Syracuse Basketball: Adrian Autry sees roster improvements everywhere

Syracuse basketball, Adrian Autry (Mandatory Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports)
Syracuse basketball, Adrian Autry (Mandatory Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports) /

This past Monday, official practices got underway for Syracuse basketball players, first-year head coach Adrian Autry and his coaching staff.

There’s a palpable buzz in the air in the 315, as Autry takes the helm following the March retirement of the legendary Hall of Famer, Jim Boeheim. Replacing Boeheim is no easy task, but much of the Orange fan base is excited about Autry being in charge moving forward.

This off-season, Autry and his assistants did a wonderful job bringing in multiple talented players via the NCAA’s transfer portal. As I’ve noted countless times in recent months, the Orange staff has also fared well on the recruiting trail, earning a 2024 four-star verbal commitment, reaffirming a four-star verbal pledge in that same class, and positioning itself for success in the 2025 and the 2026 cycles.

Come early November, we’ll start to see how Autry & Co. will fare in actual games during the 2023-24 season. The team’s roster for the upcoming term is athletic, deep and versatile, and Autry said in a recent interview that he’s seen a lot of strong improvements from returning guys.

Syracuse basketball first-year head coach Adrian Autry dishes on his current roster.

Recently, college basketball insider Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports headed to Central New York to watch a ‘Cuse practice. He caught up with Autry for a Q&A, where the Orange head coach provided some insights on his 2023-24 squad.

Rothstein asked Autry which of the Orange’s returning players have made the biggest jumps since a stanza ago, when the ‘Cuse went 17-15 overall. Autry says he’s seeing improvements from returnees across the board.

Regarding sophomore point guard Judah Mintz, who tested the 2023 NBA Draft waters but decided to return to the Hill for a second year, Adrian Autry said, “Obviously, Judah (Mintz) has come back and he’s better. He’s just a better player. He’s confident and he knows what’s going on. He’s shooting the ball much better.”

If Mintz can improve his long-distance shooting percentage in 2023-24, that will prove huge for the ‘Cuse, and I believe Judah will significantly contend for Atlantic Coast Conference and All-America honors as a sophomore.

Junior forward Benny Williams produced some excellent showings toward the end of the 2022-23 campaign, and I think he will be a star for the Orange this season. To that end, Autry said, “Benny (Williams) has kind of picked up where he left off at the end of last season. I don’t think people really understand — I think he averaged like 17 and 10 the last five games of the season or around there. That’s where he’s kind of picked things up.”

Autry also touched on sophomore small forward Chris Bell, sophomore forward Maliq Brown, and sophomore guard/small forward Justin Taylor. Bell, to me, is underrated from an athleticism standpoint, and he can really shoot the ball from deep. The same applies to Taylor.

Brown could be perhaps my favorite Syracuse basketball player in 2023-24. He just does all of the little things and makes the team better. He’s a good rebounder. He’s physical in the interior. He’s got high energy and contributes in ways that aren’t always reflected in the box scores day in and day out.

Here’s what Adrian Autry had to say about those three sophomores. “I think Chris Bell and Maliq (Brown) are both better. Maliq has added some weight and his game is really starting to round out a bit. I think that whole crew has gotten better. It’s valuable that they got the chance to play last season as freshmen. Justin Taylor has also been very solid. That group has all gotten better.”

Autry also discussed the four guys who transferred into the program: Central New York native and sophomore guard J.J. Starling (Notre Dame), sophomore guard Chance Westry (Auburn), redshirt sophomore guard Kyle Cuffe Jr. (Kansas), and junior center Naheem McLeod (Florida State).

The Syracuse basketball head coach said of these incoming transfers to Rothstein, “I think JJ is the perfect complement to Judah and I think you’ll see Judah’s playmaking ability increase because he doesn’t have to handle the ball all the time so he’ll be fresher. … Chance Westry (Auburn) is high level. Kyle Cuffe was at Kansas, but didn’t really play and Naheem (McLeod) was at Florida State and played a little, but not a lot. All of those guys complement this group.”

As we all know, over the past two seasons, Syracuse basketball went a combined 33-32 and missed the NCAA Tournament both years. Will the ‘Cuse return to the Big Dance come next spring? That remains to be seen.

But on paper, the team’s 2023-24 roster of 13 scholarship players is an exciting and intriguing one. I can’t wait to see them kick off the upcoming stanza in the near future, and my hope is that Adrian Autry has a tremendous first term as the Syracuse basketball head coach.

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