As the whole country is forced to stay at home and bunker down during COVID-19, we’re hearing stories of players who almost came to Syracuse.
In an interview with Sports Illustrated, Georgia Tech great Kenny Anderson admitted that he wanted to go to Syracuse, but his mother was in favor of Georgia Tech. Anderson later says that he did whatever his mother wanted, so he ended up with the Yellow Jackets. While in Atlanta, Anderson and GT went to a Final Four before falling to the eventual champions UNLV who was led by Larry Johnson.
In that 1990 March Madness, Syracuse was slotted in the Southeast region with Georgia Tech. But the Orange never suited up against the Yellow Jackets as Jim Boeheim’s squad fell to Minnesota in the Sweet Sixteen.
That Syracuse squad had six players who would eventually go on to the NBA. One of those guys, Derrick Coleman, became the top pick in the 1990 draft to the New Jersey Nets. Next to Coleman was fellow big Billy Owens, forming arguably the best big man duo in Syracuse history.
Coleman is still Syracuse’s rebounding leader all-time. Owens is No. 9 even though he played just three seasons. Coleman is also SU’s second all time leading scorer and Owens is 12th. With two of the greatest players in the history of SU teaming up, losing to a 6th seed Minnesota squad still leaves a bitter taste in the mouth of Orange fans.
But that team could have been even better. While SU relied on its talented bigs, it could’ve used a star point guard. What if Kenny Anderson chose Syracuse?
In his freshmen campaign, Anderson averaged over 20 points, eight assists and two steals per game. After the Final Four run, Anderson was named Southeast All-region team. In his two seasons of college basketball, Anderson was named All-ACC both seasons and won ACC Rookie of the Year in 1989-90.
With Anderson, the 1989-90 Syracuse team could easily make a case for the best in program history. Anything less than a national championship would have been a disappointment.
The next season, Anderson was even better and was named a First-Team All-American. Owens was also named First-Team All-American. Only twice is SU’s history has it had two players named All-Americans in the same season – 1988 and 1990. In his second season in Atlanta, Anderson averaged almost 26 points. He also collected over five rebounds and assists and three steals per game.
After that monstrous season, Anderson was drafted second overall in the NBA by the Nets. Owens went third to the Sacramento Kings.
If Anderson came to the Hill, the 1989 Orange would have had three future top-three NBA draft picks. It would have gone down as one of the greatest college basketball teams of all-time. And while the tandem of Coleman and Owens was terrific, it’s tough knowing that the Orange could have been even better.
There’s a good chance that squad wins Boeheim’s first NCAA Championship, with Carmelo’s 2003 team winning the second in program history. Does that boost Boeheim’s rank on the all-time coaches leaderboard? Almost certainly. But alas, that’s the unfortunate side of recruiting. Whenever you miss out on a player, it always hurts to see him go on the immense success elsewhere.