Somehow, it’s been a solid 10 years since Syracuse went on its magical run and cut down the nets in New Orleans. And like every true fan, I find myself constantly reminiscing about the glory days. That 2002-2003 season was full of so many amazing moments. GMac’s game-winner against Notre Dame. The Pitt comeback. Warrick’s dunk on Royal Ivey. And of course, The Block. Oh, and did I mention Carmelo Anthony? Carmelo Anthony.
When I sat down and started writing down what I remembered from the 2003 title run, it brought back some great memories from my freshman year and got me feeling pretty nostalgic. So I figured I’d do my best to put together a list of my most vivid memories from the 2002-2003 Syracuse basketball season. If you’ve got some of your own, I’d love to see them in the comments.
Oh, and I’ll be referring to Syracuse as the Orangemen because guess what, that’s what they were called back then…
1. Syracuse actually lost its first game of the season
The 2001-2002 season was pretty tumultuous for the Orangemen, and without going too far into what actually happened, the 2002-2003 team largely featured a new cast. Syracuse had itself two stud freshmen in Carmelo Anthony and Gerry McNamara, but it took them some time to gel. In the first game of the season, the Orangemen lost to a Memphis team led by Rodney Carney, 70-63. Luckily, this would not become a trend.
2. Billy Edelin was suspended for the first 12 games of the season
Billy Edelin’s tenure at Syracuse is still one of the most confusing things for SU fans to figure out. Heck, there was even a prominent college basketball blog named “Searching for Billy Edelin“. Anyway, supposedly, before the season, Edelin played in a non-NCAA-sanctioned pickup basketball league, which led to his suspension. Then, in 2003-2004, he left the team for “personal reasons”. In 2004-2005, he was declared academically ineligible for the fall semester. Eventually, he just disappeared, I think.
3. The small contingent of fans that called themselves “Craig Nasties”
These guys were actually pretty funny. Syracuse’s sophomore center, Craig Forth, was one of the most loved/hated players in Orangemen history. For a 7-footer, he wasn’t as unathletic as much of the fan base made him out to be. But he wasn’t the most gifted offensive player either, which led many to criticize his play on a daily basis.
Enter the “Craig Nasties”, a small group of fans 100% dedicated to Forth. I don’t know if they actually liked Forth or just wanted to be ridiculous and support the goofiest player on the team, but they sure made themselves known. Whenever Forth scored, these guys went bananas.
4. SU’s awful loss to Rutgers on a bank-shot 3-pointer
Syracuse had one bad loss during the 2002-2003 season, and it was to Rutgers, a team that finished 4-12 in Big East conference play. Some guy named Herve Lamizana, who I believe was what basketball fans call a “chucker”, hit a bank-shot 3-pointer that wound up as the winning basket. How SU lost this game I’ll never understand, but it set the table for one of the most memorable nights of my life – the Pitt game.
5. The Pitt comeback
Simply put, the end of this game was unlike any other in college basketball history. Syracuse, up against the No. 2 team in the nation, was able to tie the game late on two free throws by the notoriously horrible-at-the-line Jeremy McNeil, and took the lead with three seconds go to on a put-back (also McNeil) off of a Gerry McNamara miss. But after that? Things got weird.
Pitt inbounded the ball to Carl Krauser, who fumbled it and then quickly called timeout. The clock ran down to 0, so we (I was in the third row) all rushed the court, thinking we’d won the game. After the officials determined Pitt still had .8 seconds to work with, security somehow got us all off the court. The Panthers inbounded the ball to Brandin Knight, who turned, pump-faked and shot, nailing an absolute prayer. I remember feeling like an idiot – did we really rush the court and then lose this game? Half of the fans on the court were convinced we’d won, with the other half absolutely stunned. Jim Boeheim had to get on the microphone and tell us to get off the floor so that they could “figure out what happened here.”
Finally, it was announced that the shot left Knight’s hand after the buzzer sounded. So yeah, we rushed the court a third time – in one game. Show me another instance where that has happened.
6. Carmelo Anthony was impossible to guard
This seems obvious in retrospect, considering Anthony is one of the best scorers in the NBA, but at the time, nobody really realized how developed his game was in college. Anthony was able to score from anywhere on the floor, which is extremely rare for an 18-year old. His biggest asset? His post game. Anthony was consistently able to abuse opponents in the paint, which made him different from other freshmen phenoms.
7. Gerry McNamara’s 3-pointer against Notre Dame
Gerry McNamara was a huge part of Syracuse’s title run (not to mention what he did in 2004, 2005 and of course, 2006).
With the Orangemen trailing 80-79 and the shot clock turned off, Billy Edelin brought the ball up for what we all assumed would be the final possession of the game. But Notre Dame’s Matt Carroll got a bit frisky and jumped up on Edelin, leaving his man, McNamara, wide open in the corner. You probably remember what happened next.
But there was still room for another memorable moment from the same game…
8. Hakim Warrick chucking the ball into the air with five seconds still left on the game clock
Notre Dame still had one last possession to tie or win the game. Matt Carroll drove to the hoop, but was stuffed by Jeremy McNeil. Warrick grabbed the loose ball, and, thinking the game was over, launched the ball as high as he could into the air in celebration. But there were still five seconds left on the clock…
Miraculously, the ball actually landed on the court, and after a scrum in which neither team gained possession, the buzzer sounded. Warrick had somehow run down the last five seconds on the clock on a mental error, and the Orangemen won.
9. The “Hey Song”
I can tell you that, for sure, no poet wrote the words to this chant. The fact that we were rhyming the “U” from “S-U” and the word “you” didn’t exactly make us sound like geniuses, but hey, it was fun.
Set to “Rock and Roll, Part 2” by Gary Glitter, this lovely number allowed us to tell opponents what we thought of their programs. I remember it vividly from the 2002-2003 season, though not so much as time went on. I know that the school eventually banned it – though I’m surprised it took so long.
Here’s a 2007 rendition:
10. Kueth Duany’s presence was essential
When people talk about the 2003 title run, they talk about Carmelo Anthony, Gerry McNamara and Hakim Warrick. But arguably the most important player from that season was senior captain Kueth Duany.
Duany was a much better player than he’s given credit for. He was absurdly athletic, yet was able to stretch the floor and hit the occasional 3-pointer to keep the defense honest. And while his statistics weren’t as gaudy as some of the other Orangemen stars, his leadership played an important role in keeping the young stars locked-in down the stretch in big games.
11. Billy Edelin single-handedly got us back into the Oklahoma State game
Long before the Orangemen knocked off Oklahoma, Texas and Kansas in their assault on the Big 12, Syracuse had a tough time getting out of the second round against another school from that conference – Oklahoma State. In fact, the ‘Cuse trailed 23-6 at one point the first half.
Seemingly out of nowhere, Edelin took over. He used his body to back down OSU’s guards and get easy layups. He connected with fellow bench contributor Josh Pace on a number of consecutive possessions. He led the Orangemen on a 15-4 run that got Syracuse back to within six by halftime. From there, McNamara and Anthony were able to hit enough key shots in the second session to advance the Orangemen. But it was Edelin’s 20 points on 8-of-12 shooting that made it all possible.
12. Hakim Warrick’s dunk on Texas’ Royal Ivey
There are no words for how jacked up I was when this happened. Hakim Warrick had become known for posterizing opponents during the 2002-2003 season, but this was another level – it was in the Final Four. I felt for Royal Ivey…nah, I didn’t.
There was a fun name for this dunk (which I later named my intramural team), but I’m not sure it’s appropriate.
13. Gerry McNamara’s six 3-pointers in the first half against Kansas
If you’re a Syracuse fan, you know that in both 1987 and 1996, SU reached the title game and lost. Naturally, fans were worried that it would happen again, and Jim Boeheim would be the hard-luck loser for a third time. Gerry McNamara’s first half erased all doubts that the Orange were going to lay an egg.
McNamara was shooting out of his mind, hitting six 3-pointers in the game’s first 20 minutes. While he eventually lost his touch in the second half, he did enough damage early to give the ‘Cuse a lead it wouldn’t relinquish.
14. Kansas was atrocious from the free throw line
Syracuse got a little help on its way to a national championship. Kansas’ offense was largely run through Nick Collison, one of the best big men in the country. Because of this, the Jayhawks played an inside-out type of game, which usually leads to a hefty number of foul calls on opponents. Kansas’ strategy was no different against Syracuse, and the Jayhawks racked up 30 free throw attempts.
The problem (for them) was, they only hit 12 of them. In a game where KU was constantly playing catch-up and eventually only lost by three, that statistic was arguably the most telling of the night.
15. The Block
Hakim Warrick could have been the goat. With SU clinging to an 81-78 lead, Warrick stepped to the free throw line with a chance to ice the game for the Orangemen. But he missed both shots, and Kansas was given yet another opportunity to tie the game.
KU brought the ball up on the right side, eventually swinging it to Kirk Hinrich. Hinrich faked a shot, and made a great pass to Michael Lee in the corner. Lee, realizing there was almost no time on the game clock, set up to take the shot, seemingly wide open.
But Warrick closed out on him for one of the most memorable blocks in NCAA history.
16. I honestly thought (at the time) Kueth Duany was going to be called for goaltending on KU’s final shot
Yes, I’ve seen the replay by now (only 1,000 times). But at the time, from where I was sitting in the Carrier Dome, watching it on a gigantic television, my first thought was “oh my God, that was goaltending”. I realize now that Hinrich’s shot was way off, but man was I worried there for a second.
17. Juli Boeheim’s face almost made me cry
There was so much pure joy on Juli Boeheim’s face when she realized that Hinrich’s shot had missed. Her husband had been so close to reaching that moment in the past – and now it was here.
If it was one of the happiest moments of my life, you can imagine how she (and Jim, of course) felt. She almost got me to shed a tear.
18. Getting caught in the equivalent of a mosh pit on the Carrier Dome field
Obviously, the game was not played in Syracuse. But that didn’t mean we didn’t celebrate in the same fashion that we had all year – by storming the floor. Almost everyone in the stands at the Dome jumped the railings and started jumping up and down on the field. I distinctly remember fearing for my life at one point. Thankfully, I was able survive the insanity.
19. People climbing the trees on Marshall Street
This happened after the Texas game, too. Sure, there were people lighting fires, throwing bottles and taking their shirts off. We had cops in riot gear. But we also had kids climbing the trees on Marshall Street and swinging back and forth on them, which I found to be pretty crazy. I also remember one of the branches breaking and some kid falling down pretty badly. Sadly, I can’t find a video of that one.
20. It’s Syracuse, so fittingly, on the night of the championship (in April), it was snowing
April 7th might seem a little late in the year for it to be snowing, until you remember that we’re talking about Syracuse. I remember thinking to myself, “this is so typical, that on the night we win the NCAA title, in April, it’s still snowing.” If you’re a Cuse grad or have ever lived in the area, you get what I’m saying. Luckily, there are plenty of pictures from that night, so it’s easy to prove.
This is easily my favorite memory of the season. It was Syracuse fans doing what they do best. Dealing with snow, and rooting on the Orangemen.
Orange fans, I hope you enjoyed the list. Please feel free to share your memories as well.