When the NCAA released its sanctions against Syracuse University last Friday, the one that hit hardest was the scholarship reduction that will be faced by the Orange men’s basketball team over the next several seasons. Jim Boeheim and his staff will lose 12 scholarships over a four season span, an almost unprecedented scholarship loss that will need some creativity to get around.
It appears that the reduction will be deferred to the 2016-2017 season, appeal pending, but right now the Orange have to move forward firmly believing they’ll be reduced to 10 scholarship players from that season through the 2019-2020 campaign. For the most part, that won’t really impact a roster that typically doesn’t go deeper than seven or eight players, but it’s going to leave the Orange woefully short on depth, particularly if any injuries crop up or prospects don’t pan out the way Boeheim and company hope.
And that’s where the creativity could come in.
Let’s just go ahead and dub what we could see the “Lee Melchionni Method” of recruiting. For those who don’t remember, the recruiting class at Duke University that included JJ Redick, Sean Dockery, Shelden Williams, and Shavlik Randolph also included Melchionni and a sixth player, Michael Thompson. The problem here was that Duke was limited by the NCAA to only being permitted to bring in five scholarship players in any given recruiting class. Yet there was Melchionni, a top 100 talent, choosing to walk on at Duke to make room for Randolph.
And how did that happen? Melchionni’s father had been a star at Duke in the 1970’s, and in order to game the system, he chose to pay his son’s way to basically give Coach K six coveted recruits when they should have only been able to bring in five, because Melchionni was technically a walk-on.
We could potentially see the same sort of thing happen with Syracuse over the next couple of years, and fortunately for the Orange, if Jim Boeheim and Mike Hopkins pursue this route there are some legitimate options on the horizon to fill roster slots.
Most notably, you’ve got Max and Marcus Zegarowski. If you don’t know who these twin brothers are, it’s okay. You’d certainly recognize the name of their older brother, though: Michael Carter-Williams. The Zegarowski twins are currently sophomores at Hamilton-Wenham, outside of Boston, and are tearing it up on the Massachusetts high school hoops scene. Marcus Zegarowski, a 6-foot-1 point guard, is thought to be a potential high major prospect, while Max, a 6-foot-5 shooting guard, is more of a mid-major talent at this stage.
Just a couple days ago, the Zegarowski twins were dominant in a state semifinal win over Cathedral, played in TD Garden. Marcus Zegarowski had 24 points and six assists in the win. Max, meanwhile, is considered to be a top notch shooter, and both brothers are obviously familiar with Syracuse, and vice versa. The fact that MCW continues to have a strong relationship with Syracuse certainly helps the situation, if Boeheim and his crew decide to try to pursue the pair as, to use a football term, “preferred walk-ons.” In other words, the Lee Melchionni Method.
If Carter-Williams, who allows his mother (and Marcus and Max’s mom) to take care of his finances, so chooses, he could send his younger brothers to Syracuse as walk-ons who would actually get minutes for the Orange for their first couple years of college. They’d be able to play high major basketball, and by the time the back end of their careers come around the sanctions will have vanished either due to them expiring or the appeals process reducing them, and they’d finish their time at Syracuse on scholarship.
Obviously, this is an awfully big “if” and there’s no guarantee that the Zegarowskis would even be on board with this as an option. It does seem intriguing, though, doesn’t it?
Another option for a preferred walk-on situation would be Braxton Beverly, a 5-foot-11 point guard from Kentucky who Syracuse has recently been checking out. Beverly has no connections to Syracuse, and the class of 2016 guard has enough interest from schools like Western Kentucky and Dayton that he might not want to walk-on at Syracuse when he can get a full ride elsewhere. The fact that Syracuse is showing interest, though, indicates they might be thinking about proposing this exact scenario, especially when you consider they’ve been going hard after Tyus Battle, Howard Washington, and recently, Quinton Rose – all point guards. If nothing else, this past season has taught Boeheim that you can never have enough depth at the point guard position.
There’s another possible walk-on who is probably a longshot to ever contribute, but would have no trouble covering his tuition: Jimmy Boeheim. Coach Boeheim’s son is a 6-foot-5 junior at Jamesville-DeWitt, and while he’s probably not athletic enough to ever be a serious contributor, he’s a talented shooter. He averaged 11.0 points per game and knocked down 34 triples this year, and scored in double figures in 13 of the last 17 games for JD. With Boeheim, it seems like more of a question about whether he wants to get extensive minutes, in which case he’d be more likely to wind up playing Division III ball at a school like Ithaca or Hamilton or St. John Fisher, or if he wants to follow in his dad’s footsteps by becoming a walk-on who could eventually work his way into a few minutes of playing time here and there for the hometown Orange.
Finally, there’s one more option for added depth that’s a little bit outside the box, but certainly not outside the realm of possibility. There’s already some potential forward depth on the Syracuse campus, and whether that depth can be added to the Syracuse roster over the next couple of years depends entirely on whether he’d want to be a dual sport athlete, and whether Scott Shafer would let him do so.
I’m talking about Jamal Custis, the 6-foot-6 rising sophomore tight end/wide receiver hybrid, who in addition to having good size (232 pounds) and athleticism, was also a starting forward for Neumann-Goretti – the same Philadelphia high school powerhouse that produced players like Scoop Jardine and Rick Jackson. Custis was a four year player on Neumann-Goretti’s varsity basketball team, and won four Catholic League titles. A year ago, the Post-Standard mentioned the possibility of Custis walking on to the hoops team, but it’s not really known if Custis has since expressed even the slightest interest.
The former power forward was a teammate of current Miami freshman point guard Ja’Quan Newton, and according to the Post-Standard received some interest from schools like SMU from a basketball standpoint, so he’s clearly got the talent and athleticism to potentially be a contributor at a Division I hoops program. There hasn’t been much buzz about him joining the team, but considering the option has been brought up in the past, along with the fact that Syracuse will be looking for as much added depth as it can muster without having to add to the number of scholarships, I wouldn’t be surprised if Mike Hopkins sends out some feelers over the next few months.