As part of the jersey retirements of Gerry McNamara and Hakim Warrick, the Syracuse Orange men’s basketball program celebrated the 20th anniversary of the 2003 National Championship team over the weekend.
What began with a streaming of the 2003 National Championship game with fans on Friday night, members of the 2003 team traveled back to Central New York to celebrate the anniversary of its title as well as two members in particular of the most storied team in program history. To members of the ‘03 team, it felt just like old times. McNamara, who didn’t have to travel far, would go on to say the reunion on Friday was one of the most memorable nights of his life.
“For us not to have been with one another as a full group for 20 years and then have the night we had last night rewatching the game and then having drinks and toasts, you know, we were back. We were back to 20 years ago like we never left, telling stories. It was such an incredible night,” McNamara said.
“It’s just going to be a bond that we’ll always have no matter what. When you see somebody, maybe in the 40-year anniversary and our grandkids,” Warrick said, “we’ll talk about stories like it was yesterday.”
Also part of the reunion was none other than Carmelo Anthony, the smiling freshman star of the 2003 team that captured hearts and minds beyond just Syracuse. Anthony described the reunion as a full circle moment as the team celebrated the China anniversary of the program’s crowning achievement.
“As far as the National Championship goes, I don’t think any of us could’ve imagined that. I think it’s a testament to what we created,” The 2003 Final Four MOP said.
Kueth Duany, the senior captain on that team, said he got chills when he saw Billy Edelin carrying the National Championship trophy. Jim Boeheim would later credit Edelin for being the reason Syracuse won it all in front of the JMA Wireless crowd of nearly 25,000. Edelin, who roomed with Anthony in 2002-03, led Syracuse in scoring in the first two NCAA Tournament games and fueled the 17-point comeback against Oklahoma State with 20 points.
“That energy we got from each other and the crowd is just amazing. Then seeing these highlights of us as young men, it just gives me chills every moment. We’re happy to be here, happy to see all of these brothers of ours. We were in the trenches together,” Duany said.
With life pulling different members of the team in different directions, Duany said the team has been able to get pockets of the 2003 team together but not as many as Syracuse had over the weekend.
“Every time we do get together the energy is the same. That’s what’s special about this group of guys. It’s like we didn’t miss a beat. Last night we were all talking, some guys were drinking,” Duany said as he cracked a smile. “It’s like we didn’t miss a beat in 20 years.”
“To bring it back full circle, 20 years later and being back on campus, like Kueth said — we don’t miss a beat,” Anthony said.
The 2003 team, just missing the centers in Craig Forth and Jeremy McNeil of the rotational players, was in the JMA Wireless Dome to watch the current iteration of the Orange, which defeated Wake Forest in the regular season finale.
Fans greeted Anthony most fondly. McNamara had coaching duties while guys like Josh Pace watched the current team and said it’s still surreal to think about what Syracuse accomplished in that season. He says the title is something the team shares with the Syracuse fan base.
“We’re invested in Syracuse the program still and we want to keep this thing moving forward.” Pace said.
Warrick looked on with his son, who got to see Syracuse for the first time. It was the first time Warrick was back on campus since his Senior Night.
After the game concluded, Warrick had his jersey retired first and he admits to holding back tears. He almost never came to Syracuse. Boeheim retold the story of how Warrick was initially held off of a couple of times in recruiting.
“Luckily his mom wanted him to come here and he wanted to come here. It all worked out,” Boeheim said. “He’s one of the great players in terms of the things he did. There’s no doubt in my mind he won the National Championship for us with that block.”
The first time Warrick visited Syracuse he came up for a football game as Michael Vick and Virginia Tech played in the then Carrier Dome. The atmosphere pulled him in and he wanted to go to Syracuse but Julius Hodge’s college decision stood in the way, at least temporarily.
“I almost pulled the trigger and was about to sign somewhere else but my mom talked me out of it,” Warrick divulged. “I just told her, ‘I waited this long, I might as well wait a little bit.’ Then Julius chose North Carolina State. I was able to take that last scholarship. The rest is history.”
Had Hodge chose Syracuse, Warrick said he would’ve accepted a scholarship to Providence. Warrick acknowledges he wasn’t a top recruit coming out of high school. He never envisioned getting his jersey retired when he enrolled at Syracuse as a freshman.
“There was a lot of people that didn’t think I could play on this level,” Warrick said.
As time went on, Warrick went from unheralded recruit to National Champion. Then to Big East Champion, Big East Player of the Year and Big East Tournament MVP. From his sophomore to senior years when Syracuse won a National title, made a Sweet 16 in 2004 and won the Big East Tournament in 2005, Warrick was paired with the fiery, competitive McNamara throughout. He says McNamara has always been there for him and they’ve been through the fire together.
“We’ve accomplished something that a lot of people don’t get to accomplish,” Warrick continued. “We’ll have that bond, that link together. For us to be able to go up together that’s just another thing that we’ll share together. Special day.”
For McNamara, he drove home the point that the best thing about having his jersey retired is to be able to share the honor with Warrick, his teammate of three years.
“I’ve just been ecstatic from the start that I’ve been able to have this honor with Hakim,” McNamara shared. “Two guys that played together. Had incredible chemistry together. Won together. Lost together. But left everything on the floor together.”
As another recruit who proved to be a diamond in the rough, McNamara was an undersized guard out of Scranton whose rust belt background would fit hand in glove with Syracuse.
“Gerry was from a small town. People didn’t know what he was or what he could do. We knew right away the heart he had,” Boeheim said. “He just had a heart that... he’s going to find a way.”
McNamara’s career accomplishments need no reintroduction. During Saturday’s game against Wake Forest, the pride of Scranton had support from his hometown as buses made their way up to Syracuse just like the old days.
“It seemed like 2006. It was almost like a Senior Night deal,” McNamara said in reference to his final home game against Villanova. “I was nervous I was going to get emotional.”
McNamara held back tears during the jersey retirement ceremony, perhaps in part due to Syracuse’s win over Wake that he alluded to. Quadir Copeland jokingly told McNamara to “Stay gangsta” and refrain from getting emotional. Tears were spared, but emotions were not. During a heartfelt speech, McNamara shared to fans that he has a picture framed at his house of him and Carmelo.
“I see the three and I see the 15,” McNamara said, before making a reference to the Syracuse area code. “And when I walk by it now I see the 3-1-5.”
McNamara mentioned that he sees Warrick’s No. 1 going up, but the No. 5 is still missing after his No. 3, a plea for Josh Pace to have his jersey retired.
“One of the most selfless human beings on the planet,” McNamara said of Pace, whose play matched his personality.
With his speech winding down McNamara once again thanked the community, only this time as a parent. He said Central New York has his heart, which he called a wonder place to live and a great place to raise a family.
“Thank you from the bottom of my heart of how I’ve been treated from the moment I came here,” He said.
Before handing the microphone to Boeheim, McNamara had one last thing to say.
“So I’ll leave it like this. I love you. I can’t thank you enough,” McNamara said, well aware of his audience before a brief pause.” And I’m going to go have a cold beer tonight.”
With that, the Syracuse men’s basketball program now proudly hangs 17 jerseys under the JMA Wireless Dome roof. Those names are Louis Orr (55), Roosevelnt Bouie (50), John Wallace (44), Derrick Coleman (44), Pearl Washington (31), Billy Owens (30), Dennis DuVal (22), Dave Bing (22), Lawrence Moten (21), Sherman Douglas (20), Wilmeth Sidat-Singh (19), Bill Gabor (15), Carmelo Anthony (15), Vic Hanson (8), Rony Seikaly (4) and now Gerry McNamara (3) and Hakim Warrick (1).
The Syracuse men’s basketball program is a familial one given the tenure of its head coach. Players from varying generations are quick to reference Boeheim as something they all share even across different eras. And the Syracuse community has historically embraced the basketball team, even in difficult times such as now. Anthony, whose name is donned on the team practice facility and forever etched in Orange lore summarized it succinctly.
“There’s just something about Syracuse,” Anthony said. “It’s a different type of love and affection that the community has for us and that we have for the community.”