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Syracuse men’s basketball transfers sign of setback season and college trend

Jim Boeheim previously warned of the consequences of unlimited college basketball transferring. Not quite 1,500, he called the hundreds of transfers he’ll now need to grapple with to retain talent.

NCAA Basketball: Boston College at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

One of the more damaging seasons in Syracuse Orange history ended with a win. Co-champions of the ACC in our hearts — the consequences nonetheless hit immediately.

Jim Boeheim will lose somewhere between three and five players this offseason, one that eerily started business-as-usual before what would’ve been Selection Sunday. It’ll mark his largest single-season exodus of transfers since taking overt the program. B.J. Johnson and Ron Patterson left after 2015, three left over the course of two seasons in the 1970s. Never one season of three or more.

Syracuse hitting its stride and dislodging its six-year curse against North Carolina proved little consolation — finishing a 18-14 year (11-10 in-conference). Brycen Goodine’s led the departures, while Jalen Carey and Howard Washington are in the portal as well. While there were rumors about Robert Braswell heading out too, it at least seems like he’s coming back based on this interview with Elijah Hughes seems likely to test the NBA waters.

Goodine hit first and hardest. He’ll attend Providence next season after recording two points and a steal in first-half reserve minutes against UNC. He and Washington provided Joseph Girard III and Buddy Boeheim a breather before the starters rallied for a 15-0 run that sent Syracuse toward a blowout win.

Boeheim rarely gave those bench minutes to guards, denying the effectiveness of sitting starters. Girard and Boeheim played full games, relegating Goodine and Washington to sparse appearances.

It didn’t start pretty for Goodine, a top-100 recruit who posted eight assists to 13 turnovers with little scoring punch through New Year’s Day. Boeheim tried to integrate him into the guard rotation, though he showed little control on the ball and shot 24%.

Into February, Goodine averaged roughly five minutes per game. Foul trouble pulled him into action late against Wake Forest, when in the final seconds he caught a ricochet off the rim following Hughes’ attempt at a game-winner. He finished inside, securing Syracuse’s lone buzzer beater victory.

Goodine earned nearly 10 minutes per game from that point on, effectively cutting turnovers out of his game. He felt it wasn’t enough.

“I worked really hard this year,” he told “I don’t want to work hard and not be able to play.”

Warranted or not, Syracuse lost a guard with potential to fill depth behind Girard and Boeheim while aiding defense lost if/when Hughes departs. Jim liked how Buddy filled the back line in the Wake win and Goodine produced positive defensive numbers. If Carey and Washington leave, only incoming freshman Kadary Richmond remains.

Jim feared this, a situation where players can hang playing time over a coach’s head, or where players control their destiny — depending on your disposition. The Big Ten and ACC supported a one-time transfer eligibility system, where players don’t need to miss a season after changing programs. Exploration now needs to become action after a global pandemic ended the 2019-20 season early and cancelled spring sports.

Many transfers have cases for previously sporadically-awarded waivers — they couldn’t finish their postseason. Some around college basketball think someone like Goodine will be considered like the injured Carey: immediately eligible to play next season.

It’s a given for spring sports, cancelled completely in their first month and due emergency eligibility relief. The question becomes complicated for basketball. Some teams like North Carolina finished their seasons before the various conferences called off their tourneys and the NCAA axed March Madness last week. It’s doubtful anyone gets renewed eligibility years as they will for lacrosse and other spring sports. But in basketball, some on losing teams may not even get immediate eligibility. Syracuse is caught in the middle thanks to its inconsistency and survival until the season’s cancellation, finishing the final East Coast game of 2020.

The NCAA can use this moment to settle the inevitable ability for players to transfer immediately, one needed with players already able to effectively turn pro whenever they want. More player power is necessary to retain them as more players are finding ways to the NBA while foregoing a year of college for paychecks elsewhere.

NCAA Basketball: Colgate at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Rewind to Nov. 20 and Boeheim spent part of his post-game press conference explaining why Carey — his starting point who had been benched after two games — was suddenly undergoing thumb surgery. Carey already sparingly played during his freshman season, raising transfer questions, then received 23 minutes to prove his worth as starter.

He struggled, blocked twice while starting 1-for-8, but now wouldn’t factor into the season at all. Boeheim alluded he’d pursue a medical redshirt, “I think it’s the right move.”

But Carey — visible and energized around the team all year — will transfer; the move breaking what once looked like an inevitable transfer from Frank Howard to Carey, who spent last summer playing with Adrian Autry in Greece before starting for SU in Italy.

Whether Carey earned the chance to play for the Orange or not, make that two top-100 guard talents gone with the push of a button. Players don’t need to clear waivers, seek permission or even notify their coach anymore. The transfer portal allows other colleges to instantly seek players interested in leaving theirs. Nine days removed from Syracuse’s win over UNC, more than 330 players entered it.

It’s a step reminiscent of the ability for players to test the NBA Draft process, which hundreds seized too. Players can and have returned from the portal though players are deciding their future before the NCAA can adapt. As it does, Boeheim — intending to coach for the foreseeable future — must open dialogue with freshman even if it’s not a negotiation to avoid unnecessary departures.

He’s shown signs he can change, previously opposed to immediate eligibility due the floodgates opening that we saw this week. Boeheim knew he’d lose multiple players and still changed his mind, favoring transfer freedom in favor of inconsistent waivers.

Losing someone like Washington shows this is more than the Orange falling victim to a larger phenomenon. Forget Washington’s potential value as a backup point guard and mentor for younger guards in the room — his stroke survival story alone is a sign of just how resilient of a person he is. He’s an inspiration and great teammate, constantly calling out rotations from the bench.

He encouraged Carey days before surgery and even as his minutes minutes faltered, he showed no sensible apprehension.

NCAA Basketball: Boston College at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

“(I’m) just doing everything asked,” Washington said at the time. “Facilitate, be a leader out there, knock down my open shots.”

Syracuse wouldn’t lose as much scoring in Washington as they would rep and chemistry. The Daily Orange reported Washington redshirted last season to get involved this year only to play little in Italy.

Three guards became disgruntled and a backup guard role never formed, even against lighter non-conference foes. Seven or eight players will play, Boeheim said in October, irritating Washington’s mom.

“Boeheim told Washington that he and Goodine would fight for the backup point guard position behind Jalen Carey and Girard — who eventually won the starting job — would earn minutes as Buddy Boeheim’s backup at shooting guard.”

Washington was advised and raised through the Athlete Institute, Syracuse’s powerful Canadian pipeline. It brought SU Tyler Ennis and Oshae Brissett, and now will help guide Washington elsewhere.

The other side to this is the Orange open scholarships and have a massive transfer pool to replenish from. That’ll become a new offseason norm, another adjustment for Boeheim who didn’t love the 2016-17 season built on outsiders. SU targets Patrick Tapé and Seth Towns likely won’t join the Orange and other options come with aforementioned uncertainty regarding immediate eligibility.

That’s why Braswell will likely remain in CNY. So we’re still awaiting silver lining for Syracuse, now feeling the tangible effects of what could’ve been Boeheim’s worst season and could become worse next year.

“We didn’t have a great year,” Boeheim said.

Hopefully we’re not saying the same come this time next year.