Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Syracuse is Oranges


Post #18 Topic: We had all we ever wanted, in that Keg in the Closet… OR SO WE THOUGHT!

If you didn’t attend one of Florida, UNC, Uconn, Maryland, Duke, Michigan State, Kentucky or Arizona over the past decade listen up. Figure out the common thread? Well if you did then you must be wondering why I left out Syracuse. The answer is because I went there, and it will take me far more than 1 word to explain how amazing it was to watch Syracuse win the championship.

At the start of the 2003 season Syracuse was unranked. The previous year was marked with turmoil as what had at the start looked to be a promising season quickly went sour. (The following contains a vicious rumor but one that I find true, explanative and US Weekly worthy). Syracuse started the 2002 season on fire, lead by sharp-shooter Preston Shumpert. That was my Freshman year, and although the ORANGEMEN started out 14-2 and reached as high as #7 in the national rankings, something looked askew. Within only a matter of games I noticed that Preston Shumpert’s collegiate contract did not require him to play defense, and was a contract that given the college rules of “no compensation” the Orangemen should have had repudiated for lack of consideration (and general Unconscionability that a lazy scrub such as Preston should be granted permission to don the Orange). On one occasion Preston faked a loose shoe-lace so as not to have to go back on defense.

The team’s next best player and starting point guard was DeShaun Williams. At the beginning, things looked peachy on the hill, until that vicious rumor reared its head. According to other drunk people in a bar on Marshall street, Preston Shumpert had gotten Deshaun Williams’ girlfriend pregnant. As soon as that rumor surfaced the entire season went down the drain. Over the next 13 games the team went 4-9, missing the NCAA tourney, and making it only as far as the NIT (Nobody Interested Television) semi-finals. After that year Preston failed to get drafter (he was a pre-season lock for the 1st round) and DeShaun transferred to Iona (institution on North Avenue…near my home) to play for the Gales where he slipped into Ryan Leaf-esque obscurity. Leading into the 2003 season, things looked bad.

But there was one bright spot. The Orangemen had received a commitment from the nation’s 2nd best high school prospect (pre-Baltimore crack-slinging video) behind Amare Stoudemire in Carmelo Anthony from NBA hot bed, and Jim Boeheim recruiting sanctuary Oak Hill Academy. The year prior, Cuse had signed another Oak Hill star, Billy Edelin, and the combination had fans thinking success.

But things quickly picked up where they left off. After an opening loss to Memphis, where Carmelo played well but selfishly, Billy Edelin was suspended 12 games and the clouds that cover Onandaga county 9 months out of the year looked once again to be bringing bad fortune. And then things turned around.

An unknown Shooting Guard out of Scranton PA, Gerry “G-Mac” Macnamara, famous for bussing his entire town to games at the dome (a 4 hr hike) showed that he could handle the scoring load when Carmelo was being deouble and triple teamed. Senior Kueth Duany’s (brother of Wisconsin hoopster Duany Duany (no joke)), defensive tenacity and hard-nosed play in the offensive end was a catalyst for what Jim Boeheim had hoped would be a gritty team. Josh Pace proved he could come off the bench and provide valuable minutes while the starters took breathers, and Craig Forth demonstrated his inability to do anything right but nonetheless drew high praise from Dickie V and crew and thus contribute a debatably valuable presence in the center. Oh, and Hakim Warrick, a last minute signing that replaced the previously committed Julius Hodge (who wound up choosing NC State… big mistake), emerged as a monstrously athletic 4, whose patented the turn around, over the defender’s head slam that could single-handedly reinvigorate a seldom but at times silent Dome (Dome is where the heart is). Plus, other teams had no answer for the Orangemen’s zone defense, making them virtually unbeatable on almost every night.

On the way to the final four, Syracuse defeated 5 Big 12 teams, including 4 in the tourney: Mizzou, Oklahoma, Oklahoma St., Texas and eventually Kansas). That year the Big 12 was considered by leaps and bounds to be the best conference.

The early rounds of the tourney were exciting. I ventured to nearby Albany (total unfair placement by the selection committee) to watch Syracuse beat Oklahoma St. Thereafter, with my Albany ticket as proof of my dedication, 12 friends and I decided we would drive to New Orleans for the finals, seeing as we were now guaranteed tickets. So off we went to the dome (by we I mean we had pledges wait on line for 16 hours), to pick up our tickets. Once in hand, we were thrilled that the next day we would be leaving for New Orleans. However, hardly right outside the dome, a man offered us $900 each for our tickets. Being the little hustler that I was I instantly said $1500 each; for the finals, my friends and I would no longer be drinking Keystone Light… it was all Bud Light now.

Before the final game came we had our pledges build us a throne out of a recliner, plywood, 2 by 4s and several decorative vices. That way, if we won, we could be carried down to the Marshall st. fiesta in style which after torturing those poor Freshmen for 12 weeks we certainly deserved. At that time it was Hell Week, and our pledges had been in the basement listening to “All the things she said” by Tatu for 6 consecutive days. When we told them they would not be permitted to watch the game they were stunned.

I remember parts of the game clearly and other parts not so clearly.

The parts I remember: there were 50 of us there with several kegs and a lot of shitty Syracuse Pizza to get us through the 40 minutes of nail-biting action. We even brought in TVs from other places on campus just so we could watch the game as we walked to and from the bathroom. Eventually we allowed the pledges to come watch the game (how could we not), although they were responsible to be waiters and foot rests whenever we “brothers” felt so inclined. We also “asked” them to have a royal rumble during halftime.

The game was extremely close pretty much throughout (if you saw the game and the ending you’ll understand the actual definition of close), but rightfully so. Afterall, this was no bunch of schlubs we were playing against. Kansas had future NBA’ers Kirk Hinrich and Nick Collison, not to mention a damn good supporting cast.

Now I’ve seen friends faces as their teams have won championships. I remember when the Rangers won in 94, when the Yankees won their string of titles, when the Sox won both this year and several years ago and I remember the Patriots claiming several of their own rings. For anyone who has witnessed a friend’s team win a championship, you know that shit-eating grin that they get as soon as the game ends, as if to say that they can finally take a breath. Well imagine that look, on 50 people’s faces for three consecutive hours. It truly is something to behold. The room reeked of the prospect of victory, and the denial that we could possibly lose, but in everyone’s eyes you could see that reserve of distraught that would awaken should the game fall out of reach.

There was a 20 minute portion during the game when one of the guys in the house insisted on playing 50 Cent’s “If I can’t do it, homey it can’t be done…”. No one else wanted to hear it and for about an hour we had a continual battle of him putting it back on, and us sending pledges to shut it off. The room was thick with anticipation.

But Syracuse never pulled away. There was no relief. There was no time when we could sit back and say “we got this wrapped up” or that “it was only a matter of time”. No, the game was neck and neck till the end.

No one will ever know whether that last second shot from beyond the arc by Michael Lee (Kansas) would have gone in or not. Thankfully, we didn’t have to speculate, as the limber Hakim Warrick came flying from out of nowhere (he was right there) to send the shot flying. Syracuse, a football school with a basketball habit had done the unthinkable. Carmelo had taken his team in one year to the top of the basketball world, and I mean all of basketball.

The pledges knew what to do. They came running in with the throne and hoisted one of the seniors upon it. Then as a group of 50, but as part of a group of 5000 or so, we stormed Marshall street. People were climbing trees, breaking windows, knocking down light poles, swaying cars. There was absolute pandemonium. One pledge (and now a good friend) got nailed in the head with a billy club by the riot patrol (which inexplicably made his toe nearly three times that of a normal human’s toe). And above the entire crowd was our man on our throne rejoicing in Sryacuse’s victory.

The next day on the front of both the school and Syracuse newspaper was a large picture of us, holding up our throne above the masses, cheering for the victors… the Syracuse Orangemen. What few people ever get to experience had been gifted us by the basketball gods and it truly outdid any reaction I can recall from any of my friends witnessing any of their teams win anything… PERIOD.

Prior to that season I thought that I had all that I ever wanted in college (I need not go into the specifics but there was a time when Syracuse was in fact an awesome place to go to school). But having lived through winning a national title, at some private school buried in the annals of New York state, in a city known for nothing but salt, crime, and plans to build a big mall, I discovered what having all the spoils was like. And more importantly, that Bud Light tastes a lot better when you really are the king.

Other Notes:

Middle school girls should not be allowed to dress slutty on Halloween. How on earth are their male teachers supposed to concentrate? (joke… I swear).

I have a fish tank in my room. It sounds like someone is peeing. Now, when ever I want to be left alone I turn on the filter so that whoever is thinking of coming in thinks that I’m peeing on my floor, and to avoid my insanity, leaves me alone.

Today at the salvation army I saw an entire bed platform. Who has the time, energy, or interest to warrant carrying a bed platform from wherever it is that you live, all the way to the salvation army where you get nothing in return but a cough from all the dust and a couple sweet $1 t-shirts (half off on Tuesdays for college kids)?

1 comment:

two guys that make signs said...

Who's this and why did you steal my story?