Anthony, McNamara at center of Syracuse's youth movement

Two freshman standouts put Orange on title path

Final Four

April 03, 2003|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

On their first run through the NCAA tournament, Carmelo Anthony and Gerry McNamara are acting like old hands. They are freshmen in name only at Syracuse, veterans of 33 college games and soon to be one Final Four.

Already, they have changed the landscape of Syracuse basketball. Now they will attempt to take coach Jim Boeheim where he has never been: up the ladder to cut down a net on the final Monday night of the season.

The Orangemen will tell you this 28-5 season is no surprise, that they saw all this coming back in the fall during open gym workouts. That's when Anthony and McNamara showed up and poured it on.

"It didn't take long," sophomore forward Hakim Warrick said. "When they first started playing, we knew they were special."

Who knew how special? Anthony, a marvelously skilled 6-foot-8 forward from Baltimore, is the national Freshman of the Year. McNamara, a gifted shooter and 6-2 point guard, joined Anthony as the only unanimous selections on the Big East's All-Rookie team.

On a team blooming with youth, Anthony is the leading scorer and rebounder. McNamara is the leading three-point shooter. Six of the team's top eight players are sophomores or freshmen, but the Orangemen don't seem to have any problem following the lead of their youngest players.

"I think the thing with Carmelo is, the players all accepted him because of who he is and the kind of person he is," Boeheim said. "They understand he's about winning, doing what's best for the team.

"I think any time a freshman comes in and takes 150, 200 more shots than the next guy, there's always a chance somebody might not react well to that, given the culture of today's player. But because he is who he is, I don't think that was ever an issue."

Actually, Anthony has taken 228 more shots than the next guy (Warrick), but no one is counting. He is averaging 22 points and 9.8 rebounds a game, with a .447 shooting percentage. He was named the East Regional's Most Outstanding Player in Albany, N.Y., on Sunday, and will arrive in New Orleans with a chance to repeat history of sorts.

A year ago, Maryland followed Calvert Hall's Juan Dixon to the national title. This year, Syracuse will try to ride Towson Catholic's Anthony. Does the road to the national championship run through Baltimore's Catholic League?

That's getting ahead of the game for now - Texas is the first hurdle for the Orangemen in Saturday's national semifinals. But there's no minimizing what Anthony has accomplished so far.

"It's obvious with his stats, he's had a bigger impact on our team and on the league, really, than any freshman has in a long time," Boeheim said. "You have to go back to Patrick [Ewing] and Chris Mullen and Pearl [Washington] as far as freshmen having an impact on the league. Those are the three guys as freshmen that have had the most impact, and I think probably [Allen] Iverson in recent history.

"But Carmelo's had at least equal or more impact than all those guys in what he's been able to do."

Anthony, 18, was The Sun's 2000-01 All-Metro Player of the Year for Towson Catholic. He spent a year at Oak Hill (Va.) Academy and could be in the NBA as soon as next season.

McNamara, 19, came from Scranton, Pa., where he was a prolific scorer. He has averaged 13 points a game this season. Billy Edelin, from Silver Spring, is a third contributing freshman off the bench.

Curiously, Boeheim said he expected more from McNamara this season than he did from Anthony.

"I've been a big believer in Gerry McNamara from the first day I saw him," Boeheim said. "I told some people, `This kid's going to be a great, great player,' and nothing's changed my mind.

"I think he's a better player than he's played this year. I think he's capable of doing more things. ... He's a throwback kind of player. Like Carmelo, nothing really fazes him on the basketball court. That's why they don't play like freshmen."

The two players meshed right from the beginning.

"The first time I saw him," McNamara said of Anthony, "he was killing people [in pickup games]. He left me shaking my head. He hasn't disappointed anyone. He's the best player I've ever played with."

Anthony felt the love all the way around. He was new, but it would be his team.

"The first day I stepped on the court, I felt like they had their arms open to me and took me in," he said. "From that day on, I knew I was around family and we were going to do good things this year."

At a glance

At New Orleans. TV: Chs. 13, 9.

Saturday's semifinals

Marquette (27-5) vs. Kansas (29-7), 6:07 p.m. Line: Kansas by 4 1/2

Syracuse (28-5) vs. Texas (26-6), 8:47 p.m. Line: Texas by 3 Monday's final

Semifinal winners, 9:22 p.m.

Syracuse at a glance

Founded: 1870

Location: Syracuse, N.Y.

Enrollment: 13,646

Tuition and fees: $22,800

Famous alumni:Sportscaster Marv Albert, actress Vanessa Williams, former Colt John Mackey

Academic ranking: Not ranked (below 50th nationally) according to U.S. News & World Report.

School colors: Orange and blue

Nickname: Orangemen

Last trip to Final Four: 1996

NCAA basketball titles: 0

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