As a freshman during the 2007--08 season Antonio (Scoop) Jardine was a shooting guard in name only. "I remember Coach [Jim] Boeheim saying, 'If you shoot, you're coming out,' " Jardine says.
It was a smart strategy. The 6'2" Jardine, a highly recruited prospect from Philadelphia, hit just 27.8% from three-point range in his first season, and though he increased his percentage to 38.9 as a sophomore two years later (he redshirted 2008--09 because of a fractured left tibia), the number fell to 35.7% last season. Now, thanks to countless hours of practice during a whirlwind summer that also included trips to three Nike camps and a stint with USA Basketball at the World University Games in China, Jardine is ready to come out firing. "Scoop has worked harder than anybody I've ever had to go from being a bad shooter to a pretty good shooter," Boeheim says.
Jardine, whom Boeheim calls as good a leader as he has coached during his 35 years in Syracuse, will command this veteran team. The only player among the team's top 10 scorers who didn't return is 6'9" power forward Rick Jackson (13.1 points), and Boeheim has added two McDonald's All-Americans in 6'9" forward Rakeem Christmas and 6'5" guard Michael Carter-Williams. "This is the best team we've had in a long time," Boeheim says. "We have 11 guys who can all play."
Though Jardine's backcourtmate, 6'4" junior Brandon Triche, has also struggled with his shooting (33.3% from behind the arc last season), Syracuse's perimeter is loaded thanks to the return of last year's leading scorer, 6'7" senior swingman Kris Joseph.
The team's only area of concern is at center—again. "That was our biggest weak point last year. No question," Boeheim says. The answer will hopefully come from 7-foot Brazilian import Fab Melo. Last season's Big East preseason freshman of the year, Melo was drastically overweight and averaged just 2.3 points in 9.9 minutes per game. Now 245 pounds, Melo is nearly 30 pounds lighter than he was a year ago. "My reaction [ability] is so much better," he says. "Last year I would wait for the ball to come down to get the rebound. Now, if the ball is up there, I'm going to get it."
With Melo in better shape and Jardine showing better form, the Orange could be the best in the Big East.
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE
COACH Jim Boeheim (36th season)
2010--11 RECORD 27--8 BIG EAST 12--6 (T-3rd)
NCAA TOURNAMENT Round of 32
*High school stats
FREE THROW PERCENTAGE last year, which ranked 249th in the country. Syracuse's field goal percentage offense (47.2) and defense (39.4) was much more efficient, each ranking in the top 25.
With a lot of really good players but no great ones, the Orange excels in intangibles such as experience, leadership, toughness and chemistry, and wins the Big East.
The Orange again fails to find a go-to scorer in clutch situations, and Jardine continues his tendency to commit turnovers at critical points in the game.
SCOOP JARDINE After finishing second in the Big East in assists last season (5.9), the senior has added a sharper shot to his skill set.