Some of the best players in Orange basketball history came to Syracuse without lofty rankings or a bunch of stars by their names. From this list of the top 10 Orange NBA players, Rony Seikaly, Sherman Douglas and Hakim Warrick fit that description.
It’s understandable then for you to think Brandon Triche is the next Jim Boeheim rags-to-riches story.
You would be wrong.
Oh, you wouldn’t be wrong about the riches part. It’s just that upon further inspection, those rags were very deceiving.
There’s no denying Triche was ranked No. 132 in the Class of 2009. When Brandon announced his college destination there was no ESPN satellite truck in the Jamesville-DeWitt High parking lot. There were no writers from the NY Times, Sports Illustrated or CBS Sports tweeting which hat he chose. That all took place in 2012 for his former Red Ram and current Orange teammate, DaJuan Coleman, the No. 14 player in last year’s class.
I’ve always wondered about the validity of these rankings. Who decides? How can they really know every player?
Brandon blew his knee out towards the end of his sophomore season in high school. Not only did he miss the rest of the year, more importantly he missed the summer AAU circuit. The summer between your sophomore and junior year is a big one for making your bones with the ranking services.
While he still averaged 20 points-per-game his junior year, Brandon admitted that he wasn’t quite the same. He didn’t have the same explosion as before his injury. He was still healing.
Former Syracuse star Gerry McNamara is now Triche’s position coach with the Orange. Gerry told me Jim Boeheim put far more weight on an early-season game before Brandon’s knee injury than he did what Brandon did after the injury.
Jamesville-DeWitt played Niagara Falls early in Triche’s sophomore season, giving him the challenge of facing Syracuse-commit Jonny Flynn, who was ranked No. 23 in the Class of 2007. It was an outstanding battle, with Flynn scoring 33 points and Triche 30 in the close game won by Niagara Falls.
I walked out of the gym thinking I would take the Triche kid since he was two years younger, three inches taller, about 20 pounds heavier and had just played the terrific Flynn to a draw.
Boeheim, being the Hall of Famer he is, got both.
It would be easy to assume that Brandon used his low ranking as motivation to show everyone how mistaken they were.
Again, you would be wrong.
His thoughts on being ranked so low: “It bothered me because I wanted to play in the All-Star games and I couldn’t because I wasn’t ranked in the top 50. I wanted to play against guys like Russ Smith (Louisville) and Lance Stephenson (Indiana Pacers) who I was co-player of the year in New York state with.”
Part of the “surprising” aspect of Triche’s climb this season is that it’s always seemed as if he lacked the confidence to step up and play at a level worthy of carrying his team and advancing to the NBA.
Again, not so.
McNamara put it very succinctly when I asked that question, “It’s not a lack of confidence at all. He’s his toughest critic.”
It’s a sharp contrast in personalities when talking to McNamara and Triche. Gerry is very outgoing and engaging, leaning forward in the chair and making strong eye contact. Brandon sits back, speaks quietly and chooses his words. Until I asked if he was in fact his toughest critic.
He turned and looked intently at me. “Who isn’t?”
“I expect to play to my potential and don’t like it when I don’t. I don’t want to let the team down.”
Another part of Brandon’s game that had been criticized is his lack of assertiveness and tendency to defer to teammates. McNamara agreed, “Coach Boeheim’s been telling him for three years to be more assertive.” Gerry went on, “Brandon being selfish helps us offensively. Basketball is a game of percentages and our best percentage is Brandon making plays.”
I can tell you that Triche has always shared the ball, having coached in the youth league he played in years ago. It was striking to see an 11-year-old who could score at will pass the ball so much. Boys that age are selfish.
“I tried to make my teammates better, to get them good shots.” Then came a sly smile, “And I realized it could make me look better by rebounding their missed shots and scoring.”
McNamara smiled when I told him about Brandon sharing the ball as an 11-year-old. “Against Villanova he’s seven for seven in the first half and didn’t shoot for a while in the second half. I’d have been chucking it up.”
McNamara has seen that assertiveness though this year. “I can’t tell you how often we’ve been struggling and needed a play, and Brandon has come through.”
Will this climb continue to the NBA?
McNamara thinks so. “He can play without a doubt.”
Triche thinks so too, nodding quickly and confidently when I asked that question. He believes he will be drafted and has no doubts about his ability to play point guard at the next level.
Why will his “surprise” climb continue to the NBA?
It will continue because, as McNamara told me, Triche can do it all. He has an NBA body at 6’4” and a solid 200 pounds. He can take it to the rim, hit mid-range shots and shoot well from long distance.
It will also continue because he expects it to. The biggest “surprise” about Triche?
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