Syracuse Basketball: Top 3 NBA players from ‘Cuse in Jim Boeheim era

Syracuse basketball, Carmelo Anthony (Photo by Nate Shron/Getty Images)
Syracuse basketball, Carmelo Anthony (Photo by Nate Shron/Getty Images) /

Leading up to the early part of 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 web site.

So far:

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.
Part 7: Top 3 Dunkers.
Part 8: Top 3 NCAA tournament games.
Part 9: Top 3 Family ties.
And today, it’s Part 10: Top 3 NBA players from Syracuse in the Boeheim era.

In all, 46 players in the Boeheim era have been drafted by NBA teams, with 23 of those being first-round selections.

The Syracuse basketball program, its Dome, conference (Big East, then ACC) and TV exposure, plus long runs by the Orange in the NCAA tournament, have enabled our players to gain a spotlight for NBA scouts.

Most of all, it is how Boeheim utilizes players in his system that gets names on NBA draft boards. Any ridiculous notion that playing zone at Syracuse stifles an NBA career is one of the most tired criticisms about players coming out of the program.

Of late, because of that Orange shine, some young players have left school a bit early with mixed-to-poor results in the NBA, but no one can blame them for striking while it was hot in a League that drafts largely on potential.

In most of those cases of Syracuse basketball players flaming out after being high draft picks, there were either extenuating circumstances such as injury, or it was because the coaching at Syracuse got the most out of players and the team, perhaps elevating their draft status.

But many of Boeheim’s players through the years have had successful careers of five or more years at the highest level. Before looking at my Top 3, here’s a quick list of those solid NBA players coming from the ‘Cuse:

–       Rafael Addison, one of my favorite Orangemen in the 1980s playing on the Pearl’s wing and making big shots for Syracuse basketball as the Big East took to orbit, played six years in the NBA between 1987-97, averaging almost 6 points per game in the League.

–       Michael Carter-Williams, who led Syracuse basketball to the 2013 Final Four, has been in the League since 2014, including winning the NBA Rookie of the Year Award that year, averaging 10.3 ppg in his NBA career.

–       Sherman Douglas was one of the best college point guards ever for Syracuse basketball, including guiding the team to the National Championship game in 1987, and also was a solid NBA point guard for 12 years, from 1990-2001, averaging 11 points a game and dishing out 4,536 assists (and a lot of alley-oops).

–       Jason Hart, Syracuse’s all-time leader in steals, played point guard for 9 years in the NBA, from 2001-2010, averaging 4.8 points.

–       Wesley Johnson helped Syracuse basketball to a 30-5 record and a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament in 2010, before playing nine years in the NBA (2011-2019), averaging 7 ppg.

–       Louis Orr, one of Boeheim’s first recruits whose Orangemen teams were a combined 100-18 from 1976-1980, played a solid forward in the NBA from 1981-88, averaging 9.8 points per game and had more than 2,000 rebounds.

–       Billy Owens was one of Boeheim’s most prized recruits and went pro after three spectacular years for the Orange, playing 10 years in the NBA from 1991-2001, averaging 11.7 points over his career for seven different teams.

–       Etan Thomas, Syracuse’s all-time leader in blocked shots, played nine years in the League from 2002-2011, averaging 5.7 points.

–       Dion Waiters wasn’t a starter for two loaded Syracuse basketball teams, but he was so awesome during the playing time he got, that he was the No. 4 overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft and played eight years in the League (2013-2020), averaging 13.2 points per game.

–       John Wallace capped a brilliant 4-year career in Orange by leading Syracuse basketball to the 1996 NCAA National Championship game, then played seven years in the NBA from 1997-2004, averaging 7.6 ppg.

–       Hakim Warrick was an All-American for the ‘Cuse, and we all remember his block to save the 2003 National Championship for Boeheim’s Orangemen. Warrick played forward in the NBA for eight years (2006-2013), averaging 9.4 points per game.

There are three former ‘Cuse active in the NBA today with great NBA up-side: Jerami Grant (2015-present, including a spot on Team USA at this year’s Olympics), has a chance to be one of the best ever, averaging 10 points per game in his career and rising; Oshae Brissett, since 2020 in the NBA, has looked strong of late, and Elijah Hughes is in his second NBA campaign for the Utah Jazz.

While Syracuse grad Dave Bing (1963-66) was recently announced as one of the top 75 players in the history of the NBA, he didn’t play for Jim Boeheim so he doesn’t qualify for my Top 3 list. Bing was Boeheim’s roommate at SU.

Another player in the NBA’s top 75 with Syracuse ties is Dolph Schayes, but that was because he played for the NBA Syracuse Nationals, not the Orange.

Dolph’s son, Danny Schayes, DID play center for Boeheim, was a first round draft pick and played an amazing 18 years in the NBA from 1982-99, averaging 7.7 points per game and grabbing 5,671 rebounds for eight different teams. Danny’s teams played in 12 NBA Playoffs, and he is definitely on the list of best players from SU to play in the NBA, but not quite my Top 3:

1. Carmelo Anthony

Melo took Syracuse basketball to the promised land in 2003 as a freshman, entered the NBA draft, was selected third overall, and has gone on to be one of the greatest players in NBA history. He was named to the 75 greatest players ever this year, and is one of the top 10 scorers in the history of the League. Melo led the NBA in scoring in 2012-13 at 28.7 ppg. Anthony has averaged 23 points and 6 rebounds in 18 NBA years and counting, making 10 All Star teams.

Here’s a highlight video that selects Carmelo’s top 10 plays in the NBA, and he’s made dozens more that could be on this list:

2. Derrick Coleman

As a freshman at Syracuse, DC gathered 18 rebounds in the 1987 NCAA National Championship game. He played four years at Syracuse, set an all-time rebounding record that will likely never be broken at the school, and is still the second all-time scorer for Boeheim. He was selected No. 1 in the 1990 NBA Draft by New Jersey and went on to win the NBA Rookie of the Year Award, and in 15 years in the NBA (1991-2005) averaged a career 16.5 ppg and 9.5 rebounds. He made one All-Star Game.

A spectacular and tough player in the NBA, Coleman was underrated because of extremely high expectations. Coleman, fearless, had a famous dunk on Shaquille O’Neal once, and here’s highlights from a game in 1995 when he went back and forth with Shaq, ultimately leading his Nets to victory with 36 points and 11 boards:

3. Rony Seikaly

Rony learned the game at Syracuse, coming to the Orange in 1984 seemingly out of nowhere (he went to high school in Greece, and was born in Lebanon). He grew as a player every year, battling Patrick Ewing and other giants in the Big East, until leading the Orangemen to the NCAA Final Four in 1987.

Seikaly was the 9th pick in the 1988 NBA Draft by the Miami Heat, continued his constant improvement as evidenced by his NBA Most Improved Player Award in 1990, and had a great career in the League for 11 years, averaging a career 14.7 points and 9.5 rebounds per game playing center.

Did you ever hear about the time Seikaly out-dueled Michael Jordan? Watch here, how he led his Miami Heat past the Bulls with 30 points and 23 rebounds:

Next. Syracuse Basketball: 6-foot-8 guard makes huge entrance in new rankings. dark