The only bad thing Carmelo Anthony did in his one season at Syracuse, if it's even a bad thing, is set the bar so high for any one-and-done player that follows him that nothing short of leading the team to a National Championship will ever measure up.
It's unfair to ask that of every great player that walks through the door. Hell, Carmelo and his teammates the only ones to ever do it at Syracuse. Wes Johnson, good as he is, couldn't do it. That doesn't take away from the fact that his one-season legacy puts him among the greats to ever put on a Syracuse uniform.
Wes officially announced today what everyone already knew, that he will forgo his senior season with Syracuse to enter the NBA Draft. Projected as a lottery pick by just about everyone and a top five pick by many, Johnson is looking at a million dollar payday based on the last seven months' work. Not too shabby. The funny thing is, when it comes to Syracuse fans, is that we're actually happy for him.
Wasn't too long ago that Syracuse fans might have lambasted Johnson for leaving school early. Look at Donte Greene. The freshman phenom left SU after one season in 2008 amid a chorus of boos from Cuse Nation, even receiving angry threats on Facebook. But don't be mistaken into thinking this is the same thing. Donte Greene was a star-in-the-making but he was flawed. His game needed polish. His Syracuse team didn't even make the NCAA Tournament. Donte did not fulfill the generally-accepted requirements of a one-and-done player. We expected more from him. And though the reaction was without merit, Syracuse fans voiced their opinion with displeasure.
As for Wes, we're talking about the opposite. Wes Johnson came to us with a modicum of hype. Unknown as a recruit, he had built up a good reputation at Iowa State before deciding to transfer. Cyclone fans were kicking themselves over losing Wes as they knew full well of his potential: ("
Wes spent all of last season sitting out due to the transfer. In retrospect, he probably doesn't become Big East Player of the Year a season later without that. An entire season to practice, learn and master Syracuse's system, namely the zone defense. A year to play alongside Arinze Onuaku, Andy Rautins, Scoop Jardine and Rick Jackson. A year to settle in to his new surroundings. That year "off" might have been the difference between Syracuse fulfilling its expectations (fringe Top 25 team) and exceeding them.
What were Syracuse fans expecting of Wes before this season? Boeheim had already hinted that Johnson might be good enough to go pro after one year, but we were skeptical. I think we knew he'd be good. But no one can say they thought he's be this good. Big East Player of the Year. 1st-Team All-American. 3rd in voting for the Wooden Award. A superstar.
Yes, we can sit here and debate all day just how valuable Wes was when it mattered most and the fact that he disappeared late against Butler will be a part of his legacy. But it will be a small part. Besides, that's the NBA's job now. More likely, we'll remember being No. 1 in March for the first time ever. We'll remember winning the Big East crown when we were picked to finish sixth in the conference. We'll remember the Villanova win, the Georgetown wins and all the other 30+ wins SU accumulated this season. Being a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament after starting the season a 7- or 8-seed in many people's eye. Feeling like, on any given day, this team could have beaten any other team in the nation.
Wes Johnson's smile will be one of the first things that comes to mind when you think of all those things. And if the price to pay is that we only got one season with him, so be it. That was the most fun Syracuse basketball season since, well, Carmelo led the 2003 team all the way to the title. You can't take those for granted anymore.
Thanks Wes. We appreciated it and we'll keep rooting for you, no matter what color uniform you're wearing next year.