In the recent history of NCAA basketball, freshmen dominating and leading their team to deep runs in the tournament has become a regularly occurring sight, with one-and-dones that go straight to the NBA being the rule, not the exception. In 2003 that wasn’t the case, but that’s precisely what Syracuse managed to achieve 18 years ago.
In 2001, head coach Jim Boeheim and assistant coach Troy Weaver made their way to Baltimore to watch a high school kid named Carmelo Anthony. The kid made the trip worth it, as Carmelo would show all of his potential. The Orange would be the first college to approach Melo in hopes of recruiting him, and it worked – Carmelo committed to Syracuse. Coach Boeheim knew Carmelo could be the guy to lead them to a championship. They also managed to sign the sharpshooting Gerry McNamara and create a freshman duo for the ages.
Even though they started the season unranked, Syracuse made it to the tournament. The run started shakily, barely squeezing by a good Manhattan team in the first round. They would go on to play Oklahoma State in the next round and find themselves down 16 at the half. It looked like an early exit for the Orange, but coach Boeheim managed to regroup his troops at halftime and motivate them to turn the game around. An amazing second-half comeback boosted their confidence for the Elite Eight.
Syracuse would eliminate Oklahoma and make their way into the Final Four against all odds – suddenly they were on everyone’s radar. In the semifinal matchup against Texas, the defensive player of the year, Royal Ivey, tried to stop Carmelo, but he didn’t stand a chance. The highlight of the game was Hakim Warrick posterizing Ivey to put the exclamation point and push Syracuse into the Championship Game.
Carmelo couldn’t sleep the night before the big game. But not because he was nervous. He was excited, anxious, and ready to play as he reassured coach Boeheim before the game that they got this. It showed some admirable calmness and confidence from an 18-year old freshman, something you can rarely find.
Syracuse and Kansas were going neck to neck in a tough game, as the other freshman McNamara buried the Jayhawks with his long-distance bombs, hitting six threes. Kirk Hinrich missed the shot for the tie at the buzzer, as Syracuse became National Champions with Carmelo Anthony winning the MVP honors with 20 points,10 rebounds, and 7 assists.
The whole team stormed Melo and celebrated as Syracuse managed to achieve the unimaginable. Jim Boeheim finally got that championship after being close a couple of times, as his players used that for motivation and played for him to finally win the NCAA trophy. Gerry McNamara played all four years at Syracuse and become a legend of The Orange, while as we all know, Carmelo Anthony went on to have a legendary NBA career that is still going.