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Wednesday, March 26, 2003
Updated: March 27, 10:20 PM ET

Anthony giving Orange 1-year wonder-ful run

By Adrian Wojnarowski
Special to ESPN.com

Jim Boeheim watched those 18-year-olds come crashing into the Big East Conference, one-year wonders begging for the ball, obliterating chemistry and turning talented teams into sabotaged seasons. There were no Sweet 16's for Villanova's Tim Thomas and Seton Hall's Eddie Griffin, just jealous teammates, hasty departures and a Hall of Fame coach promising himself that this would never this happen to his program.

Carmelo Anthony has Syracuse in the Sweet 16.

Boeheim had chances to recruit Thomas and Griffin, but resisted the temptation. Beyond the blinding talent of one-year wonders, there can be consequences. When everything is constructed on a superstar freshman -- a "Final Four Or Bust" sign hanging off him -- the risks and rewards are immense.

But this time, Boeheim was willing to take a chance on a 6-foot-8 kid with charisma, with a delightful disposition and devastating game. Syracuse already had the promise of a good team in 2002-03, but Boeheim understood: Carmelo Anthony could make these Orangemen great.

The Syracuse seniors weren't stars, so they would understand the sheer talent of Anthony could be the difference this season. And the underclassmen have treated Anthony like a long, lost brother. Boeheim rolled the dice all the way to 26 victories and the Sweet 16. He also has a fighting chance at the Final Four.

"I wouldn't take kids who say, 'I'm just going to stay one year and play for myself,'" Boeheim said. "We have not recruited a lot of those guys. They come in and want the ball and other kids resent that. They know what's going on.

"These kids like (Anthony) so much, if he took 35 shots I don't think that a player on the team would say a word.

"They know he's the guy."

Anthony still says he's unsure about leaving this spring for the NBA, but nobody expects him back. Even Boeheim sounds resigned to losing him.

So, this is it. This is the run they make together.

Anthony hasn't had his two best games in the NCAA Tournament, but the Orangemen are still going in the East Regional. He is a magnificent talent, but he's learned in these NCAAs that he has to take the ball to the basket to reach his regular-season average of almost 23 points a game. If Anthony does more driving and less setting for jumpers, the Orange will be hard to beat this weekend in Albany, N.Y. If he goes off from outside the paint, or behind the 3-point arc, they'll be a nightmare.

"If I was a cocky kid and arrogant, I think it would've been terrible," Anthony said. "Everybody would've resented me. They wouldn't have liked me. We would've had a lot of confusion on this team."

Keith Smart
Jim Boeheim knows how fleeting a shot at a national championship can be, as Indiana's Keith Smart proved in the 1987 title game.

When Anthony was struggling with his shot and in foul trouble against Oklahoma State, it was his three teammates -- Billy Edelin, Gerry McNamara and Josh Pace -- delivering the baskets to get the Orange past the Cowboys. Syracuse could be a preseason top five team next season if Anthony keeps the League waiting. Without him, the Orangemen will still make the NCAAs. Anthony is just the right one-year wonder at the right time.

"We were built to have a good team without him," Boeheim said. "If he hadn't come, we wouldn't have been great. But we would've had a decent team.

"I don't ever want to be in a position where we only have six players if he left and you're stuck in position where you can't win -- like what happened to Georgia Tech (with Stephon Marbury), or happened a little bit at Villanova. We're not Duke. They can lose three guys and go out and get three guys next year. We can't do that. We've had two McDonald's All-Americans in the last 10 years."

Ultimately, Syracuse should be grateful it's had Anthony this long. All the way to the end of Anthony's senior year of high school, he still didn't have his SAT scores. After dominating the 2002 McDonald's All-Star Game, Syracuse feared Anthony would enter the NBA draft. He could have been a top-15 pick last June.

Anthony, however, wanted his freshmen eligibility to honor his mother's wishes for him to attend college. He knew he wasn't eventual lottery pick Amare Stoudemire -- "He's a man," Anthony said -- and Anthony knew college was the better option, if for only a year.

Outside the Syracuse locker room last weekend in Boston, Boeheim tried to make a case to convince Anthony to stay in school. The coach wants his national championship. He's come so close. Keith Smart still haunts him. All this makes his fabulous freshman the biggest tease of his coaching career. Here today, gone tomorrow.

"A lot of guys who stay one year struggle," Boeheim warned. "A number of guys that stayed one year really didn't get it going (in the NBA).

"I don't know if one year is enough."

It'll have to be.

History says Smart could break his heart again, when Anthony is starting for him on the Cleveland Cavaliers next season. Even so, the coach of the Syracuse Orangemen would do it again with his one-year wonder.

Twenty-six victories and a Sweet 16 later, Syracuse is far closer to a Final Four than a bust with Carmelo Anthony.

Adrian Wojnarowski is a columnist for The Record (N.J.) and a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPNWoj@aol.com .



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