Basketball

After establishing greatness at Syracuse, Carmelo Anthony’s legacy continues with ongoing success of Orange basketball program

In the early 1980s, Dwayne “Pearl” Washington was a basketball legend in the Brownsville neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y. In 1983, he came to Syracuse as one of the nation’s top prospects. The next year, back in his hometown just 20 minutes down the road in the Red Hook neighborhood, future Syracuse star Carmelo Kyam Anthony was born.

Washington led the Orangemen to a Sweet 16 appearance his freshman season. But in his three-year stint at Syracuse, he never got over that hump. In 1987, a year after Washington left for the NBA, the Orangemen reached the national championship.

Syracuse faced Indiana at the Superdome in New Orleans. SU held a 73-72 lead late in the game when Indiana’s Keith Smart hit a last-second jump shot to propel the Hoosiers to a 74-73 victory. Smart’s shot made the Superdome synonymous with Syracuse heartbreak.

In the 2003 national championship game, Anthony made it a place of Syracuse euphoria. The outstretched hand of Hakim Warrick prevented Michael Lee from becoming another Keith Smart, and SU defeated the Kansas Jayhawks 81-78 in the national title game. Anthony delivered Syracuse what the 1987 team couldn’t: a national championship.

“To go back to New Orleans again, to play for a championship game and win it,” Washington said, “made it even more special.”

In eight months at SU, Anthony became the team’s star player, the face of the program and the university. His legacy still lives on at the Carmelo K. Anthony Basketball Center, and on Saturday in the Carrier Dome, his No. 15 jersey will be raised to the rafters.

“Carmelo’s young legacy has had a huge impact,” Athletic Director Daryl Gross said in a statement via SU Athletics. “The National Championship is just one dimension of it. His giving back to the University in an effort to build the practice facility has meant so much.”

Gross credited the Carmelo K. Anthony Basketball Center for helping Boeheim get his fastest-ever 100 wins.

“This is as a result of the indoor practice facility. Our recruiting has been enhanced and the student-athlete welfare as well,” Gross said. “His impact has been priceless.”

In his one year at Syracuse, Anthony had 35 consecutive double-figure scoring games, and finished with the seventh highest single season point total in SU history. He averaged 22.2 points and 10 rebounds.

“It’s virtually impossible to quantify what Carmelo Anthony has meant to the basketball programs at Syracuse University,” Jim Boeheim said via a team spokesman. “He made such an impact as a player in his one season at Syracuse, helping us to the NCAA championship. He has stayed connected to the program since, most notably with his extremely generous gift, which helped the Carmelo K. Anthony Basketball Center become a reality. The state-of-the-art facility has helped the men’s and women’s programs tremendously.”

Opened in September 2009, the facility houses two courts, a weight room, locker rooms and administrative offices. There’s a memorabilia hallway featuring the 2003 national championship trophy, and televisions playing the title game against Kansas.

When Anthony arrived in Syracuse in the summer of 2002 with Gerry McNamara and Billy Edelin, then-sophomore center Craig Forth saw an atmosphere change.

“The transformation we had over the summer, certain people leaving, the players coming in, the work ethic,” Forth said. “There was a sense of togetherness into our training. I remember being at the Archbold Gym and working out prior to the season and busting our butts. It wasn’t one person beating at everybody else. It was ‘Everyone needs to finish this drill.’”

Guard Josh Pace saw the potential once the group began informal scrimmages.

“As soon as we started those games,” Pace said, “we kind of knew what kind of talent he was.”

Off the court Anthony had no trouble loosening up. Pace remembers riding around campus with Edelin and Warrick with Anthony driving, gladly pulling over to flirt with a girl Pace eventually dated.

Anthony’s first basket as an Orangeman was a breakaway dunk at Madison Square Garden against Memphis in a 27-point debut.

“It was a great thing to be a part of,” Pace said. “It was good to see and I’m glad I had the chance to be a part of it. Obviously, when you look at how things play out in the NCAAs and in college, you could say that, that team was meant to be together.

In February and March of 2003, Anthony tore onto the national stage. Many others, though, had already bared witness.

Mike Daniel, Anthony’s coach at Towson (Md.) Catholic High School, called him a once-in-a-lifetime player.

“As a freshman, he had a lot of pain in the knee area, and it stopped him from playing several games,” Daniel said. “But I remember the last game of the year, he came to my office and said, ‘Coach, this is the last game. Can I give it a shot?’”

Playing the No. 1 JV team in the Catholic league, he scored nearly 40 points, about 15 rebounds and two blocks.

Local players saw his passion. Baltimore-area players such as Donte Greene came to Syracuse. Current forward C.J. Fair is from Baltimore. Oak Hill Academy’s Eric Devendorf and Baye Moussa Keita followed Anthony’s path.

They all had the luxury of practicing and working in the Carmelo K. Anthony Basketball Center. Regardless of the time Anthony spent on campus, he will have an effect on generations to come.

“A lot of people can’t do that, or won’t do that,” Pace said. “That tells you what it meant to him when he was here, when he was at Syracuse. And that tells you about our program and the type of people we recruit and bring in.”

Commentator Jim Nantz said in the CBS broadcast moments after the final buzzer of the national championship game that Anthony’s smile would last a long time. It did.

At Midnight Madness in 2011, the Dome crowd went berserk after Boeheim said five words:  “There’s one more guy here.” Everyone knew who that “guy” was.

Shirt World owner Dave Jacobs has worked at his shop on Marshall Street since 1976. He said no individual player has been more popular in his time at SU than Anthony was in 2003.

Even today, Anthony’s No. 15 jersey is prominent among Dome spectators. And on Saturday, his will take its place among the SU greats.

Though skeptics question whether Anthony should have his jersey in the rafters of the Dome, as he only played at Syracuse for one year, Washington has an answer.

“I’m glad he’s able to get his jersey retired,” Washington said. “It’ll always be good to see his number up there.”

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