(Ed. Note: I wrote most of this two weeks ago after Syracuse lost to UMass and due to
I've never been much of a sucker. I don't own a bowflex or a piece of property sold by Erik Estrada. I have been offered roughly 73 trillion dollars in unaccounted for foreign funds by Daniel Amougbe (and his Nigerian associates), I've never taken him up on his offer to launder that money and my penis remains unimproved despite the many attempts to convince me that Mexican pharmaceuticals would give me a 6 inches of "confidence." For the most part, I have a keen eye for a deal that is too good to be true. But even the keenest of eyes can be fooled sometimes. And this year I got taken for a ride, big time. I got taken for a ride by the sports equivalent of the shiniest and most pristine piece of property Erik Estrada has to offer. And now, fortunately, I was let out of the deal.
Back in November, I wrote a little ditty about Syracuse Freshman Forward Donte Greene that ranked somewhere between a electronic felatio and the definition of hyperbole (the title of the post was "Donte Greene Is Going To Make People Forget About Syracuse Basketball's NCAA Snub, As Well As Basketball As You Knew It"). I hadn't seen Greene play but I had read about him and knew that he was a 6'11" kid who could shoot the three and was grabbing 10 boards a game and was compared favorably to Kevin Durant coming out of high school. And that was all I needed to hear. With the recent successes of guys like Durant and Odom (not to mention the recent success that Syracuse has found in the hands of Freshman Carmelo Anthony), I was convinced that a Syracuse version of Durant (along with a few complimentary parts like the best point guard Syracuse has ever had in Jonny Flynn) could lead 'Cuse to the promise land regardless of how much Greene may have actually cared about winning. I mean, I don't remember anyone criticizing Durant because he didn't dive for loose balls or play a lick of defense. I figured this kid was so offensively gifted that his weaknesses would go unexposed over a 27-30 win season. And holy fuck was I wrong.
You see the thing about Donte Greene is not so much that he's lazy (though he is that) as much as it is that he just doesn't give a fuck. Donte Greene plays the game with the least amount of interest in the outcome of the game of anyone I have ever seen. He wants his 20 and 8 and then he wants to go home. If the game were 24 - 100, he'd be just as happy as if it were 20 - 19 and he hit the winning full court shot while suffering from meningitis. He has absolutely no passion for the game. NONE. And in a normal situation he'd get his ass chewed out or handed to him on the practice court by some older players who understand what it means to win games in the Big East, but because Syracuse was so dependent on Donte for offensive production this year, the team had to defer to him as their de facto offensive "leader" and look the other way as he took terrible shots, made atrocious defensive decisions and got himself into unnecessary foul trouble in every single game. Meanwhile, players with guts and heart like Paul Harris and Jonny Flynn are killing themselves on every possession and doing the little things to keep Syracuse competitive. Paul Harris would play his heart out for 80 minutes and not score a point if it meant a 1 point win. To put things in proper perspective, Paul Harris and Donte Greene played almost exactly the same amount of minutes and Harris went to the free throw line almost twice as many times, and Greene's drawn fouls were almost always because some asshole on another team slapped him or committed some other stupid foul and had little or nothing to do with his ability to get into the lane (because he does not have this ability). And what Donte failed to realize is that the the hard-nosed players like Flynn and Harris can get away with a bad game (or season) because watching them you could tell how much it affected them. With Donte, unfairly or not, his flashy style and nonchalant playing attitude gave him less room for error from a fan's point of view. NBA threes and hand signals are great when your team is winning, but when you're losing, all that attention turns awfully negative awfully quick.
Now I'd be remiss if I didn't point out the positives of Donte's game. He's one of the most talented players ever to play at Syracuse (and that's saying something). Easily. He's a legit 6'10" and he's got range upon range. Between 15-25 feet, he's almost undefendable. He can pull up from 25, step back to 20 and fade away from 18. When he's on, he's got NBA game. He also has a fairly astute understanding of the game. He's got very good court vision and he is usually in the right spot on the break or whenever there's a play called for him (which was almost every time down the floor). He would start and be the best player on the Knicks if he were called up to the big show today. But in terms of his value to the future of the Syracuse OrangeMEN, I've had just about enough of Donte Greene, which is fortunate because now he's gone.
Now much has been made of next year's Syracuse team because of the what Donte was supposed to bring to the team. Personally, I think they'll be better now. Sure Donte is a difficult if not impossible matchup and with another offseason to build off of he could have grown stronger and developed a more complete game. The problem would've been the expectations and hype. Donte played like an asshole on a team that wasn't supposed to do much. He loafed and took ill advised shots and played poor defense without a ton of attention. And he admitted that he tried to play special when the lights were on. Well next year's Syracuse team was supposed to be one of the top fifteen teams in the nation. I can't even imagine the type of BS we'd see from him with the lights on all the time. It would be a mess and with no senior leadership, he would've run wild once again. Instead, next year's Syracuse team features a ton of gamers with Flynn and Harris leading the way. They've got a hungry Devendorf and a rested Rautins. They'll return a likely pre-season first team Big East player in Arinze Onuaku and they bring in two athletic top 100 recruits in Mookie Jones and Southerland. Donte's disappearance likely means that Kristof Ongenaet will battle Rick Jackson for the 4 slot and EVERYONE on the team will be battling to prove they should play. In terms of team chemistry, there was no better move for this team than losing Donte Greene.
It's not to say that this makes 'Cuse better. I can't say that it does. Whatever they do to replace Donte on the front line they lose inches and athleticism. It's tough to replace that with heart and desire. But the real reason I'm glad to see Donte go is because I want to forget last year's team. The reason I so badly want to forget them is because there were times when it felt as though they didn't give a shit. And no player exemplified that attitude better (or worse) than Donte Greene. It's an old axiom that anytime something goes badly for a sports team and that team takes on a label (too slow, coach too lax, too old) inevitably the fan base wants an overcompensating quantum shift in direction for that team. I want a team full of Paul Harris's and Jonny Flynns. I want Ongeneat mixing it up and Rick Jackson going a 100mph. I can't wait to see Devendorf going bonkers (strangely, I now miss that) and I want to see the new young guys come in and want to get to the tournament. From the frustration of last year's failures grew contempt for what I feel caused those failures and Donte was at the top of my list. I have no delusions that Syracuse will field a more talented team without Donte on it, but I do think they'll be more watchable. Given what we went through this past year, I'll take that as a start.