The longstanding gripe Syracuse basketball fans have had with the program is the inability to recruit upper-echelon centers. The last true big man the Orange had to anchor the Zone was Rakeem Christmas. But he only contributed at an elite level in his senior season (2014-2015). It was supposed to be DaJuan Coleman, but injuries derailed the former five-star’s career. The last listed center who contributed for the bulk of his career was Arinze Onuaku, who was on the Hill from 2005-2010.
All this to say it’s no secret that SU’s center problem is rooted in recruiting, and as if recruiting bigs to play a Zone in the Central New York tundra wasn’t hard enough, the coach recruiting the bigs isn’t a big himself. Back in his playing days (1997-2001), Allen Griffin was a 6-foot-1 guard.
This is not a call for Griffin’s job. He’s a good coach who has a lot to offer the program. But he’s been thrusted into a position where he is destined to fail. Jim Boeheim needs a centers coach who can appeal to the recruit, someone the high school players can see themselves in. That’s hard to do when they have a strained neck from looking down at Griffin on the recruiting trail. Demetris Nichols could be the answer.
Nichols, who played for Syracuse from 2003-2007, will serve as a grad assistant next season. Ever since his playing career stalled overseas after brief stints in the NBA, Nichols has wanted to coach. The former 6-foot-8 forward is not exactly what Syracuse fans had in mind to take over the centers, but he might be even better.
The game is shifting smaller and farther from the basket every day. At just 201 pounds, Marek Dolezaj manned the middle for the Orange last season. Sure, Bourama Sidibe was injured, but the biggest gripe on the Slovakian twig wasn’t even his size. It was his inability to shoot.
Elite high school recruits of all sizes and positions know they have to shoot to play in the NBA, which has to be a part of every major program’s sales pitch in this day and age. Nichols was a modern big before the modern era. The 2007 All-Big East selection buried 36% of his threes in four years with the Orange. In his senior season, 42%.
That’s what the high school centers want to see. A guy who knows how to appeal to the modern game with size. Nichols is only a grad assistant next year, and will have virtually no role in recruitment. But Syracuse fans are tired of watching three-star centers, who are too small for ACC basketball, being brought in and expected to play like five-stars. Sooner or later, a change needs to be made. Why not Nichols?