Friedlander: Melo's retirement another sign of change for Syracuse basketball
Jim Boeheim spent 47 seasons at Syracuse. Carmello Anthony was there for only 1.
But despite that disparity, their legacies at the school are inexorably and permanently linked.
As much as Boeheim meant to the Orange’s basketball program and the university itself, and as much as he accomplished during those other 46 seasons, it took Anthony’s solitary campaign of 2002-03 for him to finally gain the crowning achievement of his Hall of Fame career.
That national championship didn’t just validate the coach and vault the player to superstar status. It also formally ushered in acceptance of the 1-and-done concept in college basketball.
Now, nearly 2 decades later, their career decisions have once again brought them together in providing Syracuse basketball with another defining moment.
On March 8, only a few hours after a season-ending loss to Wake Forest at the ACC Tournament, the university announced that Boehim would be stepping down in a tersely-worded statement that made it clear the decision for him to walk away wasn’t exactly his own.
Monday, Anthony made a much more upbeat announcement on social media that he is ending his playing career after 19 years in the NBA.
— Carmelo Anthony (@carmeloanthony) May 22, 2023
A sleek 6-8 forward, Anthony was already a highly-touted player when he arrived at Syracuse as the nation’s No. 1 recruit.
And he wasted no time backing up the hype.
He averaged 22.2 points and led all Division I freshmen in rebounding at 10.0 per game on the way to breaking Lawrence Moten’s school rookie scoring record with 778 points. His 349 rebounds were also a school mark, surpassing the old record set by Derrick Coleman.
Anthony’s most indelible contributions to the Orange, however, came in the NCAA Tournament. His 33 points in the national semifinal against Texas are the most ever by a freshman.
He followed that up by scoring 20 points and pulling down 10 rebounds in a championship game victory against Kansas. The performance earned him Most Outstanding Player honors and finally helped Boeheim get over the hump after losses in his first 2 trips to the NCAA final.
And then in the blink of an eye Anthony was gone, taken by the Denver Nuggets with the 3rd overall pick in the NBA Draft.
Two spots behind his 2022-23 Los Angeles Lakers teammate LeBron James.
Though the retirements of Boeheim and Anthony are unrelated, there’s still something unmistakably symbolic in their timing.
"Will to Win," a documentary about Syracuse’s 2003 national championship basketball team, is now available on YouTube and https://t.co/S1iJ4DT4gm!
— Syracuse Basketball (@syrbasketball) April 1, 2023
Just as the connection between the iconic coach and the program’s most recognizable active player helped bring about the beginning of a new era in college basketball, their decisions to leave the game at nearly the same time signals a similar break from the past for the Orange.
Even though Boeheim’s successor Adrian Autry – like Anthony – was a 1-time phenom who left a positive mark on the program as a player, he will begin his 1st season as head coach this fall with a truly clean slate.
As much as Anthony and Boeheim will continue to be revered and remembered by the Syracuse faithful, one with his retired number No. 15 hanging from the rafters of the venue formerly known as Carrier Dome and the other by the championship banner displayed along side it, a fresh start is exactly what the program needs right now.
It’s not as if the Orange have fallen on hard times. But after missing out on the NCAA Tournament in each of the past 2 seasons and having finished 6th or lower in the ACC for the past 9, it can be argued that they’ve suffered an even more inglorious fate.
That can change quickly, though.
With the ACC already in a state of transition with the departures of Mike Krzyzewski at Duke, Roy Williams at North Carolina and Mike Brey at Notre Dame, along with the implosion of Louisville, the environment is ripe for Autry to put Syracuse back on the national map.
His reboot is off to a promising start with the addition of transfers JJ Starling from Notre Dame, Chance Westry from Auburn, Kyle Cuffe from Kansas and Naheem McLeod from Florida State.
There could even be another Anthony in the pipeline in the future with Carmelo’s son Kiyan, a highly-rated high school point guard the now-retired Orange star calls his true legacy, in the mix as a potential recruit.
A more immediate reason for optimism is the possibility of ACC All-Freshman guard Judah Mintz returning to school rather than remaining in the NBA Draft. If that happens, Syracuse will be in position to take a major step forward in 2022-23.
Maybe not as big a step as it made 2 decades ago when Anthony and Boeheim cemented their legacies together.
But one that becomes the start of a fresh, new chapter for the Orange.