Orange has faith in 2nd freshman

Point guard McNamara, like Anthony, showing `no fear' in tournament

NCAA Men's Final Four


Ncaa Tournament

April 07, 2003|By Kevin Van Valkenburg | Kevin Van Valkenburg,SUN STAFF

NEW ORLEANS - He's a Syracuse freshman who plays like a veteran. He has hit big shots throughout the NCAA tournament, and every coach he has played against has nothing but good things to say about him.

And despite what you might think, his name is not Carmelo Anthony.

You can certainly say all that and more about Anthony, a 6-foot-8 forward who has been brilliant for the Orangemen this season, but his play makes it easy to overlook the contribution of another freshman, point guard Gerry McNamara.

McNamara scored 19 points in Syracuse's national semifinal win over Texas on Saturday night, and played solid defense on the Longhorns' All-America point guard, T.J. Ford, coming up with four big steals in the 95-84 victory.

"He is a big-game player," Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said of McNamara. "He just wants to take big shots. He has no fear."

McNamara will also be the first person to tell you he doesn't mind getting lost in Anthony's long shadow.

"I said yesterday that I thought [Anthony] was the best player in the country, regardless of class," McNamara said. "I'll just come out and say it. I see what he does day in and day out. Every award he wins and all the attention he gets, he deserves. I'm not worried who is overlooking me. I would have overlooked [my 19 points], too."

Syracuse was one of the first schools to heavily recruit McNamara when he was growing up in Scranton, Pa., but soon word got out and Duke, Florida and Penn State all came calling. It was Boeheim's offer to attend Syracuse just up the road, however, that ended up sticking.

"When I saw him the first time, he had like 36 relatives at the game," Boeheim said. "It didn't take a lot of thinking to realize he was going to stay close to home."

As for McNamara's play, Boeheim hasn't been surprised at all.

"When Gerry played in high school, he was a star for four years," Boeheim said. "He saw box-and-one defenses, he saw triangle defenses, everything, all of it designed to stop him specifically. So that's what made him the player he is. I honestly think it's easier for him at this level than it was in high school because he doesn't have three guys on him."

McNamara won't go that far, but he says he's not surprised a team as young as Syracuse is playing so well.

"You have to have confidence," McNamara said. "I highly believe in that. Being a freshman and coming right in and playing, the most important thing we bring is confidence. It's not a cocky or arrogant thing. ... Right now we believe in ourselves, and that's why we're playing well."

Graves fills void

When Drew Gooden decided to leave Kansas last season after his junior year and declare for the NBA draft, Roy Williams needed someone to step in and provide an inside presence for the Jayhawks. He didn't figure it would be junior forward Jeff Graves.

Graves, a junior college transfer, came into the season nearly 50 pounds overweight. He spent the first two months on the bench, trying to work his way out of Williams' doghouse and answering questions about his poor attitude. But when starter Wayne Simien - averaging 16 points a game at the time - dislocated a shoulder twice, Williams had little choice but to go with Graves.

The 6-foot-9, 275-pound forward responded with solid defense and had 10 or more rebounds in his first five starts. In the Jayhawks' 78-75 win over Arizona in the West Regional final, Graves was 6-for-6 from the field, scored 13 points and grabbed a career-high 15 rebounds.

"I'm just glad Coach stuck with me and gave me a chance to prove myself," Graves said. "He didn't say anything specifically about needed to step up when [Simien] got hurt, but I knew what I had to do."

Running from light

Boeheim and the five Orangemen starters got an unexpected scare yesterday during the Syracuse team news conference when a light fixture above their heads caught on fire and sent sparks showering down on top of them.

Boeheim stayed in his seat momentarily, but all five of his players bolted for the exits.

"We were just following our senior leader, Kueth Duany," McNamara said jokingly. "He was gone. Coach showed a lot of guts staying up there. I was a little nervous. It's probably going to be on TV, us running all over the place. I thought it was going to be like Michael Jackson getting his hair fried during that commercial."

Before basketball

Boeheim joked Friday that his first head coaching job at Syracuse wasn't quite as stressful as his current position. The first few years Boeheim was an assistant coach on the basketball team, he was also the head coach of the Syracuse golf team.

"That was a lot more fun because no media covered us," Boeheim said. "I just phoned in the scores, and I only phoned them in when we won. Everyone thought we were undefeated."

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