As the first McDonald's All-American out of Rhode Island and the star of his high school's production of Aladdin, Michael Carter-Williams was not accustomed to being a background player. But as a freshman stuck behind a future NBA lottery pick and two upperclassmen at guard last season, he didn't even get off the bench in six of the final 15 regular-season games. Flustered by his lack of playing time—and upset by an argument with an assistant coach—Carter-Williams stormed out of a practice shortly before the NCAA tournament and retreated to the Syracuse locker room with his mind on a greater escape. "I wanted to get out of here," he recalls.
Enter teammate Dion Waiters, who would be the NBA's No. 4 draft pick in June, with a timely pep talk: Stay with it, and your chance will come. "I learned a lesson that day," Carter-Williams says. "Times are going to be hard, but stick to what you're good at."
Waiters and three starters are gone, clearing the way for Carter-Williams and a new crop of players to take central roles. A 6'6", 185-pound point guard, Carter-Williams used his understudy season to develop the handle needed to protect the ball against smaller, quicker defenders. The promise he showed when he did play in games—eight assists and no turnovers against George Washington last December, 13 points and a tomahawking dunk-of-the-year candidate at St. John's in February—suggest he will be a breakout star.
Senior guard Brandon Triche provides experience and shooting, while freshman center DaJuan Coleman joins last year's five-star recruit, 6'9" Rakeem Christmas, up front. It will be up to Carter-Williams to help strike the offensive balance that defined the team last season. "He got through it," says coach Jim Boeheim of his point guard's rough first year, "and he's maybe the key guy for us." Sounds as if it was a good idea for Carter-Williams to stick around.
ROUND OF 32
ROUND OF 64
Projected Starting Five
COACH Jim Boeheim (37th season)
2011--12 RECORD 34--3
BIG EAST 17--1 (1st)
WHAT'S BACK Minutes: 47.9% Points: 42.7% Rebounds: 50.1%
*High school stats
107 GAMES (out of a possible 107) started by Brandon Triche. He needs 37 more appearances to equal Stevie Thompson's Syracuse record of 144 games played (1986--87 through '89--90).