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Syracuse men’s basketball: Talking about the 2003 National Champions

Let’s celebrate the better times.

Pace cuts down the net Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The Syracuse Orange will honor the 20th anniversary of the 2003 National Championship squad over the weekend. It was an amazing time to be a fan as we watched Syracuse go from Boston to Albany to New Orleans.

It’s hard to believe it’s been 20 years since that final Kansas shot fell into Kueth Duany’s arms, but let’s look back at some of our memories and then hear yours.

What stood out most about the 2003 National Championship team?

Kevin: From the first game we know Carmelo Anthony was special, but for me, the first time I thought this could be a special team was when they beat Georgia Tech (and Chris Bosh) 92-65 in the Dome. Obviously, ‘Melo was the clear star of the team, but every rotation player made key contributions during the season.

Dom: People tend to forget how young this 2002-2003 team was despite all the well-known faces on the roster. Duany was the only senior on the team, whereas Carmelo (freshman), Gerry McNamara (freshman), Hakim Warrick (sophomore), and most of the familiar members of the team were on the younger side. In hindsight, it makes the ‘03 Championship more impressive.

Mike: This team was never considered a true title favorite. After only making the NIT in 2002, Syracuse went into the season unranked and never made it into the Top-10. Yet they finished undefeated at home and captivated a national audience. It was an underdog story told by an underdog city, topped off by winning it all in a Dome away from Dome. (And Bourbon Street really was the only acceptable substitute for Marshall.)

Szuba: Just how much of a team it was, where everyone seemed to know their role and play it well. Melo was clearly the talent and face of this team where Warrick was still just scratching the surface of his potential and McNamara was the gritty freshman shooter. But the role players were stars in their own right. Duany was an unsung leader and gave Syracuse another shooter. Josh Pace could give a little of everything with rebounding, playmaking and lefty buckets. Billy Edelin gave Syracuse stability at point who could run the offense and still score. Craig Forth was a presence anchoring the zone and Jeremy McNeil was sending shots to the third row when Syracuse went full court press, even in two on one scenarios. It was such a complete team.

What did 2003 mean to Syracuse fans?

Kevin: Ask someone who was old enough to be watching this team and I bet you they bought merch related to East Regional Champions, Final Four, and National Champions. After falling just short in 1987 and 1996, this convinced Orange fans that Syracuse belonged among the elite.

Dom: I second Kevin’s point here. The title allowed the Orange to leap from a great team to an iconic program, especially after falling short since the eighties. And, despite all the scandal that followed per the NCAA’s sanctions, the title did kick off a solid decade-long run in the 2000s and early 2010s.

Mike: Imagine Jim Boeheim’s legacy without this National Championship. We can criticize his last few years, but his program was always one that the city of Syracuse could be proud of. Take his crowning achievement away, and Jim could very well be viewed akin to the NFL’s late Marty Schottenheimer - a tremendous mind in his sport who repeatedly came up just short.

Szuba: Syracuse winning it all in 2003 changed a lot of minds. If you watch your team lose a National Championship (1987) on a last second shot, how could you blame anyone for feeling like it might never happen? Before then it was thought a team couldn’t win a National Championship playing 2-3 zone and that Boeheim couldn’t win the big one (because this is how it works in the sport of college basketball until you do win). I think it was validating for Syracuse fans that the team was good enough to get over the hump.

Who was your favorite player on the 2003 team?

Kevin: It’s Melo. His ability to take over games was just incredible to watch. The home game against Notre Dame saw Syracuse come back just by throwing him the ball in the post and watching him go to work.

Dom: Prime Melo is an easy choice here, but I always was a big-time fan of Hakim Warrick, who hinted at the long-term basketball trend of the value of having versatile, two-way wings who could excel in a supporting role as a clear starter who didn’t command the ball but still thrived within the flow of a game. Warrick was the perfect forward next to Melo.

Mike: For those who don’t know, I’m from Northeast Pennsylvania. So of course it was “The Pride of Scranton” Gerry McNamara who got me into Syracuse basketball in the first place, and looking back, he had such a crucial role in the title run. G-Mac might not have been the team’s top scorer, with Melo being as dominant as he was, but when SU needed someone else’s shot to land, #3 was the man to look for.

Szuba: Josh Pace, but with Kueth Duany being a close second. Carmelo was going to score, McNamara was going to hits threes but Pace was going to get to his left hand and give you a bucket. Pace always seemed content to play his role, being the glue guy before glue guy was a term. He’d hustle, dive on the ground for loose balls and didn’t seem to care about scoring unless he needed to. Also, the lefty floater was effortless but still had a little swagger to it. Back then it was a creative shot before becoming more popular years later.

What was your favorite moment from the 2003 Final Four?

Kevin: The Texas Teabag dunk. It’s the worst charge call in Syracuse history.

Hakim Warrick dunks

Dom: Gerry McNamara’s six threes in the first half versus Kansas. He basically gave all the cushion the Orange needed offensively, even with the Jayhawks crawling back late in the second half. When I rewatch the game, he reminded me of Klay Thompson in Game 6 of the 2016 Western Conference Finals. Call me crazy, but it felt that surreal.

Mike: Gee, thanks for stealing my hometown boy there Dom. Fake anger aside, it’s actually Hakim’s iconic block. He made up for his missed chances to ice the game by delivering one of the most recognizable images not just in Syracuse history, but in all NCAA Finals.

Syracuse University vs University of Kansas, 2003 NCAA National Championship Set Number: X68060 TK2

Szuba: Duany’s first half three against Kansas

Deep cut here, but Duany had just been reinserted into the game at the end of the first half and promptly made a pull up two. With the 2-3 zone locking in and Forth blocking a shot on the ensuing play, McNamara got out in transition and threw a no look pass to Duany trailing the play. Duany buried it to put Syracuse up 18 and he wasn’t bashful about it afterwards. Syracuse was firing on all cylinders and at the peak of its play against Kansas in that moment.

What are some of your favorite memories from that title run?