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Syracuse men’s basketball preseason player profiles: John Bol Ajak

John Bol Ajak looks to make an impact in year two

(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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As the start of the 2021-22 season for the Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team draws closer, with their first exhibition game in just a mere 14 days, it’s important to highlight how each player suiting up for the Orange could make an impact in the upcoming season.

John Bol Ajak, a redshirt sophomore playing the center position, didn’t get the most playing time last season in Jim Boeheim’s rotation but has the tangible assets needed to make an impact when he takes the floor.

Standing at 6-foot-10 and 216-pounds with a 6-foot-11 wingspan, Ajak is a mismatch for any opposing center due to his slim frame and modern-day skill set for the center position.

In Ajak’s first season suiting up for Syracuse last year, the freshman averaged 0.2 points, 0.4 rebounds, 0.2 blocks, and 0.1 steals per game while shooting 25% from the field in 10 appearances last season.

While these numbers don’t scream impact player on the stat sheet, Ajak has a unique opportunity this season to be a utility player coming off the bench who stretches the floor and set hard screens to open plays for himself off the pick and pop as well as setting up lanes other teammates to attack the basket.

NCAA Basketball: Syracuse at Clemson Andersen Independent Mail-USA TODAY NETWORK

Position: Center

Class: Redshirt Sophomore

Vitals: 6’10”, 215 lbs.

2020-21 stats: 0.2 points, 0.4 rebounds, and 0.2 assists per game. Ajak shot 25% from the field last season in 10 games played.

Strengths/Weaknesses: Ajak’s biggest strength is his ability to hit jump shots beyond 15 feet, a skill many big men are trying to implement into their repertoire to expand their game outside of the painted area. While Ajak didn’t attempt any shots beyond the arc last year, his ability to stretch the floor is a big reason why Boeheim and his coaching staff recruited the South Sudan-based center back in 2018. Ajak needs to improve his basketball IQ to get more playing time in a four-man center rotation for this upcoming season. He has only been playing basketball for six years now, and with this being his third year playing at Syracuse. He needs to gain a better understanding of the speed and rhythm of Division I NCAA basketball and coach Boeheim’s infamous 2-3 zone defense to see his role increase this upcoming season.

Ceiling: Considering Ajak has only been playing basketball for six years, his ceiling is really untapped. Boeheim and his coaching staff didn’t take a chance recruiting Ajak in 2018 because of how he ranked in high school, they took a chance on him because they believed what their eyes told them when watching the raw talent play. Ajak has a wealth of untapped potential, and if he can demonstrate an understanding of how to play a specific role and the different schemes Syracuse runs on offense and defense, he can easily see himself getting increased minutes this season and possibly a shot at being the teams’ backup center.

Floor: Ajak doesn’t see the in-game action needed to make an impact for the Orangemen this season. Another concern is if his defense, offense, field goal percentage, and basketball IQ don’t improve, which could result in less playing time than last year possibly.