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The unintentional lesson Dion Waiters taught Jalen Carey in his return to Syracuse

Intentional or not, there was purpose to Dion’s return to Syracuse.

Daemon v Syracuse Photo by Bryan Bennett/Getty Images

Dion Waiters was at the Carrier Dome for Syracuse’s win over Seattle on Saturday night. Waiters, who is currently serving a 10-game NBA suspension for eating THC-infused gummies, came back to Syracuse to heed the advice of his former head coach, Jim Boeheim.

Now, if you take yourself back to Waiters’s playing days at Syracuse and had any thought that he’d be coming to Syracuse in 2019 to ask for Boeheim’s advice, you’re pretty darn clairvoyant. Because there’s no way anyone could’ve realistically envisioned that scenario back in 2012.

Said Waiters to on Saturday night, “I just wanted to come up and talk to Coach. I know that’s a person who will always be there for me if I ever need anything. It’s a chance for me to come up, be around, talk to the coaches, things like that. And that’s important.”

Of course, Waiters never had the best relationship with Boeheim during his time at Syracuse. Waiters wanted to start and never did so in his two seasons at SU. Instead, he was the sixth man and eventually parlayed that into becoming the No. 4 pick in the 2012 NBA Draft following his sophomore season.

“I’m older. I understand much more what he tried to teach me when I was 18, 19. I probably was a stubborn kid back then and really didn’t understand at that time,” Waiters told Mike Waters. “I’m 27 and life is a lot different. Being here, talking to him, picking his brain. … I’m pretty sure we’ve all been through situations before and Coach, too. Different situations, how he handled it. Just talk to him and try to find solutions.”

Sound familiar?

Syracuse v North Carolina State Ethan Hyman/Raleigh News & Observer/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Sometimes life takes us through twists and turns for reasons we can’t understand. But, with the benefit of hindsight, we can learn that sometimes the valleys give us appreciation for the peaks and our darkness can give purpose and meaning to others.

As it relates to this discussion, Carey was the highest ranked recruit of any class that Syracuse currently has on its roster. He, like Waiters, was a talented guard who came to Syracuse probably expecting things to work out a little differently than they have/did.

Now, we can debate player rankings, who was more talented, who started what games and whether or not Carey is even an NBA kind of player, but that’s all besides the point.

After losing his starting job on Wednesday, Carey did not enter the game last night. When a reporter asked Boeheim why Carey didn’t play, he had this to say:

“We wanted to win,” Boeheim said following the game. “We have the guys out there that can win the game for us.”

Right now Carey is being tested by Boeheim. That’s not to say Boeheim is doing it intentionally or to be a jerk. The offense looks much better with Joe Girard at point guard and, while we should be cautious about the mythologies we build around these sorts of fragile things, that’s not much of a debate as of now.

Should Carey transfer, nobody would really blame him. From everything we know, he’s a good kid who’s sacrificed a ton and worked his tail off to beat his circumstance in life and become a talented basketball player. It’s possible that he’s just in the wrong system with the wrong head coach.

But there will come a time this season — maybe when Buddy Boeheim is in a shooting slump, Girard hits the freshman wall, the defense isn’t good, or Syracuse just needs someone who can take it off the dribble — when Syracuse needs Jalen Carey. And if you’re a Syracuse fan, you hope that Carey is still around when he’s needed.

Boeheim himself said that he’ll get another shot at this thing.

“It starts in practice. He has to play well in practice. Then he has to get an opportunity in games, which, he will. He has to play well. He hasn’t played well with the time he’s had and the best players are going to play,” Boeheim said. “And I’m not going to be talking much more about anybody except the guys who are playing. So get used to that.”

We know that Carey is no stranger to working through adversity. But Dion Waiters is the perfect example of a situation at Syracuse not quite manifesting itself as expected and working through that. If Waiters is coming back to Syracuse years later to seek advice from someone he once clashed with, just about anyone else could too.

Carey just has to work through this time until he regains some of Boeheim’s trust. He’ll at least get an opportunity.

“When you have juniors and seniors, that’s who’s playing like last year. This year we’ve got freshmen and sophomores and that can fluctuate from game to game. We’ve got a long ways to go,” Boeheim finished.

That’s a lesson that Waiters unintentionally taught Carey last night just by showing up in Syracuse. Life can be funny. Sometimes things don’t go according to our own plan because it help others find their way.

“I’m a competitor. Any time you work hard and you envision something a certain way and it’s not going as you planned and you see it, you know, you go back to the drawing board and you figure it out. That’s what it’s about – figuring it out,” Waiters articulated. “So continue to work, always stay confident. Just having the right people in your corner make things a lot easier. (It’s) being a competitor and wanting to play and me being healthy. Because you set goals. It’s taking a little longer but I still got those same goals, that same ambition. It’s not the end of my story.”

Waiters was talking about himself, but he might as well have been speaking to Carey. It doesn’t have to be the end of Jalen’s story, either.