. Everyone is smarter than the coach. We’re done trying man!”), the Orange entered the tournament as a one seed thanks to a 30-5 regular season, but fell short of the program’s second national championship with a Sweet 16 loss to eventual runners up Butler. Doesn’t matter if it’s 2010 or 2018, Brad Stevens and Gordon Hayward can’t take down the evil empire. The Orange spent the summer prepping for a season that was also cut short. This time, 3rd seeded SU suffered an upset to 11th seeded Marquette.
So SU hoops was on the heels of an early exit as the one seed, football finished 4-8 (sound familiar?), but that’s OK. Syracuse is a lacrosse school, right? Nope. The second seeded Orange lost to Army in a first round upset.
But we all know the summer is the time for basketball recruiting. The Orange’s fresh faces came in as the fourth best class in the country. Fab Melo, Dion Waiters, C.J. Fair and Baye Moussa Keita were getting shots up in the Melo Center, which was experiencing its first summer workouts after opening up in September of 2009.
*Narrator voice*: “He didn’t.”
This move led some to think Knight might bolt to SU.
*Narrator voice*: “He didn’t.”
Meanwhile on the recruiting trail, the Orange was in on a couple of prized possession. SU wanted to sway top 20 prospect Tony Wroten all the way across the country from Seattle to Syracuse. But he chose the rain over the snow and picked Washington. Syracuse went into direct pursuit of this kid who listed the Orange in his final three:
He turned into this kid:
Who eventually picked UK and won a national championship and an Olympic gold medal all in the same year (but not a playoff series!):
Is there any player that would have fit Syracuse and the 2-3 zone better than Anthony Davis? Oh well.
The NFL Draft had also just wrapped up. The Orange was set to prepare for life after Mike Williams and Arthur Jones. Both of which were selected ahead of Antonio Brown.
As for the NBA Draft, the Orange had a couple of prospects waiting for their names to be called. Wes Johnson was impressing in workouts and then-Sixers head coach Doug Collins was trusting his own process and compared Johnson to Scottie Pippen. He was so hyped that he was taken ahead of DeMarcus Cousin, Paul George and Gordon Hayward. Did you know that Doug Collins is also the only coach to not win a championship with Michael Jordan on his team?
The other Orange player selected was Andy Rautins in the second round by the Knicks. The list of notable players he was taken ahead of isn’t nearly as egregious. Just Lance Stephenson.
As for the Fizz, we were nascent. We were only one year old at the time and told you that LeBron was headed to the ‘Cuse that summer.
Stay tuned for my “Life of a Syracuse Fan the Last Time an Expansion Team Was in the Stanley Cup in Its Inaugural Season” which is set to release *checks record books* the second Tuesday of next week.