This wasn't supposed to happen. He was supposed to finish his career as the villain.
The diabolical disappointment who Syracuse fans love to hate. The three-point specialist who couldn't hit three-pointers. The man whose ugly shot lost Syracuse the Final Four against Michigan. The one who seemingly cost the Orange a NCAA tournament bid after a last-second miss against Pittsburgh. The player who's known as a shooter, but then only shoots above 40 percent from the field in just one of Syracuse's final 10 games, prior to the tournament.
Despite all of this, outside of seeing a few less minutes against Pittsburgh, he remained Boeheim's Golden Child – forever beloved by a man who typically seems incapable of showing any affection towards his players – and you hated him for it.
And then, you see it. You see what Boeheim sees. The energy. The drive. The passion. Throughout Syracuse's improbable 63-60 win over Gonzaga to advance to the Elite Eight, it's right there on display.
You see it when he plays smothering defense for the entire 35 minutes he's on the court–exemplified by the 10-second violation he forces late in the second half. You see it when, despite all the criticisms he has faced when shooting the ball, he still confidently rises and drains a three pointer to halt Gonzaga's second half run and bring Syracuse to within six with a little over six minutes to go. You see it when his natural basketball instincts kick in and he records a steal with seconds left in the game, only to be robbed by a highly questionable out of bounds call by the referees.
For the longest time, fans and media alike have tried to label Trevor Cooney as a three-point specialist. He isn't – that much is clear. He, himself, seems to have finally received that message, taking only two three's in Syracuse's win over Gonzaga and drilling one. No, he's something else – something that is much more difficult to describe. Cooney is a square peg, a square peg that we have all picked up and repeatedly tried to fit into a round hole.
He's not Gerry McNamara. He's not Andy Rautins. He's not like anyone who has come before him. In simplest terms, he's Trevor Cooney. On the offensive end, he's a slightly above average three-point shooter. On defense, he's a 6-foot-4 undersized shooting guard who makes up for his lack of size with ferocious determination. He plays with heart, more heart than most fans and experts give him credit for.
Cooney finished the game with 15 points, two steals and two rebounds. He shot 5-for-9 from the field, and 1-for-2 from behind the arc.
But even those numbers don't do him justice. It was his relentless drive and hustle – something that will never show on a stats sheet – that helped Syracuse claw their way back and eventually escape with the win.
Shortly after Syracuse's regular season came to a close, Boeheim spoke at the annual Hardwood Classic about the determination and grit he has witnessed from Cooney and his other senior guard, Michael Gbinije.
"The one thing as a coach that you have to have, that you admire and respect is all-out, complete and total effort, every time you get on the court," Boeheim said, starting to choke up. "I don't get choked up talking about Steph Curry. He's unbelievable. I've coached him, he's fun, he's developed and he's a talent who has made it. I loved working with Russell Westbrook. I don't get choked up talking about players I've worked with. ... I get choked up talking about players who give me everything they've got, every single day. We have two of those guys and they have been unbelievable leaders on this team."
He may not go down as the lights out shooter we all hoped he'd be, but Trevor Cooney's legacy should be one known for his effort, determination and heart – which was clear for all to see Friday night.