In the off-season, when it's acceptable for conversation to digress from basketball, coach Jim Boeheim and junior guard Gerry McNamara often speak about their other passion: fishing. But it wasn't until last month that they finally cast lines together, angling for smallmouth bass near campus on Oneida Lake. "Fishing is something I've always loved; it's a great escape," McNamara says. "That was not a very good day of fishing, though--we only got three in the boat."
Three is usually not a disappointing number for McNamara, the 6'2" native from Scranton, Pa., whose long-range feats might sound like fish stories if the box scores didn't back them up. As a freshman he hit six three-pointers in the first half of Syracuse's 81--78 win over Kansas in the national championship game, and as a sophomore he nailed nine and scored 43 points in an 80--75 win over BYU in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Despite battling injuries to his groin, pelvis and shoulder in the final three months of last season, McNamara made a school-record 120 treys as Syracuse went 23--8 before losing to Alabama in the Sweet 16.
The burden on McNamara, however, may have been too great. He had to take on the dual duties of gunner and floor general last February, when point guard Billy Edelin left the team for personal reasons, and never missed a game because of his injuries. The Orange's success, meanwhile, had a direct correlation with McNamara's offensive output: He averaged 18.5 points in their 11 Big East wins and 10.4 in their five losses. "Last season we could lose if I was off or Hakim [Warrick, now a senior forward] was off," he says. "This year we're more balanced, and that's going to be the difference."
The development of three sophomore forwards, Louie McCroskey, Demetris Nichols and Terrence Roberts, who saw limited action last season, should provide added scoring options. And if speedy freshman point guard Josh Wright emerges, he will allow McNamara to move back to shooting guard, his more natural position. McNamara was concerned enough about his health to rest and rehab for nearly three months during the summer, but he cares little about which position he plays. "Everyone's worried whether I'm a one or a two," McNamara says. "I'm just a guard. I can make plays or I can shoot. Whatever this team needs is what I'm going to do."
2003--04 RECORD: 23--8 (11--5, T3 in Big East)
TOURNAMENT: Lost to Alabama in Sweet 16
Orange will fly with Wright leading the break and McCroskey, Warrick and Nichols filling the lane.
ENEMY LINES an opposing coach's view
"Hakim Warrick almost demands a double team. He's usually in the mid-post area shooting jumpers over guys three to six inches shorter. And you have to put a body on him when a shot goes up because he's liable to make momentum-changing tip dunks.... Craig Forth plays because coach Jim Boeheim trusts him. Boeheim values a guy who understands how to be a stabilizing force in the middle of the zone.... Demetris Nichols is an excellent fit in their zone because he can steal or tip crosscourt passes and he's hard to shoot over.... Louie McCroskey is a real junkyard dog; he'll get plenty of rebounds and steals."
Whether he's playing the point or the two, McNamara will be counted on to light it up from long range.