Shrug it off all you’d like. He’s gangly and weak. He’s injury-prone. He was painful to watch in the 2010 NCAA Tournament following Arinze Onuaku’s injury. But there’s no escaping the fact that DaShonte Riley’s transfer to Eastern Michigan hurts, and hurts badly for SU basketball.
Really, the entire spring to date has been a series of body blows to the program. That’s what makes Riley’s decision sting so much.
While there is plenty of depth at the guard position, you can never have too much talent. So luckily, the Orange emerged from beneath the Dion Waiters saga unscathed. There were rumors (oddly sparked by Jim Boeheim) that Dion was on his way out of town. Waiters stayed adamant he wasn’t planning on transferring, and with the academic year over it looks like he was telling the truth. Dion showed his true worth last season in March, nearly single-handedly tugging SU into the Sweet 16, if not for some superb clutch shooting late by Darius Johnson-Odom.
With Waiters set to come back next season, Syracuse is stacked in the backcourt. On the other hand, its potential lack of – forget talent – sheer bodies in the frontcourt is frightening.
Take away any of what has transpired this offseason, and Boeheim’s platoon of big men was already nothing more than a giant roll of the dice. Rick Jackson was the most productive interior player in the Big East last year. He was Syracuse’s only consistent big. Now RJ has graduated, and the Orange has very little with which to replace him.
Baye Moussa Keita, Fab Melo, and Riley were all expected to battle for playing time in the wake of Jackson’s departure, which itself is a scary thought. But based on the events that have gone down recently with Fab, there’s a major chance that we’ll be able to scratch two of those names away prior to game one of the regular season.
Riley will become an Eagle along with departed assistant coach Rob Murphy, and Fab would be lucky to find himself back in an Orange uniform come November considering the legal troubles he’s dealing with.
The uncertainty of Fab’s future is really what makes Riley’s transfer so difficult to handle. It also makes it quite puzzling. Despite past rumors that Riley wanted out, everyone seemed to assume that he would be motivated to step up with RJ gone for good and Fab’s status in question. That the lanky center from Michigan chose to leave at this particular juncture shows that regardless of his role on the team, he simply doesn’t think SU is the place for him anymore.
If you’re looking for true centers on the Syracuse roster without Fab or Riley, that just leaves Baye. The Senegalese big man’s heart and hustle were admirable last season, but he doesn’t have the offensive prowess or the durability to play the majority of most games. You may think that big-time recruit Rakeem Christmas can easily provide minutes at center, but that’s not a given.
Many don’t realize that Christmas is much more of a power forward than a center. He doesn’t quite have appropriate center height or bulk, and he played on the wing of the 2-3 zone in high school specifically so he could be ready to do the same thing at Syracuse. If he’s going to spend time at center, which it appears he may have to, an adjustment period will be necessary.
Riley may be nothing special talent-wise, but he is a body. A body the Orange won’t have come November, which leaves SU seriously short-handed in the frontcourt in the brutally physical Big East conference.
Posted: Andrew Kanell