Debby Wong-USA TODAY Sports
Senior Carmen Tyson-Thomas has taken on many roles for the Orange on and off the court. Syracuse's not-so-secret-weapon is a major reason why SU leads the conference in steals.
Oftentimes, behind-the-scenes actions do the most to show a person's character.
For Carmen Tyson-Thomas, that means accepting a role off the bench, mentoring the freshmen who took her place in the starting lineup, and even helping out some Girl Scouts.
That's right...Girl Scouts.
After SU's 75-59 win over Providence on Feb. 2, Syracuse fans quickly filed out of the Dome. By 4 p.m., the vendors were long gone and almost all media members had left.
As I came out of the press room, I noticed several proud parents holding cameras and looking toward center court. Dozens of young girls buzzed around the Carrier Dome floor, and one 5-9 guard with bright red hair towered above all of them and grinned.
Many of the Girl Scout troops throughout central New York received badges that day and were being honored.
"They needed a specific player role model," Tyson-Thomas said. "They asked me if could I do it and I never mind speaking."
It's not the first time CTT had an unselfish attitude.
At the beginning of the season, coach Quentin Hillsman had a tough decision to make. He recruited a highly touted incoming freshman class including a pair of McDonald’s All-Americans. On the other hand, senior Carmen Tyson-Thomas started 29 games the previous season and was a major contributor for all three years.
Hillsman tried to get the best of both worlds: start his top three freshman guards, but give Tyson-Thomas starter’s minutes.
"It's hard to adjust to," Tyson-Thomas said about the switch in roles. "Early on I didn't feel as though it would fit me but I've been adjusting well."
Starting three freshman was a big risk by Hillsman. He needed someone he could plug into the game if anything went wrong. With CTT, he had an athlete capable of playing three different positions.
"That was the most important thing...just to have some leadership to come off the bench, to have some versatility, and also have someone that could come in if people get in foul trouble," Hillsman said.
Some players in her position may question whether to help the newcomers improve and thrive as starters or focus on regaining the starting role. Tyson-Thomas says that thought didn't cross her mind.
"I just like to make an impact on the game and an impact with the team in the best way I know how," she said.
Throughout the season, she has pushed the younger players in practice and passed along the knowledge gained during three seasons at Syracuse.
"Carmen, God I love her. She's an energy giver definitely," center Kayla Alexander said. "She's always encouraging or giving feedback."
Perhaps Coach Q was emulating Jim Boeheim. Because just five games into the season, it became apparent that Hillsman had his version of Kris Joseph or Dion Waiters in the 6th man role. Or rather, 6th woman.
Tyson-Thomas scored 10+ points in four of the first five games. On Dec. 4, she became the 22nd player in team history to reach the 1,000 point milestone.
Now 22 games into the season, CTT is second on the team in scoring at 10.6 ppg and third in rebounding at 5.8 rgg. She has been just as important in SU's high-energy press defense, which requires Hillsman to make frequent substitutions to keep players fresh.
"When she comes in, she brings intensity and you have to game plan for her," Hillsman said after his team's win against Providence. "(Carmen) accepting her role and doing what we asked her to do is one of the main reasons why we're as successful as we are.
She's willing to do just about anything to help Syracuse win. And that even includes changing her hair. Before playing UConn, Tyson-Thomas was sitting with Lacie Hall and decided it was time for a change.
"I felt that for the rest of the season going forth we needed a spark," she said. "We needed a fire under us."
There aren't any secrets or routines to her success as a reserve. She says she just focuses on the game, has fun on the bench, and tries to provide a boost when given the chance.
CTT's self-described "roller-coaster" ride at Syracuse has certainly taken many twists and turns. But for the senior who may get to play in her first NCAA Tournament, the player who has now embraced her role off the bench, things are on the upswing.
"I enjoy myself on the bench. I'm sitting next to my teammates," she says, then corrects herself. "My friends."