Fresh again

September 17, 2020 0 Comments

first_imgThis is placeholder text Advertisement Published on November 13, 2014 at 1:03 am Contact Jesse: [email protected] | @dougherty_jesse,Cancel replyYou must be logged in to post a comment. Kaleb Joseph took off his basketball sneakers and scrolled through his phone, crouching in front of the same locker point guard Tyler Ennis occupied a year ago. Then he was crowded by cameras and tape recorders, like Ennis always was, and smiled while rattling off answers — accepting as many compliments as he dished out.Chris McCullough weaved through a crowd of his teammates and reporters in nothing but a towel, retreating to the same corner that forward Jerami Grant used to sit in while he got dressed after games. Joseph and McCullough stood in the place of the players they’re effectively replacing — if not by exact position and skill set, then in the two starting spots that have both freshmen on an express track.“We are going to need them to do a lot,” SU assistant coach Adrian Autry said of Joseph and McCullough. “They know that and the team knows that. When you lose a lot of production and bring in two high-profile guys, the expectation is that they are ready. And they are.”As Syracuse heads into the 2014–15 season, one of its biggest questions is how it’s going to score. The Orange is returning just over 37 percent of its points from last year — the lowest in Jim Boeheim’s 38 years with SU — which places Joseph and McCullough in the middle of an offensive transition while they transition themselves.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textIt’s a process that will be different for both freshmen, with Joseph captaining a stalled ship and McCullough polishing and rounding his offensive game while learning different roles. But they both started in Syracuse’s opening scrimmage against Carleton on Nov. 2 and figure to spend more time on the court than not as the No. 23 Orange looks to turn decreased expectations on their head this season.“When I think of the freshmen, I just know they can score,” junior Michael Gbinije said. “For us, when we need to make up for what we lost, we’re going to do it by committee and all the rotational guys are going to chip in.“But having those guys, fresh guys, will only make that easier.”KALEB JOSEPHSyracuse assistant coach Gerry McNamara says it’s unfair to compare Joseph, ESPN’s 50th ranked recruit in the freshman class, to Ennis.Ennis replaced NBA lottery pick Michael Carter-Williams last year and played 35.7 minutes per game, averaged 12.9 points, 5.5 assists and just 1.7 turnovers, and forewent his last three years of college eligibility to be selected by the Phoenix Suns with the 18th pick of the first round in June.Joseph isn’t Ennis and isn’t expecting himself to be. But with the Orange lacking a refined sixth man and the 6-foot-7 Gbinije expected to assume point guard duties when Joseph needs a rest, he is like Ennis.“Tyler did some great things and yeah, it is a hard act to follow,” Joseph said. “But you just have to make it your team, that’s how you make fans and your teammates trust you. I like to run, we’re going to run with me at the point.”Syracuse assistant coach Mike Hopkins sees a combination of Syracuse point guards of the past Jonny Flynn, Michael Carter-Williams and Ennis in Joseph. He likes to push tempo like Flynn, can rebound and stretch the zone like Carter-Williams and has similar poise to Ennis.Vincent Pastore, Joseph’s former coach with the Mass Rivals AAU team, also detailed a wide-ranging skill set.“He wasn’t the kind of player to just do one thing over and over because it worked,” Pastore said. “A lot of guys do that, most guys do that. They find that they can get to the rim or hit a jump shot in a certain place and they go back to that over and over. But Kaleb always made sure he could do everything as a guard.”What Joseph’s coaches and teammates have noticed is his ability to succeed in a pick-and-roll offense. Redshirt junior guard Trevor Cooney’s eyes lit up when talking about how Joseph’s ability to penetrate and draw defenders will create shooting opportunities for him. In SU’s exhibition win over Carleton, Joseph poured in 19 points and opened up the paint for Rakeem Christmas to explode for 13 second-half points.And when Joseph is asked about a hole in his game, he smiles and tilts his head back. Then he squints his eyes and it’s hard to tell if he’s trying to find or pick one.“I need to shoot the 3 better, I’m working on it,” Joseph said.In high school, Joseph headed to the Cushing (Massachusetts) Academy gym before school every morning and made 500 3-pointers. He doesn’t have the time to do that in college, but knows that a polished long-range jump shot would add another dimension to his encompassing game.“The janitors here know me well,” he says, laughing, of the Carmelo K. Anthony Basketball Center. “They really do.”CHRIS MCCULLOUGHMcCullough took a ball at Orange Madness on Oct. 17 and smirked at his teammates.Then the 6-foot-10, 220-pound freshman ran at a girl holding a Jim Boeheim big head, leapt, spread his legs and cleared it clean before throwing a dunk through the rim. The feat didn’t even win the event’s dunk contest — sophomore guard B.J. Johnson did — but it was a flash of the McCullough’s athleticism.“Chris is really a freak,” Cooney said. “I know he wears C.J. (Fair)’s number, but I see a lot of Jerami in him and ability to get to where he wants on the floor and finish strong.”At the Salisbury (Connecticut) School, Brewster (New Hampshire) Academy and then IMG (Florida) Academy, McCullough was a standout player that surfaced as ESPN’s 24th-best player and fifth-best power forward in the Class of 2014. But his high school dominance creates an obstacle of sorts at Syracuse, where he won’t be able to get to the rim with ease and rely on his willowy frame to dominate on both ends.Instead, McCullough is being asked to play with his back to the basket in the paint in the high post and stretch the floor with deep mid-range jump shots, to serve as a liaison between the Orange’s guards and Christmas. Points will have to come from all of that.“The thing I’ve been focusing on most is working on the low post,” McCullough said. “Because I have worked in the high post in the past and know that role … If I can get my post moves down, I’ll be deadly.”To do that, McCullough has been working with Autry and the SU big men so he can play the center position in the team’s base four-around-one set. That spot is usually occupied by Christmas, but the Orange can’t expect one player to play the middle of the zone and offense for full games at a time.That’s where McCullough comes in — with versatility that is both apparent and ready to bloom.“He’s like a pterodactyl,” said Hopkins, stretching his arms out as far as he could. “He can just go up and grab both sides of the rim. It’s very impressive.”McCullough is Syracuse’s tallest player and, in different lineups, he will be an undefined forward as the season starts. The high post gives him an opportunity to establish a jumper and ensuing driving lanes. The low post is a chance to use his length around the rim and draw fouls. A roaming spot on the wing is where he can experiment off the dribble and mix in 3s.Against Carleton, McCullough elevated from the top of the arc and buried a triple. No one could contest it and it swished through the net without nicking the rim.And the next step for McCullough — looking past offense, defense and what he’ll need to do to contribute right away — is for him to be a presence.He’s quiet, almost shy, but demanding the ball will be a huge factor in how big of a factor he’ll be.“I’m not too worried about getting the guys to look to me,” McCullough said. “I think the coaches are going to make it happen, and then I will have make it keep happening.”Fresh OutlookTwelve years ago, Syracuse headed into the 2002–03 season with 41 percent of its scoring from a season before — just 4 percent higher than the number the Orange has now.That team was led by two freshmen — one that plays for the New York Knicks and another that sits on the Syracuse bench — and finished the year clipping down a championship net.Joseph’s not McNamara. McCullough’s not Carmelo Anthony. The prospect of Syracuse winning the second national championship in program history is a slim one and doesn’t rest on Joseph and McCullough’s shoulders.But the freshmen have each been given a set of keys.“I’ve seen a team be led by freshman,” said McNamara, almost wistfully. “This team needs those guys to be locked in.” Commentslast_img read more