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Syracuse Basketball: Recruiting for Orange in ACC just got even tougher

Syracuse basketball (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Syracuse basketball (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) /

Syracuse basketball has a solid five-member class in 2022, and the Orange remains in pursuit of at least one or two more prospects in this cycle, at least as far as I can tell.

The ‘Cuse, as we all know, also hauled in a five-star recruit in 2021, freshman forward Benny Williams. That being said, I think most of us Syracuse basketball fans out there would agree that the Orange has seen its recruiting take a dip in recent years since joining the Atlantic Coast Conference from the Big East Conference back in the 2013-14 campaign.

Well, things are about to get even more challenging for the ‘Cuse as it relates to recruiting against its ACC counterparts. Fellow conference member Louisville, which parted ways with head coach Chris Mack in late January, has found a strong replacement in Kenny Payne.

A player on Louisville’s 1986 NCAA championship team as a freshman, Payne most recently served as an assistant coach with the New York Knicks in the NBA.

According to a release from the Cardinals athletics department, prior to the Knicks, Payne spent 15 years as an assistant coach at Oregon and blue-blood squad Kentucky.

Syracuse basketball will face massive recruiting battles with Louisville.

Since the news broke that Payne was headed home to Louisville, I’ve seen a ton of media reports noting his recruiting connections, with national analysts saying that he will do a stellar job as far as recruiting goes with the Cardinals.

"In a recent piece, 247Sports national basketball director Eric Bossi wrote in part, “Prior to a short stint with the New York Knicks, Payne earned a reputation as arguably the top assistant in college basketball during stops at Oregon and most notably, Kentucky.”"

Former Orange 2022 commit Kamari Lands, a four-star wing, verbally committed to Louisville earlier this year. We’ll have to wait and see whether Lands honors that commitment or elects to move on, given the Cardinals’ head-coaching change.

In the larger context of ACC recruiting, Syracuse basketball already has its hands full with other league teams, and when head coach Jim Boeheim does retire at some point, it will prove interesting to find out how that impacts the Orange’s recruiting, good or bad.

But Payne coming on board at Louisville might not bode so well for the ‘Cuse. Additionally, North Carolina’s first-year head coach, Hubert Davis, who replaced the legendary Roy Williams, is recruiting at a high level since taking over the Tar Heels.

The same can be said for Jon Scheyer, who next season will replace the iconic Mike Krzyzewski at Duke. Adding Payne, a recruiting ace, into that mix is concerning for Syracuse basketball fans, without question.

Bossi, in his story, noted a variety of top-flight prospects whom Payne should take a close look at, and those high-school players include 2022 five-star guard Skyy Clark and 2023 five-star point guard D.J. Wagner.

Clark, a senior at the powerhouse Montverde Academy in Montverde, Fla., recently de-committed from Kentucky, ironically. Orange coaches have reportedly reached out to Clark.

Wagner, the consensus No. 1 junior, is a standout for Camden High School in Camden, N.J. ‘Cuse coaches offered him a scholarship last summer, although multiple national analysts and recruiting insiders have projected that he will choose Kentucky as his collegiate destination.

Given Payne’s deep roots as a successful college assistant coach, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if he makes a run at Clark, Wagner and other high-school players whom Syracuse basketball is attempting to land.

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