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Joe Girard ready to lead Syracuse basketball, slide to shooting guard

Senior guard Joe Girard will slide to the two after starting at point guard his first three seasons.

NCAA Basketball: North Florida at Syracuse Richard Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Syracuse Orange men’s basketball guard Joe Girard will move to the shooting guard position for his senior year. The Glens Falls, New York native played point guard his first three seasons, but with Buddy Boeheim graduated and on to the profession ranks Girard will slide off-ball.

The move should free him to search for his scoring and hunt shots rather than bring the ball upcourt and initiate the offense.

“He’s really a natural scorer,” Jim Boeheim said. “He did a great job at the point. But I think it’s better for him and our team overall that he’s at the two.”

Girard, who spent his summer working out in Syracuse and interning at Drumlins Country Club, says he welcomes that change.

“I’m really looking forward to it,” He said. “It’s probably the more fun spot in the Syracuse offense just because the way we run the offense through the wings. I’m just looking forward to it, going out there competing and winning the games.”

Syracuse also has options at point guard in a way it hasn’t had of late. The Orange bring in talented freshman Judah Mintz and return senior Symir Torrence. Quadir Copeland is capable of playing point as well.

“We do have better depth at the point guard with Judah, Sy [Torrence]. Quadir Copeland can play at the point as well as the two or the three,” Boeheim declared.

Girard might be more of a natural two guard, but he still proved solid manning the point. As a junior he averaged 13.8 points per game from the lead guard spot and shot 40.3% from outside. He had an assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.5.

“He was really one of the better point guards the last couple years in the ACC,” Boeheim stated. “I don’t think he’s been given the credit he’s due. His shooting percentages are higher than most. His assists were as good or better than most. His turnovers were as good or better than most of the point guards in the league.”

Stats from ACC point guards in 2021-22. Numbers coded in heat map (Green is best, red is worst).

Among ACC point guards last season, Girard was fifth in points per game, fourth in assists, seventh in assists-to-turnover ratio, twelfth in shooting percentage but tops in the league in three-point shooting percentage.

Girard actually shot better from the three than inside the arc as a junior (see shot chart below).

Girard’s shooting from 2021-22 | CBB Analytics

Boeheim recently told a reporter he thinks Girard could average over 20.0 points per game this season. Subtext: Girard’s light is incandescent green. There are plenty of shots available at Syracuse now and it’s hard to think anyone will take more than Girard. Should he accomplish the scoring feat, he’d be the first Syracuse player to break the 20.0 points per game threshold since Hakim Warrick in 2004-05 when he averaged 21.4 points per game.

The only Syracuse players who averaged 19.0 points per game or more since the turn of the century were Preston Shumpert (19.5 ppg, 2000-01), (20.7 ppg, 2001-02), Carmelo Anthony (22.2 ppg, 2002-03), Tyus Battle (19.2 ppg, 2017-18), Elijah Hughes (19.0 ppg, 2019-20) and Buddy Boeheim (19.2 ppg, 2021-22). To be sure, recent history shows scoring is up across the board in college basketball.

With both Boeheim brothers and Cole Swider moving on, Girard is the now the oldest and most experienced player on the roster. He’ll command the offense and this is his team now. But leadership isn’t exactly new to him.

“Joe’s been the guy from his freshman year, you know?” Said Jesse Edwards, who came in with Girard in the 2019 class. “On the court he’s the point guard. He might play more off the ball this year but still he’s that type of player and he’s done very well.”

“At Syracuse, as a point guard, you have to be a leader anyways,” Girard said. “I feel like I’ve been in a leadership role since my freshman year. Syracuse is a player’s program. Coach kind of hands the keys to his players and looks to them to be a leader on the court. So I’ve kind of had to adapt to that role since I got here.”

Along with Edwards and Symir Torrence, Girard will lead a talented group of six freshmen. Mintz figures to play most at point guard but he thinks of himself as a combo guard. Quadir Copeland can play either guard spot or the three and Justin Taylor could see spot minutes backing up Girard.

Starting in the summer sessions, Girard has been vocal with the incoming recruits showing what’s expected at Syracuse through demonstration. At the same time, he says the freshmen have come in ready to work and they’ve adjusted well. The freshmen have taken to it.

“Having someone like Joe that’s been in the ACC for three years makes my job a lot easier,” Said Judah Mintz. “Even though he might not be on the ball all the time, he can teach me certain things he went through as a freshman, as a sophomore, as a junior. Just having a guy like Joe really gives me confidence and makes things easier on me.”

NCAA Basketball: ACC Conference Tournament-Duke vs Syracuse Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Throughout his Syracuse career Girard has weathered the ups and downs with resilience. He won the starting point guard role during his freshman season and averaged 12.4 points and 3.5 assists per game behind Elijah Hughes and Buddy Boeheim.

But a bout with COVID-19 during the 2020-21 season made for a tough December and January stretch which caused a dip in his scoring and shooting percentage before eventually rebounding in March. He scored 9.8 points and dished out 3.5 assists per game in his sophomore year.

Last season as a junior, Girard returned to form to shoot 40.3% from outside, averaging 13.8 points per game. Throughout his career he’s had a penchant for taking important shots. In his freshman campaign, a late three point barrage against Notre Dame at home—including a near four-point play at the buzzer—almost sent the game into overtime, had a whistle blown. Later that season at Miami, back to back buckets by him in the final ten seconds did send the game into extra time.

And last year, despite a turnover on the antepenultimate play of regulation at North Carolina, Girard buried a baseline jumper to send the game into overtime at Chapel Hill. He’s often played with a certain passion, determination and courage.

“Whenever I’m out on the court,” Girard began, “I’m not the biggest guy, the fastest guy or the strongest guy. So I have to kind of figure out different ways to get a competitive advantage. Sometimes it can be psyching myself out and try to bring more energy for myself and just give myself a little bit of competitive fire to get an advantage over an opponent.”

Girard says this drive comes from having a large extended family in Glens Falls with 12 cousins to go up against. Whether it was organized basketball or football or simply backyard football or pickup, sports were competitive.

“All we wanted to do was win. We would get knocked down from our older cousins or older brothers—whatever we had—and it’d always end in blood or tears. I’ve always been taught you never give up no matter what the score is or what the time is left in the game and no matter the circumstance you always have to give your best performance,” He said.

Jimmer Fredette (Getty) | Joe Girard (USA TODAY/Rich Barnes)

Part of Girard’s inspiration as a basketball player comes from another Glens Falls native who had plenty of success on the hardwood. He was in elementary school when Jimmer Fredette was a varsity player at Glens Falls high school, the same school where Girard would eventually go on to set the New York State record by scoring 4,763 points. Girard’s dad, who played for John Beilein at Le Moyne, was the girl’s varsity coach at Glens Falls before Jimmer played at BYU, which meant Girard had plenty of early exposure to the celebrated shooter.

“Jimmer’s been the biggest role model for me in terms of looking at someone’s path. He was the one who kind of laid the foundation for kids in Glens Falls to try and become something out of there,” Girard said.

“As I got to third, fourth grade, he made the Jimmer Mania thing in March Madness and all that stuff,” He continued. “I realized that was something I could look forward to and something I’d really like to do with my life.”

Over the years, Girard has been mentored by Fredette. He’s worked out with the former BYU star in their hometown. As his college career is winding down, he sits sixth on the all-time three point list at Syracuse with 209 made threes. He’d need to make 101 to pass his former roommate Buddy Boeheim (309) for second all-time.

In theory, Girard could use an additional year of eligibility due to the NCAA’s covid year in 2019-20 and come back for a fifth season if he so chooses.

“Honestly I haven’t thought about it at all,” He said. “It’s something that’s there obviously but I’m just looking forward to playing this year and winning a lot of games.”