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Syracuse basketball: Benny Williams is not the first freshman to start out slow

Let’s look at other forwards who have turned things around under Jim Boeheim

Drexel v Syracuse Photo by Bryan Bennett/Getty Images

When Benny Williams joined the Syracuse Orange this season, many expected him to contribute immediately. The truth is, not every new recruit can turn into the next Carmelo Anthony overnight.

Williams has struggled in his freshman campaign, both statistically and with getting consistent minutes on the court. He’s shooting under .300 and is currently on an 0-15 streak. That being said, it’s not time to panic just yet. The 5-star recruit can still live up to his potential over the next few years. Here are a few examples of players who started out rough but still went on to have great careers in Syracuse.

Todd Burgan

Burgan joined the Orange for the 1994-95 season and played exclusively off the bench. After only averaging 11 minutes and 4 points per game as a freshman, Burgan jumped into a starting role for the next three seasons. As a senior, his 17.6 points per game was good for 6th most in the Big East. On top of that, his two-way game took a massive step forward as an upperclassman. He was 7th in the conference in takeaways (64) as a junior, and 4th (72) as a senior.

Hakim Warrick

Syracuse Hakim Warrick, 2003 NCAA National Championship Final Photo by John W. McDonough/Sports Illustrated via Getty Images

Yes, even the guy who sealed the 2003 National Championship game had rough beginnings in Syracuse. Warrick came in as a starter but was benched after half a season of poor play. His struggles at the free throw line (a meager .383) also ended up costing the Orange during the 2002 NIT Final Four - his 2-12 outing against Temple is a big reason why they were eliminated.

Warrick easily redeemed himself the following season. He jumped all the way up to 2nd in points per game, earning him Big East Most Improved Player. And, of course, #1 picked up a special block down in New Orleans that is forever etched into Orange lore. As a senior, he practically ran the Big East. Warrick led the conference in Total Field Goals, 2-pt Field Goals, Free Throws, and Rebounds. He was also ranked in the Top 5 nationally in those categories other than rebounds.

Demetris Nichols

Nichols came on board after the 2003 Championship season. He also had the opportunity to start as a true freshman but ultimately did not get much done. Like Warrick, Nichols had problems at the foul line, shooting .444 in his freshman year. However, he had worse luck getting his starting job back. Nichols missed time as a sophomore with a back injury and was limited to a reserve role the remainder of the season.

But in 2005, things finally started to click. He began to play better in the backcourt, collecting more defensive rebounds, and even started shooting a few threes. His production, like the others, peaked as a senior. He was the top dog in points scored, dominating inside and even shooting fine from distance by a forward’s standards.

Honorable Mention: Jerami Grant

This last one is cheating a bit, since Grant left two years of college eligibility behind to go to the NBA. Still, there was a sharp difference between his first and second seasons at SU.

Syracuse v Western Michigan Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

Grant marked the transition between the Big East and ACC periods of Orange basketball. In the former, he did play a respectable 14 minutes per game with a handful of starts. In his sophomore campaign, you could see some flashes of raw talent. The one thing to note was how he improved his turnover rate significantly in his second season. He ended up with the 7th lowest turnover rate in the ACC in 2013-14. Considering that turnovers are one of the main issues plaguing Benny Williams now, it’s reassuring to see that at least one old forward learned to hold onto the ball significantly better.

A lot of growth can occur between the first and second year of college, and with both of Syracuse’s starting forwards likely to depart, the opportunity is in front of Benny. We’ll see what a solid summer of development can do to unlock the potential displayed during his high school career.