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Syracuse basketball’s head coaches are trying to adapt to the new NCAA landscape

Both Felisha Legette-Jack and Adrian Autry have found their groove amid a changing college basketball world.

NCAA Basketball: Syracuse Head Coach Introductory Press Conference Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

The college basketball world is changing faster than we can keep up with. That, however, hasn’t stopped both the Syracuse Orange men’s and women’s basketball teams from keeping up a productive offseason..

Coaches Adrian Autry and Felisha Legette-Jack overwhelmingly produced this offseason with building up a legitimate foundation moving forward. But more importantly, they’ve got an understanding of what college basketball used to be, where it’s heading, and what’s the best way to build up a program in the era of NIL, transfer portal mania, and player empowerment.

Both programs find themselves in a similar predicament heading into the 2023-2024 season. Autry is just months into his tenure as head coach for the men’s team - taking on the reigns of long-time coach Jim Boeheim - while Legette-Jack enters her second season at the helm of the women’s team.

NCAA Womens Basketball: Notre Dame at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Each is looking to embrace a new era of sorts for both teams. Autry possesses the tall task of “rebuilding” the Syracuse basketball brand looking to leave behind the Boeheim era, marked by remarkable success but concluded in unusual fashion. Meanwhile, Legette-Jack needed to reset the Orange’s reputation as a program following the disastrous accusations that plagued the end of Quentin Hillsman’s tenure.

The common thread: both Autry and Legette-Jack are not only identifying talent and fit, but they also know how to connect with current players, whether it be through the transfer portal or through the recruitment cycle.

Let’s start with Autry. TNIAAM’s James Szuba made an excellent point via Twitter shortly after the Orange landed Kansas transfer Kyle Cuffe Jr., Autry’s fourth transfer portal acquisition of the offseason. Szuba noted that while NIL is an important factor in acquiring players looking for a new home, so too is building strong relationships which Autry has exceeded at up to this point:

“Obviously you still have to do NIL well. But now when programs recruit players, you’re not only recruiting/creating a relationship for the first commitment, but for the possibility of an eventual transfer as well. Anyways, it’s refreshing to see Autry embrace/understand the transfer portal and where the game is at and bring things forward a bit. Like it or not, these are the things you have to do in college basketball to be successful now.”

Autry added four transfer players since the portal opened up: Cuffe, Notre Dame’s J.J. Starling, Auburn’s Chance Westry, and Florida State’s Naheem McLeod. Outside of McLeod, Syracuse leveraged its previous connections with the players. When those players were seeking a new opportunity elsewhere, Syracuse was ready to welcome them.

NCAA Basketball: Notre Dame at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

The same goes for the women’s team under Legette-Jack, who added a total of eight transfer players prior to the 2022-2023 season - four (Dyaisha Fair, Georgia Woolley, Saniaa Wilson and Cheyenne McEvans) were part of her Buffalo Bulls tenure. This offseason, Legette-Jack added transfer guard Dominique Camp, who played for FLJ in Buffalo before spending last season at Akron.

Culture-building as well as finding players with the right mindset and character were also big priorities for Legette-Jack. Since her opening press conference, she emphasized bringing in players with a chip on their shoulder.

Part of that means using every avenue possible to acquire talent from solid recruiting areas, like Autry’s team targeting the New York City, Philadelphia, and DC areas as well as Legette-Jack’s success in acquiring international players like Woolley and incoming freshman Sophie Burrows.

One last note, but both coaches this offseason did an excellent job prioritizing balancing the roster’s present and future. Both programs should strive to bring in the highly-rated high school recruits, while also bringing in players from the transfer portal who can provide immediate success.

Striking the balance between the short and long term is critical in today’s world of college basketball. Autry admitted when he took the job as coach in March that the Orange were young and inexperienced. Adding the four transfers can help replace the production lost with the departures of Jesse Edwards and Joe Girard. It can allow last year’s freshman more time to grow. Getting commitments like Donnie Freeman and Elijah Moore keeps an eye on the future and getting Syracuse back to consistent NCAA Tournament appearances.

NCAA Basketball: Wake Forest at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

The same goes for the women’s team. Legette-Jack needed some more depth at the forward and center spots. She added a pair of freshman forwards with lots of potential, yet also managed to add transfers like center Izabel Varejão. It’s all about finding the perfect middle ground for the Orange women as they work to get back to the NCAA Tournament.

A lot can still happen between now and the start of the season, but Syracuse possesses two coaches who understood the need to adapt.

As Brad Pitt said in Moneyball: “adapt or die”, and the Orange are trying to thrive in this new era.