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Syracuse Basketball In The NBA Draft: A Ten Year Climb

Looking over the past decade, Syracuse's basketball success resembles something akin to the Rocky Mountains.  The early 00's found the program mired in mediocrity.  2003 was the steepest mountain top the program had ever reached, but it was followed by a quick descent back into the valley.  Down in the valley of NIT berths we mire until the last two years where the program has skyrocketed back up to the mountain top. 

It's easy to chart the program as a whole.  So it should be no surprise that the way Syracuse players usually fall in the NBA draft and how successful they are seems to go in step with that.  However while it's easy to appreciate how the program has found it's spot back atop the pile, one overlooked aspect of that is the talent factor.  Boeheim, Hopkins, Murphy and the rest of the program have begun attracting talent on such a high level once again that Syracuse has become one of the NCAA's most consistent programs for pro talent for the first time in a long time. 

For example...

  • Syracuse is likely to be the only school to have players selected in the top 10 of the first round in 2009 and 2010.
  • Syracuse will have a player drafted in the first round of the NBA Draft three-straight years for the first time in Jim Boeheim's tenure.
  • Syracuse will have at least one player drafted four years in a row for the first time since '90 - '93.

Not bad for a decade that began with Syracuse coming off a three-year stretch without having one player drafted.  In 2000, however, SU got back on the draft board and began its climb back to Talentback Mountain.


The Class of 2000 was born from the 1996 National Championship game run and was expected to do something similar before they were done.  Perhaps that's why Etan Thomas and Jason Hart's tenure at Syracuse seemed disappointing from the start.  Still, SU broke it's draft slump in a big way having both players' names get called.

If you can believe it, Etan was the 12th overall pick in the draft.  Then again, look at who was in this draft...considering Etan's still in the league he's one of the top values there.  Thomas' career has been more workmanlike than you'd expect from a lottery pick but he's certainly earned his tenure. 

As for Hart, he came to SU with first-round expectations but ended up going in the 2nd round to the Bucks.  His time there was short and uneventful...he played in only one game and scored two points.  From there he took on the journeyman guard role, bouncing from team-to-team.  He briefly found success with the Clippers and Jazz but have returned to his journeyman ways in recent seasons.


The program had another respectable-if-not-spectacular season in '01.  Though led by junior Preston Shumpert, it was senior Damone Brown who heard his name called on draft night.  Brown went in the 2nd round to the Sixers.  He too would take the journeyman route, playing for five different teams over his career.  His NBA time would fizzle out early though and he was relegated to the world of the ABA and NBDL.  Which doesn't sound as bad when you realize his career basically ended when he was arrested for aiding a drug dealer.  Yikes.


'02 was a down year for the team, which returned to the NIT for the first time since '97.  It showed in the draft when no Orangemen heard their names called.  Preston Shumpert took his game overseas where he had a decent post-college career.


I'm going to assume I don't need to tell you how this season went.  And if so, I probably don't need to tell you that Carmelo Anthony went in the first round to the Denver Nuggets with the third overall pick.  Carmelo has been in Denver ever since.  Though his off-the-court (and sometimes on-the-court) antics haven't always been kosher, he's turned into the superstar many expected him to become.  Melo's high draft status also reset the standard for the Orange who would follow him, especially any freshman who left after one season.


The defending champions put together a solid season that ended with a Sweet Sixteen run.  They did so without very much senior leadership.  No SU player was drafted in '04 but that's a bit of a misnomer since there wasn't anyone really available anyway.


The same of the '05 season is that it was a "Buffalo Bills season."  It will be remembered for how it ended much more than how it went.  SU finished the year 27-7 and won the Big East Tournament.  Then...Vermont happened.  Senior Hakim Warrick's legacy could have been so much greater than it is (and it's already pretty solid). 

Alas, he moved on to the NBA when he was drafted in the first round by Memphis with the 19th pick in the draft.  Warrick had the unfortunate outcome of being the Last Man Sitting in the green room that night.  Hak would spend four seasons mired with a terrible team, though he did show enough flair for the Bucks and Bulls to be interested in him this past year.  He's currently a free agent and a good contributing player for any NBA squad.


Gerry McNamara did everything humanly possible (and then some) to propel Syracuse into the NCAA Tournament this season.  Unfortunately he didn't leave any mojo for himself come draft time.  No SU player heard their name called that night.  G-Mac would go on to travel the world (literally) in search of a spot on an NBA roster but it never materialized.  You'll find him back on the SU sidelines these days grooming tomorrow's NBA draft picks.


Back to the NIT for the Orange in '07.  The talent level just wasn't there for SU and it showed in the draft.  Demetris Nichols' name was called in the 2nd round by the Knicks.  The good news was short-lived, however, as Nichols' became the poster-child for players on the fringe of making it in the NBA.  His travels are well-documented and he's currently playing in France, with his NBA days likely behind him.


Even though SU returned to the NIT in '08, you could sense that a corner had been turned talent-wise.  The freshman class featured two superstars in the making, Donte Greene and Jonny Flynn.  So it probably shouldn't have been too much of a surprise given the state of the sport that at least one of them went pro.  It was Greene, much to the dismay of many SU fans, due to the overwhelming rumors that he would be a lottery pick.  Not exactly, as Donte went 28th and eventually made his way to the Kings via some trades.  His career was rocky from the start and included a stint in the NBDL.  However Greene seems to have finally worked out the kinks and has become a decent contributor for Sacramento. 


Syracuse basketball began its trek back up the mountain to respectability in '09, ,making the NCAA Tournament for the first time in three years and reaching their first Sweet Sixteen in five.  Despite being a sophomore, Jonny Flynn was the heart and soul of the Orange and it wasn't too shocking to find out he wanted to go pro afterwards.  What was shocking was that teammates Eric Devendorf and Paul Harris wanted to follow him out the door.  Unfortunately for them, only one SU player would hear his name called on this night.

Flynn's draft night was a quandry.  The good news was that he was the sixth overall pick by the Minnesota Timberwolves, a team that desperately needed a point guard.  The bad news is that he was picked immediately after Minnesota selected PG Ricky Rubio, which made Jonny look like a consolation prize and/or failsafe in case Rubio did not come to America (he didn't).  Flynn struggled with the offensive scheme the Wolves put in place and there are rumors he could be traded after only one season.  Regardless, he's got a long NBA career ahead of him and it's only getting started.

As for Devo, he's the King of New Zealand.  And Harris, well, he's out there somewhere...doing something.


And now we wait.  We know Wes Johnson will go very early.  Probably fourth to the Timberwolves.  Possibly third to the Nets.  After that, we hope that Andy "Son of Leo" Rautins gets called in the 2nd round.  As you can tell from the history above, a 2nd-round selection is no guarantee of anything.  But it's a start. 

For the program, the draft is already going to be a success.  If two SU players can get their names called on draft night for the first time since Thomas & Hart went in 2000, it will be the snowcap on top of the peak.  Syracuse basketball is back in the business of churning out top NBA talent.  Given what we expect of Kris Joseph this season and the incoming freshman class, that shouldn't change anytime soon.