Breaking down the wild offseason thus far for Boeheim’s bunch

Orange Nation

EAST SYRACUSE, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — College basketball is a brave new world with the added excitement, or agony, that comes with the transfer portal. Nearly 1,300 players from nearly every program have put their name in and Syracuse didn’t escape unscathed. 

Kadary Richmond, Robert Braswell, Woody Newton have left the program. Quincy Guerrier and Alan Griffin are testing the draft waters – some more serious than others. 

But what the basketball gods taketh, they also giveth. Jim Boeheim will welcome Cole Swider, a Villanova transfer, to the program next season and there could be more. 

Matthew Gutierrez of ‘The Athletic’ sat down with LocalSYR.com’s Erik Columbia to discuss the ins and outs of who is in and out with Syracuse. 

The big news this week is Alan Griffin leaving to pursue his NBA dream. How did he come to this decision? 

When we talked back in October, you asked me who my MVP was (for the 2020-21 season) and I said Griffin. Most people would have went with Buddy… 

You were right for a little while. 

He was leading the team in scoring for a stretch. He was first or second in rebounding for basically the entire year until the last two weeks when he kind of disappeared. Buddy I think deserved that MVP (honor) – especially the way he finished the season. 

I think with Alan, he has (already) finished three years of college. I think he sees a crowded forward spot. Especially if Jimmy Boeheim comes in. Then it’s Cole Swider from ‘Nova and Benny Williams – the first five-star guy to come to campus in about seven years. So, it’s going to be a crowded 3-4 slot. I think Alan sees that.  

He also probably wasn’t thrilled with his playing time at the end of this season. He’s going to test, not only (the draft waters), he’s going to test his potential in the NBA. Maybe he sticks around, maybe he doesn’t. 

We have to remember; his father is an assistant with the Toronto Raptors. He’s very plugged into the NBA. Perhaps he knows something, he’s obviously judged talent before. So, I’m thinking, if you’re Alan, he’s a confident guy already, why not take (his) shot. (He’s) in his early 20s already. 

Do we know where things went wrong for him in Syracuse? Things seem to really die off for him in Boeheim’s rotation. 

We don’t know if something happened in practice or off the court. That would just be speculation. What we do know is defensively he was not what Jim Boeheim wanted. He repeatedly said in press-conferences, ‘Alan hasn’t gotten the rotations. Alan isn’t defending.” Or at least enough to stay on the floor. Alan proved early on; he can go off for nine just like that. He’ll pull up from NBA-range and get you into any game if you’re down. In fairness to Boeheim, (Griffin) was a bit of a liability on the defensive end. 

Makes sense, but it is a bit ironic that Griffin was singled out for not playing defense. Except for Kadary, was anyone playing defense well? But I digress. Griffin isn’t necessarily a surprise that he’s leaving the program, but to sign an agent is another thing. And it’s just one move of what seems like a bunch for the program. Is there any move that sticks out to you? 

I think we knew (SU) would get another shooter, especially with the forwards leaving. Woody (Newton) is out, (Robert) Braswell is out – so (SU) brings in Cole (Swider), who shot over 40% from three for a top 25 team. He’s clearly a proven shooter. To your point, Alan wasn’t the only one not playing defense. I mean, you scratched your head after some of those losses. Like, where was the defensive intensity? For a number of players, not just Alan. And bringing in Cole, my one (question) I’m cautiously concerned about. What can he do defensively? I have a couple of friends at Villanova that said he was the worst defender on the team. Not to discount what he can do (because) he’s going to shoot the ball and score to help his team, but my concern remains the defense. 

Bourama Sidibe (returning) surprises me a little bit. I thought with the injury issues, he’s been on campus for four years, he would just try to play overseas. I know he’s big into international relations. He has goals for a political career (which) is really admirable. I thought he would lean towards that, but he decided to stick around. But I think you can take it as, ‘I think I’m healthy, I get to play and help the team. Probably start or share the minutes with Jesse (Edwards) and Frank (Anselem) if Frank does stay around.  

For Bourama, the worst case is you’re not healthy enough knee-wise. (But) you can still get a free master’s degree from the Maxwell School. Which is a great education, especially for what he wants to do. I think if you’re Bourama, it’s a win-win. 

How much does Bourama shore-up any defensive woes with his presence in the middle of the zone? 

Having players like Bourama, Jesse, even Paschal Chukwu from a couple seasons ago… detours guys from attacking the middle. ‘Cuse is a different team defensively with a rim-protector. But I will say, Bourama’s junior year when he was fairly healthy, Syracuse was still not a good defensive team. It was the 2019-20 season, the team went 18-14 and was probably not going to make the tournament.  

So, that is a concern – even with Bourama back it’s not necessarily going to be a great defensive team. But to your point, when your team does have a rim-protector, it certainly helps. It gives the guards a little bit of a buffer. Obviously, the guards are not great defenders. It helps with the forwards as well if they miss their assignments. And it helps with the rebounding. Syracuse hasn’t been a great rebounding team. No zone team is a great rebounding team but having someone who can pitch in a few boards here and there can certainly go a long way. 

You make a great point with the guards. Joe Girard and Buddy Boeheim were the guards the last time Bourama was healthy. You’d like to think that the third year in as a tandem they would find their way defensively, but if they haven’t found it now, I don’t know if they’ll every really find it.  

Speaking of Boeheims, Jimmy (Buddy’s older brother) has been in the rumor mill for coming to SU. Do you think Jimmy B will be wearing orange this season? 

I think so and am definitely not the only one to think that or have heard that from people close to the team. I’ve basically been hearing that for a couple of months now. I think at this point it’s not a lock, but I would bet pretty hard on it. If I were a betting man in this situation, I’d say like 90% chance. Now, Jimmy could certainly go another route. I don’t know who has been recruiting him. Maybe he’s gotten a couple of phone calls from other schools. But at the same time, we saw with Buddy out of high school he wasn’t really recruited. That wasn’t so much a slight on Buddy… I just think that most coaches knew he was going to go play for his dad. With Jimmy we might be seeing the same thing.  

“I don’t think Jim brings his son in to not play.”

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I do think playing time could be an issue with his situation. He hasn’t played in like a year-and-a-half because of the virus. I do wonder if coming to SU is the best option for Jimmy, because is he going to see the floor? As you already mentioned, it’s crowded at his positions and I don’t know if he has a path to see the floor if he comes to Syracuse. 

It’s a valid point. I don’t think Jim (senior) brings his son in to not play. I think Jimmy is going to play a lot. He was sitting on the couch as Jim said “miserable” this past season. I know he worked out like once-or-twice a day. They do have their home gym. And you could argue some guys benefitted from not having a season. They got to work more on their individual development than they otherwise would have. In Jimmy’s case, maybe he’s a better player than he was at Cornell.  

In terms of the rotation, here what I thought about: Benny Williams, he’s a five-star player, is he going to start? Most five-stars start as freshmen. I don’t know what the staff told him when recruiting him. Cole (Swider) only played 20 MPG at ‘Nova. What did the staff tell him? Then you have Jimmy. Jimmy probably wants to play big minutes too. He started at Cornell and played a lot of minutes. That’s three there. Marek is out, which is good for those three, but is Quincy coming back? If Quincy stays then we’re talking about Quincy, Cole, Benny, and Jimmy. Four guys that can really help you on the court. All could deserve big minutes. I just get the feeling, if Jimmy comes in, then the staff must know Quincy is not coming back. That’s my guess. 

While 2021-22 could be jammed at forward, the wing looks stacked for SU in 2022. Kamari Lands added to that recruiting class with his commitment this offseason. My only hang up though – and this has everything to do with my own pessimism – will Lands actually step foot on campus. Orange fans have seen other big stars commit but then never show up. Do they have anything to worry about or has Benny Williams already broken that curse? 

2022 is still so far out, especially after what happened with Dior and the Bazely thing. (They are) such different situations (but) we group them together. The Darius Bazely thing was completely last minute, but to Darius’ credit, he’s playing in the NBA and he’s playing legitimate minutes. 

The minutes might be legitimate, but the roster might not be. (Laughter) 

True, but any 19-year-old would take $1 million instead of sitting through a biology class. With Kamari, I will say, I believe some of the other schools recruiting him had some coaching changes. That could have played a role. But as he’s said in other interviews, he feels that this is a team with a free-flowing offense and a lot of flexibility.  

He probably projects as a two-or-a-three. I know he says he is a guard, but at this point, what star recruit doesn’t say he’s a guard? Everybody says they are guard. I think he’s a wing realistically. I don’t think he’ll be the lead ball-handler. But I think he joins a wing-group (which) is the most talented group in the last several years.  

As far as him getting to Syracuse, I think it’s likely. He’s a four-star by 247 Sports. And (if the NBA goes away from the one-year post high school graduation rule) there is some concern. But I don’t think he’ll get drafted. There’s other GLeague and professional opportunities out there paying nice salaries for these guys. But everything tells me right now that Syracuse lands Lands. No pun intended. 

Oh, there was pun intended. Don’t lie. 

Alright, there was. 

You can read Matthew’s articles on Syracuse over at ‘The Athletic’ and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewGut21. 

Portions of this interview were edited and/or condensed for clarity. 

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