Leading up to the 2021-22 Syracuse basketball campaign, it’s a good time for a 10-part series highlighting the best of the Boeheim era (1976-present).
I’ll give my takes, ranking the “Top 3” in many categories, from best free throw shooters to most exciting on a fast break. From top games in the Dome, to top games in the NCAA tourney and everything else in between.
I was 7-years-old in 1976 when Jim Boeheim, who is second all-time in career victories within Division I men’s basketball, became the head coach of the Orange. If I haven’t watched (or listened on the radio) intently to every single Syracuse basketball game since then, then it’s close to 98%.
Statistical facts in each Top 3 are fueled by the awesome OrangeHoops.org web site.
Part 1: Top 3 Triple Doubles.
Part 2: Top 3 Free Throw Shooters.
Part 3: Top 3 Most Exciting on Fast Break.
Part 4: Top 3 Games at the Carrier Dome.
Part 5: Top 3 Shot Blockers.
Part 6: Top 3 Scorers.
Today, it’s Part 7: My Top 3 Dunkers of the Boeheim era:
First of all, before listing the Top 3 Dunkers, my favorite individual dunk in Syracuse basketball history was by CJ Fair, when he put an exclamation point on the end of the Georgetown Big East rivalry at Madison Square Garden during the 2013 Big East Tournament. Syracuse basketball would be moving to the ACC the next year, and the Orange vs. Hoyas rivalry had been the lifeblood of the Big East, which we all loved. Loved to hate Georgetown and we had to beat them this one last time. The game was hard-fought, low-scoring, and went to OT. Then CJ dunked emphatically over Georgetown’s best player Otto Porter in heavy traffic at a critical moment in the game, and all was right in the world.
CJ is one of the great Orange dunkers ever, but here are the three best under Jim Boeheim:
1. Hakim Warrick, 2001-2005
The wiry 6-8, 210-pound forward’s dunking story begins at the 2003 NCAA Final Four, where he had perhaps the program’s best dunk ever vs. Texas and their highly-touted defender, Royal Ivey. Forever known as the Tea-bag Dunk, it came in the national semifinal game, on the baseline, and served notice this young Syracuse basketball team was not going to back down to anyone on its way to the program’s first national championship.
As analyst Billy Packer exclaimed simply, “What a dunk!”
But Warrick’s story above the rim did not end there. This one vs. Notre Dame was practically like a jump shot that turned into a dunk. His outstretched arm defied the laws of physics, and sent announcer Bill Raftery off: “Bring your lunch!”
Warrick, of course, was much more than just a dunker. He went on to be the fifth-highest scorer in Syracuse basketball history, averaging 15.4 points per game in his four years including 20 per game over his last two seasons. And he gathered the fourth most rebounds in Orange history with 1,024, averaging 7.59 per game.
Hakim was the Big East Player of the Year his senior season, chosen in the first round of the 2005 NBA Draft and averaged almost 10 ppg in eight years in the League, with plenty of dunks.
Warrick, one of the great success stories in Jim Boeheim’s coaching career, had come in fairly unheralded, improved every year, won a Natty, got us out of our chairs with many spectacular plays and despite all his stats and accolades, having played his career a bit in the shadows of Melo and G-Mac, is maybe the most underrated player in SU history.
Retire his number and play his highlights:
2. Stephen Thompson, 1986-1990
Two words: Alley. Oop.
The alley-oop was already perhaps the most exciting play in basketball, but when Syracuse basketball point guard Sherman Douglas would loft the ball up, and Stevie Thompson brought it home, the two combined to advance the play into an art form.
They said Thompson was 6-foot-4, but he seemed a lot shorter than that, until he left the ground. He could rise faster and higher off two feet than anyone in college basketball. His leaping ability, and his aggressiveness around the rim, led to Syracuse basketball being known for the dunk.
His junior year, Stevie shot 63.8% from the field, remarkable for a guard, until you remember most of his buckets seemed to be dunks. He was not a good outside shooter, and his free throw percentage that year was under 50%, but he got up and after the ball and had a focus on the rim that made every minute he was in a game exciting.
Part of a new California connection for Syracuse basketball, Thompson was from famed Crenshaw High in L.A., and he came off the bench for the Orange his freshman year as Syracuse basketball came within a bucket of winning the 1987 NCAA National Championship.
Stevie became a starter his sophomore year and scored 1,956 points in his four-year career, averaging 18 ppg his last two seasons during the most high-powered four-year stretch in Syracuse basketball history. The team was explosive and Thompson was one of the stars of the show with his dunks and most of all, how he finished countless alley-oops.
Thompson was also a great defensive player and had a short stint in the 1991-92 NBA season but his shooting held him back. He’s coached collegiately on the west coast for almost 20 years now.
3. Tony “Red” Bruin, 1979-1983
For me growing up, Dr. J was the benchmark for dunking in basketball games. No one was close to his flair for the dramatic, ability to palm the ball and soar, posterizing people it seemed every game.
But I had never seen anyone with a vertical leap like Tony Bruin. His 42-inch vertical became legendary. It almost became part of his name. You couldn’t even talk about Bruin without mentioning his incredible ability to rise up, and keep rising up, hanging in the air longer than anyone around him, so he could dunk in traffic like you hadn’t seen before.
The 6-5 forward was a highly recruited high school All-American and went on to average 11.6 points per game during his Syracuse basketball career, serving as tri-captain with Leo Rautins and Erich Santifer.
I’m actually not sure if Bruin had as many dunks as other Syracuse basketball players since a smaller percentage of his games were on TV back in the day, but his were the most memorable, highlight dunks of the time and they always seemed to happen in huge games on national TV.
Others of note:
– Derrick Coleman, who did everything, probably had the most dunks in Syracuse basketball history. Maybe only Warrick had more jams.
– Conrad McRae in the early 90s was exciting and thunderous around the rim.
– All-time basketball great Shaquille O’Neal himself has said it was Syracuse basketball center Rony Seikaly’s fierce pull-ups on the rim that inspired his signature dunks.
– Jonny Flynn was just 6-feet tall, but the electrifying point guard who racked up big numbers leading the Orange in the 2007-08 and 2008-09 seasons before going pro had perhaps the most awe-inspiring dunk in ‘Cuse history vs. Rutgers in 2009. He made one move from the wing, flew to the basket and literally dunked on the whole stadium. This one got you up off your feet and you talked about it for days:
Next time: My Top 3 NCAA games in the Boeheim era