With Jim Boeheim still at the helm, Syracuse is once again a legit contender.
On this play, Boeheim has decided to put the ball in the hands of Jardine, who will ultimately make the decision of who takes that last shot.
Jardine is the Mateen Cleaves of Syracuse. He’s a confident, emotional point guard who’s constantly jabbering and feels like he’s been at the school forever. Joseph calls him “Grandpa Scoop.” The only person who seems to know more people in the city is Boeheim.
He gives fist pounds to the security guards, greets visitors who come to watch practice and sways his hands in unison with the student section during a cheer before the game.
He’s a fifth-year senior who redshirted his sophomore season with a stress fracture in his left leg. Before the NCAA Tournament that year he said to Gerry McNamara, a former player and current assistant, “I feel like I’m the missing piece.”
A Philly native, Jardine frequently has dozens of family members and friends who make the four-hour drive up to Syracuse for a game or practice. He helped recruit Waiters, his cousin, to go there. His father, Antonio, is often pacing the stands wearing a TEAM JARDINE t-shirt.
Talking to Jardine, you get the sense he’ll feel like he failed two cities if he doesn’t lead this team to a title.
“There is nothing else that I want,” he says. “This is everything that I wish for.”
The huddle breaks and Jardine heads out to the top of the key. Melo and Fair stack at the right block, Waiters goes to the left block and Joseph to the left sideline for the inbounds.
Boeheim’s last instructions?
“This is our house. Let’s win the game.”
The reason the Orange are tied heading into this possession is another staple of Syracuse basketball that has been there since 1976—the 2-3 zone.
“I played it here in college,” Boeheim says. “It’s evolved over the years. I think it’s a better defense now than it was.”
One of the ways that this 2-3 is different than any other is the use of the forwards. For example, the forward on the left is asked to cover as far up as the wing, as far left as the sideline, as far right as the middle of the lane and as far back on the baseline. Essentially, the 2-3 can turn into a 3-2 at any moment.
Now Syracuse is going for the win. Joseph inbounds to Jardine and the “double curl” begins. Waiters goes around the double screen from the left block to the right wing, but Jardine keeps it and Waiters runs through the lane. Scoop looks at Melo, who set the lower portion of that screen, but Jardine holds the ball. Then he flings it to Joseph, who followed Waiters and is on Jardine’s right.
Joseph has made a long journey from basketball obscurity to becoming Syracuse’s best player. His playing days started in Montreal where he would follow his older brother Maurice, who played at the University of Vermont, to the courts.
When it comes to sports, Montreal is a city that puts hockey first, second and third. As Joseph’s game got better, he decided it was time to get out if he wanted to get serious about his career.
“Basketball didn’t get the love it deserved in my eyes,” he says.
At 16 years old, Joseph left Canada for the States and moved in with host parents to play for Archbishop Carroll in Washington, DC.
Two years later he moved his game back up north to Syracuse. The senior forward has won over the Orange faithful due to his respect for everyone in the program (he shakes everyone’s hand at the scorer’s table before tip), and his carefree, joking manner.
After a big shot, his trademark is to pull imaginary pistols out of holsters. On Wednesday, he raised his hands over his head and pretended to fire off an AK-47. “I hit six threes that day so I had to get a bigger gun,” says Joseph, who stressed it was a one-time deal, and he’s not advocating violence.
But as Joseph catches the pass from Jardine, he’s in no position to raise another fake gun in celebration. Georgetown has him covered tight, so he flings it back to Scoop. The play is broken, and the Orange must scramble.
As Jardine dribbles on the right wing, Joseph swaps positions with Waiters and heads to left wing. Jardine drives to the middle of the lane, and as the defense converges, he kicks it to a wide-open Joseph, who sets his feet and lets it fly from beyond the arc.
The crowd makes one unified holler. A career-high 29 points for Joseph, and a 64-61 lead for Syracuse. The score never changes.
After the game, Boeheim comes to the podium for his press conference. Against the wall to his right is his wife, Juli, who is all smiles. A thrilling and record-breaking win under his belt, Boeheim has a lot to celebrate.
Instead, he refuses to address it.
“This is a disaster game as far as I’m concerned,” Boeheim says. “I don’t think we’re a good basketball team because we can’t rebound.”
He’s right. Georgetown won the rebounding edge 48-30.
But it’s Syracuse basketball we’re talking here. Of course he’s right.
Photos courtesy of Syracuse University Athletic Communications.