There's no stopping Anthony, Kansas finds

Anthony lifts Syracuse to new heights

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 lay stretched out on his back.

His Syracuse teammates all 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, who was named the Final Four's Most Outstanding Player, became part of the improbable road to success as the Orangemen won the title with two freshmen and a sophomore in the starting lineup. One freshman happened to be Anthony, the 6-foot-8 forward from West Baltimore 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 as he shot 7-for-16 from the field, including 3-for-5 from three-point range. Anthony left the pro scouts with few questions about his game, and the only one left was whether he would leave Syracuse for the NBA.

Kansas used three different players to defend Anthony - Nick Collison, Keith Langford and Michael Lee. They all had problems. Anthony opened the second half with a tip-in basket with 18:53 left, then made a three-pointer from the right corner with 13:17 remaining to put the Orangemen ahead 64-58. Anthony played 37 minutes, six more than any other Orangeman. Syracuse fans chanted "One more year!" as Anthony stood up on the awards stage.

Anthony's focus after the game wasn't on his future, but on what Syracuse had just accomplished, helping coach Jim Boeheim win his first national championship.

"I know he's happy," Anthony said about his coach. "Tonight he's probably the happiest man on Earth. I've never had a feeling like this. This is the best feeling I ever had in my life."

Anthony scored 13 points in the first half, and he was playing his kind of game. He has a subtle way of taking over without hogging the ball. Right from the outset, he was getting his teammates involved in the offense, and he finished the half with four rebounds and all of his seven assists.

Anthony's stock has risen through the postseason, and he has closed the gap on high school sensation LeBron James as the likely No. 1 overall pick in the NBA draft. No college player had a better tournament.

Actually, Anthony should be the top pick anyway. James may become a great player, but at this time Anthony has already proved a lot more. 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.

A player less than one year removed from high school dominated the college scene, leading his university to the NCAA championship. Only a few other freshmen have had such an impact in the Big East Conference, and their names happen to be Patrick Ewing, Pearl Washington and Chris Mullin.

That's pretty good company.

Anthony is the complete package. He has a jumper, incredibly strong hands and arms and a quick vertical leap. He can play inside with an assortment of post moves, and can take bigger forwards outside and blow by them off the dribble. Maybe his biggest asset is that Anthony 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.

If Anthony goes pro after this season, you can't blame him. It's hard to turn down those riches. Here is a guy who started out at age 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 a local basketball shop at Mount Royal recreation center, where he learned discipline and coaches challenged his manhood at an early age.

The next stop was Towson Catholic, then Oak Hill Academy in Virginia, and finally Syracuse. The career is still short, but it has already been one sensational ride.

Oh, has it ever.

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