Be sure to read our other Throwback Thursday stories about Josh Pace, Andy Rautins, Kueth Duany, James Southerland, Otis Hill and Dave Bing.
Dion Waiters was born in Philadelphia where he was raised by a single mother who gave birth to him when she was just 17 years old. Waiters didn't have an easy life growing up -- his father was in prison early in his life and he lost three of his cousins along with his best friend to the mean streets of South Philly. Attempting to turn his pain into glory, Waiters found solace in the sport of basketball.
Waiters committed early to Syracuse going into his freshman year of high school, following in his "cousin" Scoop Jardine's footsteps. Fast forward four years and Waiters would come to Syracuse overweight, defense-averse and overzealous in bad demeanor. Waiters clashed with Jim Boeheim when he wasn't starting and by season's end, seemed likely to transfer from the program.
This began the transformation of Dion. Waiters hit the gym for rigorous summer workouts and by its end he trimmed his body fat from 10 percent to 4 percent. He understood that in order to get more consistent minutes for Jim Boeheim, he would need to shift his focus from offense to defense.
Waiters acquiesced his role as sixth man in the 2011-2012 season and when he did, he flourished. With his tumultuous dunks and chip-on-shoulder aura, Waiters personified the phrase 'spark off the bench'. Everyone knew the Philly native could score, but his transformation on the defensive end was pure pulchritude to the maestro pulling the strings behind the 2-3 zone. At times, he was Syracuse's best defender.
As Waiters' defense improved, so did his offense as he almost doubled his scoring from 6.6 points per game his freshman year to 12.6 his sophomore season. His numbers were up across the board, earning him the Sixth Man of the Year Award in the Big East as well as third-team All-Big-East honors.
Waiters was a dynamic scorer -- he had an innate attacking ability at Syracuse and has carried that with him at the next level. Waiters was like a freight train when driving to the rim and had a great ability to create space for his jumpshot. Perhaps an area where he was underrated was in high ball screen scenarios; he was tremendous at splitting defenders on high ball screens and getting to the rim when opponents would over hedge. Yet, Waiters' greatest attribute of all was his mentality. When he was on the court, he truly believed he was the best player on the floor. Whether it was true or not, his seemingly-arrogant demeanor allowed him to prosper.
After falling one game short of a Final Four in his sophomore year, Waiters declared for the NBA Draft. It came as no surprise that the ferocious scorer turned defensive assassin would test the NBA waters -- even Jim Boeheim proclaimed he was the most NBA-ready guard of any he'd ever coached. Waiters was selected as the fourth overall pick by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2012 NBA Draft. Some were shocked he was taken so high, but Waiters showed his brilliance in his rookie season by being named to the NBA All-Rookie First Team, validating his selection as a top-five pick.
Waiters played in Cleveland for two full seasons before being traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder earlier this season. Waiters has started 95 games in his young NBA career, 95 more games than he ever started as a Syracuse Orange. After a somewhat disappointing season in Oklahoma City, Waiters remains as industrious as ever as he has already lost ten pounds since the end of the year. He's been honing in on his shooting this summer by working on his catch-and-shoot game, shooting off the dribble and his post-up game.
And, we assume, staying humble and hungry all the while.