Former Syracuse basketball player John Wallace had his No. 44 jersey retired during a halftime ceremony on Saturday. Wallace’s jersey now hangs next to Carmelo Anthony’s No. 15 high atop the Carrier Dome in section 309.
Wallace, who played at Syracuse from 1992-1996, spent most of his halftime speech thanking those who helped him along the way through his journey. He thanked close friends, family, coaches, Syracuse fans and of course, his mom.
“Coach Boeheim, I can’t thank you enough, man. For everything you did,” Said Wallace, who currently works for the New York Knicks. “I remember you sitting on the couch with me and my mom and you told me I was going to be like Derrick Coleman and Billy Owens and now I am. Thank you so much.
“My mother, working three jobs at a time. Doing everything she had to do by herself to make it happen. I love you so much, Mom. You gave birth to a legend.”
Wallace’s jersey retirement coincides with Syracuse’s final game in the Carrier Dome as Syracuse fans have come to know it. Renovations have already started on the beleaguered dome, with the rooftop truss taking shape. By next season, a permanent roof will supplant that inflatable, teflon one along with other upgrades to the dome.
On top of being one of the best players in program history, Wallace will be remembered by most Syracuse fans as a loyal player who stayed true to SU. He came to Syracuse at a time when NCAA sanctions hampered the program.
Wallace had an impressive first three season at Syracuse, but in his senior season he led Syracuse to an improbable run to the 1996 Final Four. Syracuse would eventually lose to Kentucky in the National Championship game.
Jim Boeheim has dubbed Wallace as the most important player in Syracuse history, bridging the gap between Syracuse’s 1987 title loss to Indiana and the Orange’s 2003 National Championship.
“He was so important for our program. When he came and what he did was incredible. We were very thin with numbers. He had a great first three years and then he had a better senior year. (He) took his team to the last game. I mean he was a phenomenal player for us,” Boeheim said.
The run to the 1996 Final Four included some heroics from Wallace. Trailing by two points with 2.1 seconds remaining in the Sweet 16 game against Georgia, Wallace fired a cross-court inbounds pass from half-court to Jason Cipolla, who connected on a game-tying jumper as time expired.
In the overtime period, Wallace would hit a game-winning 3-pointer, sending Syracuse to the Elite Eight in the process.
“He’s been a great supporter from the first day I talked to him,” Boeheim said. “He’s been Syracuse consistently day-in, day-out. It’s great to see him.”
In total, Wallace scored 2,119 points in his four-year Syracuse career and grabbed 1,065 rebounds. Both rank third all-time in program history. Wallace was drafted 18th by the New York Knicks in the 1996 NBA Draft.