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Syracuse basketball: Maliq Brown, Kyra Wood naturally adapt to starting roles

The tandem that is stepping up when it matters most

Florida State v Syracuse Photo by Rich Barnes/Getty Images

It’s a new era of Syracuse Orange men’s and women’s basketball. Men’s head coach Adrian Autry has established one of the ACC’s most efficient defenses in his first year at the helm. Meanwhile, second-year head coach Felisha Legette-Jack has the women’s squad on pace for their best season in program history.

While both teams are trending in the right direction, they have each dealt with turmoil at the starting center position. Naheem McLeod, the tallest player in SU men’s basketball history at 7’4”, went down with a season-ending foot injury after starting 14 games. On the women’s side, Michigan transfer Izabel Varejão hasn’t played since Dec. 4 and her status the rest of the way remains unknown.

Insert Maliq Brown and Kyra Wood, who have elevated their roles from solid bench contributors to formidable starting options on the men’s and women’s teams, respectively.

Brown might be a tad undersized at the center position with a 6’8” frame, but makes up for it with his relentless hustle and knack for the ball. He was already second on the team in rebounds per game before assuming starting duties. Through five games on the top line, Brown has overtaken Justin Taylor for number one on the glass, averaging 6.5 rebounds per contest.

“Obviously, losing Naheem is a big loss. Everybody’s gotta step up, me, Mounir, Peter Carey, everyone on the team, too,” Brown said after SU’s win over Boston College on Jan. 10.

The sophomore provides a huge boost to a position that lacks depth. Brown has already played over 30 minutes five times with McLeod sidelined, while Benny Williams substitutes in on occasion. Conference play is only getting tougher, and someone else needs to step up off the bench to keep Brown fresh for critical late-season games.

Meanwhile, a similar scenario has developed with the Syracuse women’s basketball team, and it has been Wood filling in the void.

Starting in all 12 games at the center spot following Varejão’s absence, Wood is making a living on the offensive glass, averaging nearly four a contest. She’s also a lanky defender with great box-out skills and presence around the rim. The junior’s long wingspan makes her a formidable shot-blocking threat, and she rarely gets into foul trouble.

Syracuse v Virginia Tech Photo by Ryan Hunt/Getty Images

“I play whatever role my team needs from me. I’m not focused on [being on] the bench or a starter, as long as we get the end result that we want, which is winning, I’m good with [it],” Wood said.

The Buffalo native has also come up huge in the clutch, putting up two of her best performances in upset wins over Florida State and Notre Dame. She notched eight points on nine rebounds against the Seminoles, with a pivotal putback midway through the fourth quarter. Wood tallied 13 rebounds and a career-high six blocks against the Irish, leading the Orange do a season sweep over ND for the first time in program history.

“I just love the way that Kyra Wood is leading her way. She’s tracking rebounds very well. She’s becoming slippery as she flies [to the basket],” Legette-Jack said after Syracuse’s win over Notre Dame.

Both Brown and Wood provide the men’s and women’s teams with a much-needed boost on the boards and in the hustle department. The two have more than solidified themselves are opening day starters next season.