Anthony lifts Syracuse to new heights

Ncaa Championship Game

April 08, 2003|By MIKE PRESTON

NEW ORLEANS - Seconds after guard Kirk Hinrich missed a desperation three-point shot from the corner at the buzzer, Syracuse forward Carmelo Anthony ran toward midcourt, hugged a teammate and then stretched out on his back.

His Syracuse teammates piled on, with Anthony on the bottom.

He had been the Orangemen's foundation most of the season, and he played another major role last night as Syracuse defeated Kansas, 81-78, at the Superdome to win the NCAA Division I men's basketball championship.

Anthony, a 6-foot-8 forward from West Baltimore, became part of the improbable road to success as the Orangemen won the title with two freshmen and two sophomores in the starting lineup. One freshman happened to be Anthony, who may have become the best player in the country after a great postseason.

Anthony finished the game with 20 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists, shooting 7-for-16 from the field, including three of five from three-point range. Anthony left the pro scouts with only two questions. One is whether he is going to leave Syracuse now that he has won a national championship, and the other is whether he should be the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft over high school sensation LeBron James.

Anthony's stock has risen through the postseason, and he has closed the gap on James. No player had a better tournament.

If Anthony turns pro after this season, you can't blame him. It's hard to turn down a carrot worth several million dollars. Here is a guy who started out at the age of 8 playing on a broken-down court behind a 7-Eleven in a drug-infested, crime-ridden community in West Baltimore.

He played until it was dark, or until everyone else left the court. He moved on to develop his game at Mount Royal Recreation Center, where he learned discipline and coaches challenged his manhood at an early age.

The next stop was on to Towson Catholic, then to Oak Hill Academy, and finally at Syracuse. The career is still short, but it's already been one sensational ride.

Oh, has it ever.

Last night, his focus wasn't on the future, but on what Syracuse had just accomplished, winning Jim Boeheim his first national championship.

"I know he's happy," Anthony said about Boeheim. "Tonight, he's probably the happiest man on Earth."

And what about Anthony?

"I've never had a feeling like this," Anthony said. "This is the best feeling I've ever had in my life."

And now, he gets a chance to fulfill another dream.

He should be the No. 1 pick. James may become a great player, but at this time Anthony has already proved a lot more in the national spotlight. The 18-year-old has played against some of the best college players and coaches in the country, and almost no one could devise a strategy to stop him. After last night's game, he was chosen as the Final Four's Most Outstanding Player.

A player less than one year removed from high school dominated the college scene, let alone leading his university to the NCAA championship game. Wow. The only other freshmen who have had such an impact in the Big East were Patrick Ewing, Pearl Washington and Chris Mullin, and none won a national title his first season.

That's pretty good company.

As he stood up on the awards platform, Syracuse fans chanted, "One more year! One more year!"

They know he is the complete package. He has the jumper, incredibly strong hands and arms, and a quick vertical leap. He can play inside with an assortment of post moves or take bigger forwards outside and blow by them off the dribble. Maybe Anthony's biggest asset is that he is a team player, the ultimate scoring machine who can still find ways to get his teammates involved in the game.

When NBA scouts get a closer look at Anthony, they'll find out how marketable he is because he has charisma galore. He is well-spoken, and that smile, that great-looking smile, will have Nike and Reebok gushing to sign him to a long-term deal.

Coming of age

Syracuse's Carmelo Anthony is the third freshman to be named the Final Four Most Outstanding Player. The winners:

Yr. Player School

'44 Arnie Ferrin Utah

'86 Pervis Ellison Louisville

'03 Carmelo Anthony Syracuse

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