This time of the year in college hoops just simply isn’t fun. Or to be more specific, this particular post-March Madness melt has been especially depressing. That’s not to say the Virginia Cavaliers and their UMBC-to-national-champions story isn’t one of basketball folklore. Because it is, no matter how much you might not like Tony Bennett’s style, the Pack Line defense, or Kyle Guy.
But refresh Twitter or check some of the media outlets right now and you get the following: college basketball corruption coverage, with coaches like Sean Miller and Will Wade potentially dropping duffel bags of money like they’re the Easter Bunny, or you see high-profile coaches cashing in on big-time deals. That type of news always feels a little icky given how the players who are actually doing the work on the court still can’t make a dime off their skills or their likenesses. (Unless they happen have Miller for a coach, then they’re probably all set.)
The entire last couple of years has shown just how unfair, unjust and unkempt the college game has become.
Then there is the NBA Draft, which comes to us in about another month and a half. That’s when Zion Williamson, his Duke Blue Devils cohorts, Zion Williamson, Ja Morant, Zion Williamson and 56 other players will either earn a professional contract or have the chance at making a roster come next season. Plenty of untapped freshman. Too many maybe.
It could also very well be a time when Tyus Battle’s name is called. A non-one-and-doner who paid his dues and earned his reward. Then again, Battle might not be drafted at all.
A depressing scenario given Battle’s three-year career playing for Jim Boeheim and the Syracuse Orange.
I know Orange fans have formulated their opinions, one way or another, on the six-foot-six guard. They know whether he can or can’t make it on the next level. If he should have left after his sophomore year of if he should come back yet again (note: he isn’t doing that).
As for me? I’ve watched and covered basketball for years, and I can’t pretend to be an expert when it comes to Battle and the Association. He probably made the right move by returning for junior season. And I think he was sound in leaving this time around. Maybe.
I do know, however, that his legacy will be attached to what amounted to rather forgettable Syracuse teams. And that doesn’t seem to fit what should have been. He played in the NIT during year one, helped spur an otherwise disappointing Orange team to a surprising Sweet 16 in his second year, and then was unceremoniously bounced in the first round by Baylor this past March.
It’s almost not fair that someone who made brilliant plays, lifted his teams, and hit some clutch buckets might not be held in proper reverence.
These plays are what college basketball can be at its peak: breathtaking.
Battle averaged double figures every year in Syracuse, dropping over 19 per game during his sophomore campaign. He leaves having scored a total of 1,647 points in just three seasons. That’s inside the top-20 all time for the school. This past season, Battle was asked to play on ball when Frank Howard was hurt and, as was expected, he was The Guy who was tasked with taking over when everything else failed.
Sometimes that worked, sometimes it didn’t.
Through it all Battle’s teams, his time, might ultimately be glossed over. “Syracuse still feeling itself after the NCAA penalties.” Maybe it will be considered the time when the program really started to slip under coach Boeheim.
And then we get back to that whole draft thing.
Battle’s not being invited to the NBA Combine appears as another crack in his NBA dream foundation. I know general managers and scouts have already seen enough of Battle’s performances, and got up close and personal with him at last year’s combine, but the lack of an invitation is a little bit of a slap to the face, a kick to the groin. (Although, as Bobby made clear, Battle will have his chances to showcase his talent).
If his name is not called at all — or even said in the second round at some point— it will be a battle for Battle. Players going in the second round are not given guaranteed contracts. So it’s looking more and more likely that Battle will have to sign on as an undrafted free agent, someone looking to make a squad through practices and summer leagues.
It’s not unlike what’s going on with former Syracuse quarterback Eric Dungey and his pursuit of playing in the National Football League. Granted, Dungey’s not being drafted last weekend has more to do with his skill-set and possibly his injury history. Still, the two are alike in many ways.
Both are known for going all out all of the time. They have made more than their fair share of amazing moments. There were big wins and plenty of bad, ugly losses. The two represent Syracuse. Battle and Dungey are also good reminders to not confuse college legacies with professional experiences. Whether Dungey ends up in the NFL, CFL or wherever else, his accomplishments, specifically his last season, will be unassailable.
Dungey’s last season on campus definitely separates the two, though.
Battle never reached the top of the mountain the way Dungey did. His name isn’t likely to end up any short list, whereas Dungey might have worked his way into the program’s hierarchy on the football side — not Jim Brown status, but somewhere among the Donovan McNabbs and Don McPhersons. Meanwhile, there are plenty of other Orange legends that will come up in conversation among fans talking basketball before they even consider Battle.
It’s too bad, too. Because Battle’s journey then and now might be the modern embodiment of Syracuse hoops and college basketball itself, the good, the bad, and the sad of it all.