Once you are President of the United States, you're always President of the United States. No matter how long you have been out of office, you never lose that moniker. Walk into a room and it's "Mr. President, how are you?" Tell a fairly lame joke? "Oh, Mr. President, that one literally made me LOL!" And you better believe the eventual obituary will be almost exclusively about your presidency. It's just how it goes when you reach that level of success/fame.
On a college basketball level, it's a little like what Michael Gbinije has gone through for the last three years. Despite being a key contributor for Jim Boeheim's Orange since 2013, the six-seven guard seemingly will forever be "Michael Gbinije, Duke transfer."Any announcer over the course of the last three seasons has said it at one point or another during a Syracuse game. More than once.
"Michael Gbinije, Duke transfer..."
"The Duke transfer, Michael Gbinije..."
Which, like with being President, is a fairly just label mind you. Not too many highly-regarded players bail on Mike Krzyzewski. Not with Coach K's one-thousand-plus Ws, 12 ACC titles and five national championships. Duke, over the last three decades, has elevated itself into college basketball royalty. Really, just to be on Krzyzewski's radar as a high school athlete is quite the accomplishment. And to actually be offered a scholarship? That's a big deal.
Gbinije was certainly one of the bigger deals coming out of high school. He was a top-30 recruit according to ESPN, and just about every other rating service, someone Connecticut and West Virginia and many others were after. A lanky small forward who could potentially play some guard. In other words: A player with a high ceiling who could really help a Hall of Fame coach.
Not many would have ever thought that coach would end up being Boeheim, though. But after a fairly forgettable freshman campaign, one in which Gbinije only saw time in nineteen of the Blue Devils' games, the greener grass wound up being in a place where the grass is only green for a few months out of the year. And for Boeheim and 'Cuse fans, it was a big-time blessing.
One that blossomed like a flower instead of exploding like a firework.
That first season playing for Boeheim, Gbinije was not a key cog in what was once a 25-0 machine back in 2013-14. Hell, in that epic showdown with Duke at the Dome, the one that ended in an SU overtime win, Gbinije's first clash with his old team, the transfer scored exactly zero points. Goose egg. The Devils fans were quick to point out how Gbinije wasn't missed and probably wasn't the player Syracuse thought he was. That "Duke transfer" would probably end up being the most complimentary way to describe Gbinije, forever.
That's funny now, isn't it? Not because Duke is missing Gbinije, because it's not -- and it never really has. But it's laughable to think of him as anything else than indispensably Syracuse. He has elevated his game each season he's been in orange. Going from three points per game to 19 this season. From below average shooter to hitting over fifty-percent of his shots, including from distance. He's running point guard and averaging over four assists a game so far this early season for crying out loud.
Without Gbinije, the Orange would be somewhere just below average, a team depending on far too many inexperienced players. A team likely to repeat many of the same mistakes from a season gone by. With Gbinije, SU is a team on the incline, one that is putting last year's doom and gloom so far in the rearview mirror it almost seems like it never happened. His play has unquestionably helped the development of Tyler Lydon, leaving the freshman open shots as defenses focus in on Gbinije. And his teaming with Trevor Cooney gives Syracuse an experienced, talented and formidable backcourt.
And what is even more fitting about Gbinije's and Syracuse rise, is that none of it has been easy. That first season, SU was almost too good for him. Then last year, that 18-win miserable march, was a slog for players, coaches and even for the fans. NCAA investigations, penalties looming, NCAA tourney bans and a little too much losing. Bah. There have been a lot of ups and downs recently. There have been a lot of ups and downs in Gbinije's entire career, from Duke to Syracuse. It's real and it's raw. From then to now.
The now is a pretty good place, though. SU is undefeated, has vaulted into the top 25 and will get two more nationally televised games to showcase itself this week. Come Saturday evening, if the Orange takes out Wisconsin in the Dome and Georgetown in D.C., Gbinije will be the star of one of the hottest teams in the country. Even now, the reputation is already rapidly changing. The hard work is paying off. Gbinije and Syracuse are everywhere right now, for all the right reasons.
Yet, there are still-nonbelievers who have not caught on. But they shouldn't take long too catch up. They'll figure out what we know and what everyone else seems to be realizing: Michael Gbinije isn't that Duke transfer from a few years back. Not even close. He's become a whole lot more than that for a whole lot of reasons. He's become a focal point, a play maker, a leader. He's become "Syracuse's Michael Gbinije," and, just as important and remarkable, it has become Michael Gbinije's Syracuse.