One of these years, we’re going to break this new (and fairly irritating) cycle of not knowing who will be on Syracuse’s basketball roster until the summer leading into the new season. Last year was particularly rough, with Andrew White not announcing until, basically, the final days in which he could and still be eligible. This year, Syracuse is in a similar position. But hopefully, things will get sorted much more quickly.
The Orange currently have two roster spots open for the class of 2017. Eight players are currently set to be on Syracuse’s 2017-18 roster, with Elijah Hughes taking up a ninth spot and sitting out the year. By now, it’s not much of a secret that the players being eyed for those final two spots are some combination of Marek Dolezaj, Eric Ayala, and Geno Thorpe.
Let’s start with Dolezaj. The 6-foot-9 wing from Slovakia could announce at any time, with Syracuse remaining his lone official visit. Obviously, the possibility of staying in Europe to play pro ball looms over the proceedings, and recently, Illinois assistant coach (and former Kentucky recruiting ace) Orlando Antigua began following Dolezaj on Twitter. It’s hard to say what’s going to happen with the skilled forward, whose recruitment has been one of the most mysterious for any Syracuse target in years.
That said, if forced to predict I’d say that chances are high that Dolezaj winds up taking one of the final two spots on Syracuse’s roster. It seems the likeliest outcome at the moment, all things considered.
After that, the final piece of the puzzle will be the addition of another guard. Right now, there are only two options on the table: Ayala, and Thorpe. Thorpe is a graduate transfer from South Florida, who began his career at Penn State, and is a native of Pittsburgh. It was recently reported that he’s down to Syracuse and Pitt.
Ayala, on the other hand, remains an interesting situation. Currently a member of the class of 2018, he’s stated numerous times in the past that he’s open to reclassifying to 2017. After all, he was originally a 2017 recruit before reclassifying into 2018, so flipping back to his original graduation year shouldn’t be an issue. Except, of course, for the AAU circuit.
See, Ayala is currently playing with We-R1 on the Under Armour circuit. The preliminary rounds on the UA circuit run through next weekend, but the finals take place July 12-15 in Atlanta. Did I mention that this is the 17U level? That plays an important role in figuring out what’s going on with his potential reclassification.
See, Ayala is 18 years old. Per AAU eligibility rules, a player can’t compete at the 17U level if he’s older than 17 as of August 31, 2017. However, there’s an exception: if he was in the 11th grade as of last fall, he can still compete at the 17U level. See where I’m going with this?
If Ayala were to announce a reclassification right now, he’d (presumably) become ineligible to compete with his 17U team, because his grade exception would get tossed out the window (again, presumably), since his 2016-17 academic year would technically now become his senior year (particularly since, if he remains at Putnam Science Academy this next year, it’d be a post-grad year instead of a true senior year, since – again – he was originally a member of the class of 2017 to begin with).
Because of this, it’s highly unlikely that any movement occurs for Ayala prior to the UA circuit championships in July. This is also educated speculation on my part, because obviously I can’t say for sure this is what’s going on behind the scenes in terms of delaying his decision, but it certainly makes sense based on some conversations I’ve had with a few people whose insight I trust.
Obviously, that seriously complicates Syracuse’s final roster spot situation, and makes it even more unlikely that Ayala winds up playing for the Orange next season, since, chances are, they’ll make a push for Geno Thorpe sooner than later.
Thorpe would be a welcome addition, obviously. He put up solid scoring numbers, and knocked down a high percentage of three pointers (even if he failed to reach 40% on overall field goal attempts) while playing both point guard and shooting guard for USF. At this point, the odds are vastly better that Thorpe will take the final roster spot, rather than Ayala.
If Thorpe were to choose his hometown Pitt, however, the door remains open for Ayala. With no apparent alternatives on the table right now outside of Thorpe (though obviously, a new name could emerge; remember, Andrew White didn’t become available until the summer), Syracuse would be able to wait until the AAU season was over and try again to pry Ayala from the class of 2018 and get him into the class of 2017.
At the end of the day, though… wouldn’t it be nice to have a class locked and loaded before June again, one of these years?