In college basketball, player developxment is the name of the game. Jim Boeheim has had his fair share of blue-chip recruits, but Syracuse’s recent NBA successes have spent multiple years on the Hill (Jerami Grant, Oshae Brissett, Elijah Hughes). These players improved year after year under Boeheim, and eventually showcased their skills in some of the toughest matchups at the college level. SU’s best teams over the past years, while headlined by freshmen, had multi-year starters filling in the gaps and stepping up when the young guns struggled.
The reason to be excited about the 2020 team was that most of last year’s squad returned and improved during the offseason. Buddy Boeheim turned into a secondary ball-hander. Quincy Guerrier developed his outside shot. Marek Dolezaj and Bourama Sidibe bulked up, again.
However, redshirt sophomore forward Robert Braswell is a curious outlier. He’s always been a “what-if” guy. If he could find a spot in the rotation, he could shine given his 6-foot-9 frame and shooting ability. But he hasn’t. It made sense when Braswell barely played as a freshman in 2018, and last year, he had to redshirt after lower leg pain.
So this year was supposed to be go time for “Earl,” as Hughes affectionately calls him. The battle to be the eighth man in Syracuse’s rotation came down to Braswell, in his third year at SU, and Woody Newton, a freshman who enrolled during the toughest time ever for first-year student-athletes. It’s clear at this point that Newton won. The Mt. Zion product has recorded minutes in every single SU game this season. Braswell hasn’t seen the floor since the Boston College blowout.
Braswell played himself off the floor with his performances against Niagara and Rider. Against the Purple Eagles, he went 1-7 from the field (0-5 from three-point land), and most of those shots were forced and out of rhythm. Braswell got the ball and put his blinders on.
The same thing happened the following Saturday. This time, a 1-4 output (0-3), and similar shot selection. Braswell never looked comfortable on offense, whether it was shooting the ball or driving to the rim. He wasn’t bad defensively, but he’s shooting 17 percent from the field. 17 percent.
So why isn’t Braswell comfortable? Was the leg injury serious, but kept under wraps, giving him less time to improve over the offseason? Has he constantly been in Boeheim’s dog house? Or is he just not a great fit at SU? Remember, he committed to Syracuse extremely late in the recruiting cycle, and also thought about transferring after last season. Whatever the case may be, the redshirt sophomore has some serious work to do to get back in the rotation.