Wednesday, November 2, 2011

DaJuan Coleman: Syracuse Looking for the Man in the Middle

Coleman, from nearby Jamesville-Dewitt, is headed to 'Cuse in 2012 (Picture: Syracuse Post Standard)
With DaJuan Coleman's decision to attend Syracuse last week (beating out Kentucky and Ohio State), the Orange not only catapulted into a Top 10 recruiting class for 2012, but they also might have secured a dominant true center, something they've been searching for for a long time.

Coleman checks in at 6-10, 280 lbs, (for sake of comparison, Ohio State's super sophomore Jared Sullinger is listed at 6-9, 280) making him a true center in ever sense of the position. With the Fab Melo experience entering its second year, we should get a better sense of just how good he can be, or whether or not we need to move our hope in the middle to Coleman (Fab did look good in last night's exhibition against Cal State - LA, with 12 pts, 8 rebounds and 2 blocks).

With Fab's ceiling still unknown, and Coleman coming in next season, we started thinking when was the last time, Syracuse had a dominant center? Let's look back at the last 15 years.
  • On the cusp of the 15 year time frame we had the '96 final four team, that had three headed monster of John Wallace, Otis Hill and J.B. Reafsnyder  in the middle. With Wallace playing all over the court, Hill being more of a undersized four, and JB being a guy that rocked an undershirt and a pair of knee braces, we don't have that dominant post player here.
  • Next it was Etan Thomas. A first team All-Big East selection his senior year, and back-to-back Big East Defensive Player of the Year Awards, Thomas ended his career averaging 11 points, 6.9 rebounds and 3.4 blocks per game. Great on the defensive end of the court, solid on offense. The fact that he has also been a definition journeyman center in the NBA can tell you that he was a pretty damn good big man.
  • After Etan, Syracuse had a combination of Jeremy McNeil, Billy Celuck and Craig Forth. Here's what we can tell you about McNeil, who had the affectionate nickname of "Big Perm": his favorite movie back in 2002 was Training Day (insider information gained thanks to having a class together junior year), Boeheim enjoyed throwing him back as the last line of defense in the Syracuse press, giving him free reign to try and block or foul everythig that came near him, and he played a huge role in Syracuse's epic win over Pitt at the Dome in 2003. A follow up tip dunk and two crucial free throws led to my second and final court storming of my college career.
  • Not sure how many words to spend on Celuck. Let's put it this way. You had a better chance of seeing him at Lucy's or 44's than seeing him make a difference in the middle. With that said, he started numerous times and got decent minutes during the 2000-01 season.
  • Forth, who started every game of his four year career (136 for 136). He has a National Championship, regular season Big East Title, and three NCAA tournament trips. Known for his sometimes stone hands, and being one of the best all-around student athletes you'll ever meet, Forth was a local kid (Albany) who had a solid college, accomplished career.
  • Terrence Roberts and Daryl Watkins held down the lane for the Orange the next three years, which included two first round NCAA tournament losses and an NIT berth. Roberts, who came from St. Anthony's in New Jersey, was an athletic as heck power forward who never really lived up to the hype. Watkins was a raw, big body who, all things considered, had decent junior and senior year seasons averaging 8 points and 7 rebounds each year.
  • Give credit to Arinze Onuaku and Rick Jackson. For what they lacked in size and athleticism, they made up for it with good posts moves and they could both score with their back to the basket. Onuaku's unfortunate injury in the Big East Tournament in 2010 led to him missing NCAA tournament games, including the Orange's heartbreaking loss to Butler in the Sweet 16, when they Cuse was one of the favorites to go to the Final Four. Jackson also had is post season struggles. Despite being a double-double machine his senior season, he was held to 7 points and 4 rebounds when the Orange were bounced in Round 2 of the NCAA tournament last year.
  • Syracuse now has another three-headed monster in the middle, with Melo as a true center (7-0 and a slim-downed 244 lbs), Baye Keita (a long, athletic and raw 6-10, 213 - get this man some food), and freshman Rakeem Christmas (more of an athletic power forward at 6-9 - unless he grows back the "gumby" he rocked in high school). 
All signs are pointing to Fab being primed for a breakout sophomore season: he's in better shape, he's got a year of experience under his belt and it seems like he's having more fun thus far this year. If Fab is able to have a breakout year, that's fantastic - it makes next year's outlook even better. If he struggles again though, Syracuse at least can look forward to the potential of DC 2.0.

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