Basketball Recruiting

Despite Mike Hopkins’ departure, Elijah Hughes never wavered in his decision to transfer to Syracuse

Courtesy of ECU Athletic Communications

Hughes averaged 7.8 points over 20.5 minutes per game at East Carolina. The 6-foot-6 guard transferred to Syracuse earlier this month.

Elijah Hughes and his high school coach packed into the latter’s 2009 maroon Honda CRV and began a three-plus-hour drive to Syracuse. The rising sophomore had an interest in SU. His high school coach, Scott Timpano, worked Jim Boeheim’s camp for three years. Timpano invited to drive up Hughes to SU.

Over the next two days, Hughes caught the eye of director of operations Kip Wellman, who subsequently told assistant coach Adrian Autry about the shooting guard from Beacon (New York) High School. After the camp, Hughes was invited to stay for Syracuse’s Elite Camp.

The camp featured the likes of future Syracuse players Malachi Richardson, a future first round pick and No. 22 overall in the 2016 NBA Draft, Frank Howard and Matthew Moyer — who was offered a scholarship that weekend. Four years later, Hughes has found his way to SU as a transfer. Despite Mike Hopkins’ departure in March, Hughes’ interest in SU never dissipated, and he committed to the Orange on May 11. The former East Carolina shooting guard will have three years of eligibility left starting in the fall of 2018.

“Syracuse was a dream school that I loved watching,” Hughes said. “When (Timpano) found out I liked Syracuse as a school, he said, ‘Hey I have a connection up there. We can get you up to a camp.’”

Hughes finished his freshman season with 7.8 points over 20.5 minutes per game. He scored 15 off the bench against then-No. 12 Southern Methodist and 18 points versus then-No. 22 Cincinnati on an ECU squad that finished three games under .500. Hughes, who missed eight games due to injury early last season, wanted to move closer to home and play for a dream school, so he announced his intent to transfer on April 24.

When Hughes was an eighth grader, Timpano coached the junior varsity team at Beacon. When he heard from others about Hughes’ talent, Timpano brought him in for a workout and, eventually, offered him a spot on the team.

“He was just maybe about 6 feet tall,” Timpano said. “Really skinny. His jump shot was really the only thing he wanted to do.”

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Courtesy of ECU Athletic Communications

By the end of the season, Hughes earned a starting job. The following year, as a freshman, he made varsity. Timpano remembers that Hughes finished the last eight games averaging just under 20 points per game, including leading the Bulldogs to a near upset over one of the area’s top teams.

In August of 2015, Timpano said, Boeheim watched as a taller, stronger Hughes dropped more than 40 points in a Binghamton tournament against Boeheim’s oldest son, Jimmy, a Cornell commit. That’s the first close look Boeheim had at the shooting guard who now sits at 6-foot-6 and 220 pounds.

Three days after announcing his intent to transfer in April, Hughes received a text from Autry. Syracuse joined the race alongside Seton Hall, Iona, Hofstra and a handful of junior colleges.

Autry recruited Hughes, from the first day he stepped onto the Carrier Dome floor at the camp until his commitment to the Orange. When Hopkins, SU’s former associate head coach, left for Washington, Hughes didn’t waver.

“I always felt that connection with (Autry),” Hughes said. “It was really just me and Autry. At the Elite camp, me and coach Hopkins talked. That was really it.”

For Hughes, it was a dream to attend Syracuse. For over 19 years, it was just out of reach. He had really only drawn consistent interest from East Carolina.

Driving three hours to a camp open for anyone, improving during five years of high school basketball including three different high schools and being teammates with Moyer at South Kent (Connecticut) School stirred buzz. Then Syracuse came knocking.

Last season, SU boasted a dominant group of wings in senior Andrew White and freshman Tyus Battle. The two finished averaging 18.5 and 11.3 points per game, respectively. White graduated while Battle is entering his second season at SU.

Beyond Battle, there is not much depth at the two-guard position. Moyer will play more at the three after redshirting, but other than Howard and 2017 recruit Howard Washington, SU’s guards remain a weak spot. After a year of practicing with the team, Hughes will have experience and could slot in right away at the two position.

“He’s exactly the type of player Syracuse loves,” said Timpano, his high school coach. “He’s a long, athletic guard that can play the top of the zone, slide down and play the wing.”

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