The last time the college basketball community saw Judah Mintz he was visibly dejected.
Flash back to last March as Syracuse was playing for its post-season life against Wake Forest in the ACC Tournament second round. The Orange had a chance to take the lead late, but a missed shot led to a runout the other way. Wake’s Tyree Appleby crossed halfcourt and threw a pass to Daivien Williamson who promptly drilled a three with less than a second left on the game clock, effectively ending Syracuse’s season. The shot marked the end of Jim Boeheim’s career and the end of Mintz’s time at Syracuse.
Or so he thought.
“In the back of my mind I didn’t really plan on coming back,” Mintz revealed.
After Williamson’s shot went through the net, Mintz buckled to the floor. The dream was over and the waterworks began. Defeated, Mintz made his way to the bench and tried to shield his emotions. But in the name of American entertainment, the television titans would have nothing of the sort. Tears would be shown.
The sport can seem cruel at times. It cares not for players’ dreams, hopes, or desires. So it goes. All Mintz could do was bury his face in a towel from the Syracuse bench.
“We knew there was no [NCAA Tournament] bid for us. We weren’t getting in without winning the [ACC] tournament. Just getting beat like that to a team you just beat a week before. It hurt,” Mintz said
With that, Mintz had to turn the page and set his sights on the NBA. There was no exploring, he says. His mind was set. Mintz was planning on going to the NBA. He appeared in the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago. During that process, newly minted Syracuse head coach Adrian Autry didn’t try to influence Mintz one way or the other. Autry prepared for either outcome and gave Mintz the time and space to make his own decision.
“He knows that’s my still my dream,” Mintz said of Autry. “He wasn’t trying to deter me either way.”
After the combine Mintz was projected as a late second-round pick by most experts. He had individual team workouts with multiple NBA teams, including the Charlotte Hornets. The feedback was mixed. He took in that information and decided it was best to return to college for a sophomore season to develop his game. In what’s become a recent trend, some college players also choose to enter the transfer portal while exploring their professional options. For Mintz it was either the NBA or Syracuse.
And Autry was delighted it was Syracuse.
“Elated would not describe the feeling that he’s coming back,” Autry said. “We also know that we got work to do.”
In the offseason Mintz has worked on his jumpshot, but he’s also watched a lot of film to improve his decision-making and to see plays before they happen. A slender, lightning-quick guard, Mintz added 10 pounds to his frame since the summer. He’s up to 185 pounds. He’ll also be able to show scouts how he defends in man-to-man this season opposed to exclusively 2-3 zone. Mintz, who was voted to the All-ACC Freshman team and given Honorable Mention, led the ACC in steals as a freshman with 1.8 per game.
Certainly Mintz’s decision to return was a basketball move. Still, the relationships at Syracuse made it easier to return. He’s known recently hired Syracuse assistant coach Brendan Straughn for quite some time. He’s played with Kansas transfer Kyle Cuffe at various camps. He’s played against JJ Starling and Naheem McLeod. Of course, he’s well acquainted with last year’s freshmen class that he came in with.
“If I didn’t like all five freshmen I came in with last year there’d be no shot that I came back,” Mintz began. “Just being comfortable with the staff, being comfortable with how we play, how the team is ran, how the program is ran, how the school is. It just made it easy for me.
“And I have love for ‘Cuse in general,” He added.
Benny Williams has known Mintz since elementary school. The now veteran forward says he’s proud of how Mintz has development from then to now. From sitting the bench early in high school, to being college teammates and seeing his stock rise as an NBA prospect.
“I was excited,” Williams said of Mintz returning. “Obviously I would’ve much rather him made it to the league but he’ll definitely have a better season this year and go next year hopefully. It’s great playing with Judah.”
Mintz also formed a particular close bond with Quadir Copeland in their shared freshman season. The two of them stayed in contact as Mintz was going through the NBA draft process and the combine.
“That’s like my best friend here,” Copeland says. “I was going through his whole process with him the whole time.”
Copeland understood the weight of Mintz’s decision.
“I really just wanted him to make the best decision for him. I didn’t want him to think about us too much or think about me. I wanted him to do what you think is the best for you at the end of the day.” Copeland conveyed.
Mintz’s return allows him to pair with Starling at guard, giving Syracuse its deepest — if not most talented — backcourt in years. The two have known each other since middle school and obviously competed against each other last year in the ACC.
“Playing with him is a lot better than playing against him. So I’m happy he’s on my side now,” Mintz remarked.
“It’s gonna be great because I know me and him have the mindset,” Starling says of his backcourt mate. “We’re players that can feed off of each other. At the end of the day we want to win games.”
Mintz led all ACC freshman in both scoring (16.3 ppg) and field goal percentage (44.3%). He was fifth in the league in assists (4.6). Asked what would make a successful sophomore season, he had one thing in mind.
“I would say making a deep run in the tournament,” Mintz declared. “I’ve watched the tournament since I was little so to be able to really play in it and impact the tournament would be successful to me.”