Around this time last year, Paddy Casey wasn’t even playing basketball. His season at University of the Sciences in Philadelphia was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic. But he still had one year of college eligibility remaining so in December he decided to enter the transfer portal and see what suitors would follow.
Months went by and Casey found himself in the crowded transfer market with little to show for it. He graduated with a degree in Pharmaceutical and Health Care Business so he figured it was time to start looking for jobs. He also applied to graduate school at Syracuse for a master’s degree in marketing to keep his options open.
Casey was on his second round of job interviews last spring until his plans changed. The Scranton, Pennsylvania, native was with his friends back home when his phone rang. His friends couldn’t quite believe who was on the other end.
“It’s funny,” Casey says. “I was sitting next to one of my friends and my phone rings and it said G-Mac [Gerry McNamara]. And he was like, “G-Mac, G-Mac?’”
Casey’s AAU coach, Brian Coyle, was high school teammates with McNamara back in the day at Bishop Hannan. Coyle reached out to McNamara last spring to see if there was a spot at Syracuse for Casey to walk-on.
McNamara called Casey last May to deliver the news.
“Alright, well I can tell you Paddy if you want to walk-on here you can walk-on here,” McNamara said.
Casey was speechless at first, but once he gathered himself he committed on the spot.
“I couldn’t commit fast enough,” He said. “It was very surreal. Everything is still pretty surreal.”
Casey and his friends from Scranton grew up idolizing McNamara. He had never met McNamara in person prior to Syracuse, but Casey says he was one of the few basketball role models in the area. When he finally got up to Syracuse and met McNamara in person he admits he was a little starstruck.
“It’s pretty hard to put into words how much he meant to us growing up. He was — still is — the only example to point to from our area of someone who had the impact that he had here at this level. He’s definitely a legend in Scranton. He’s a legend here too which I found out pretty quickly,” Casey said.
In both exhibition games, Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim inserted Casey into the game relatively early in the second half. Although Syracuse commanded large leads at each juncture, that spot is usually reserved for scholarship players who aren’t seeing a ton of time. Walk-on minutes are usually reserved for the final few minutes.
But Boeheim believes Casey is a good player. The head coach says Casey competes in practice, shoots it well and called him “a very good guy to have.”
“He called us, said he was coming to grad school and I told him to get his uncle to pass some bills for us,” Boeheim said in jest post-game.
Since arriving at Syracuse, Casey has been given the moniker ‘Peel it Paddy’ by Joe Girard. Peel it is McNamara’s way of telling Casey to shoot the ball.
“G-Mac started telling him to peel it. You know, shoot it in practice more,” Girard revealed. “That’s what those Scranton guys do. They come up with some weird stuff.”
Girard says Casey is fun to be around and that he’s challenged the guards in practice.
“Paddy’s done a really good job. He’s been really impressive so far. He’s kind of one of those sleeper kind of kids. He really helps you in practice. You need those kind of guys. He can even get a shot here and there in a real game. We saw tonight what he could do. In practice he really pushes us to the next level,” Girard said.
Casey played three minutes against Pace but admits to being a little overwhelmed. Before entering the game on Monday night, he took a deep breath and engaged in some positive self-talk. “I was like, you’re in the Carrier Dome. You’re playing in a Syracuse uniform. I never thought I’d be here but at the end of the day it’s still basketball,” Casey said.
Casey knows he’s making an impact in practice and that the Syracuse coaches have faith in him. Boeheim says Syracuse is just one injury away from being down to two guards.
“Paddy could go in. He could play. He’s strong, physical. He’s a good player. He’s a real good player,” Boeheim said.
“The biggest thing is I can tell the coaches have confidence in me,” Casey declared. “Especially the guys on the court. They have confidence in me. They’re not looking at me as a typical type of non-scholarship player, not to say there’s anything wrong with that.”
Against Le Moyne, Casey scored his first bucket as he drove past his defender on the right wing after a hard closeout and tossed up a floater over the help. The ball found the bottom of the net.
“I just caught it. The guy kind of closed out pretty hard. I just took one or two dribbles left. I work on my floater a lot so luckily it went down,” Casey said modestly.
The Syracuse bench was excited of the play but they weren’t surprised.
“It was awesome. We were really excited for him but at the same time we weren’t really that shocked,” Girard suggested. “It’s one of those kind of guys that you expect to go in there and make a good play.”