Syracuse Basketball: Orange’s 2003 national title seems like a lifetime ago

Syracuse basketball (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Syracuse basketball (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) /

I’ll never forget where I was on that night in April of 2003 when Syracuse basketball won its first and only national championship.

I was living with my twin brother in Rockville, Md. I was an excited, nervous wreck the entire game. When then-freshman guard Gerry McNamara hit a half-dozen 3-pointers in the first half against Kansas, I felt like I was on cloud nine.

When Hakim Warrick, that athletic, lanky sophomore forward, made “the block” to essentially seal the title for head coach Jim Boeheim and his squad, I felt like I was on cloud 10.

Of course, for much of the second half, as the Jayhawks stormed back from a double-digit deficit (like I figured they would), I could barely watch.

My brother actually had to stop watching because he was so nervous. However, when the ‘Cuse prevailed by three points, he knew that our alma mater had emerged victorious, based on how loudly I was screaming.

Syracuse basketball is celebrating the 20th anniversary of its title team.

McNamara and Warrick each finished their tenures on the Hill within the top five of the program’s all-time career scoring list.

And as SU Athletics recently disclosed, both of these Orange legends will have their jerseys retired when Syracuse basketball hosts Wake Forest on Saturday, March 4, at the JMA Wireless Dome.

First and foremost, when I saw this news, I was absolutely delighted. McNamara, a ‘Cuse assistant coach, and Warrick, an assistant with the G-League Unite in the NBA G League, are two of the best players to ever suit up for the Orange.

They’re also two of my favorite all-time Syracuse basketball guys. What’s more, they both played a huge role in that 2002-03 stanza for the ‘Cuse.

As you’ll recall, Syracuse basketball started out that term unranked in the preseason polls. The Orange would finish 30-5 in 2002-03, capped off by a glorious run in the Big Dance that finally gave Boeheim a national championship after several heartbreaking setbacks in March Madness.

In having their jerseys retired, McNamara and Warrick will join 14 other former Syracuse basketball players who have also had their jerseys hung in the Dome rafters, including their 2002-03 teammate, Carmelo Anthony, and other ‘Cuse icons such as Dave Bing, Roosevelt Bouie, Derrick Coleman, Sherman Douglas, Lawrence Moten, Louis Orr, Billy Owens and Dwayne ‘Pearl’ Washington.

Undeniably, McNamara and Warrick deserve to have their jerseys retired on the Hill. They were fabulous in that 2002-03 term but also did many other wonderful things in their Syracuse basketball careers.

I can’t believe that it’s been (roughly) 20 years since the Orange cut down the nets. So much has happened since then, as far as the ‘Cuse program is concerned.

Sure, the team journeyed to the Final Four in 2013 and 2016. The squad has had numerous Sweet 16 runs and advanced to the Elite Eight in 2012.

But the move from the Big East Conference to the Atlantic Coast Conference has not proven a terrific one for Syracuse basketball, at least as regular seasons go.

Recruiting is down. Ace recruiter and long-time assistant Mike Hopkins left to take the top gig at Washington. There were NCAA sanctions.

Boeheim endured his first losing season in 2021-22, and while the 2022-23 roster has talent and promise, it’s certainly conceivable that the ‘Cuse might flirt with the .500 mark yet again in the current stanza.

A large and growing contingent of the Orange fan base is ready for Boeheim to retire. I get it. When he will retire, and who will replace him, are questions that we all want to be answered – asap.

It’s unlikely that Boeheim will get a second national title, but in celebrating the 20-year anniversary of that 2002-03 team, I wonder to myself, will Syracuse basketball, the program as a whole, with or without Boeheim, ever claim a second national championship?

Only time will tell. It’s been an interesting two decades since that beautiful night in April of 2003, when I nearly had an anxiety attack in praying that my favorite sports team, Syracuse basketball, would defeat those pesky Kansas Jayhawks.

I have tons of admiration, respect and love for McNamara and Warrick. Their jersey-retirement ceremony, I’m sure, will be poignant and memorable.

But fast-forward from then until now, and the Orange program is in a different place. A not-as-good place. Could that change in a positive manner? Perhaps.

Whether it does or doesn’t, though, nothing will ever, ever take away from what ‘Cuse Nation, myself included, felt on that evening in early April of 2003.

It’s an indescribable feeling and an inescapable memory that will be with me forever.

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