My 2021-22 SU Basketball Preview, Part 2: The Centers | Syracusefan.com

My 2021-22 SU Basketball Preview, Part 2: The Centers

SWC75

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So do we have a team that will allow us to dream of cutting down the nets – or one that will at least make us curious, rather than nervous on Selection Sunday? I don’t know. I do think we will have enough talent to be a Syracuse team – one that continues the streak of winning seasons and is capable of beating anyone they play.

It will be a team that lost some strengths from last season but also gained some. Each team is different and that’s going to be more true than ever now with the wide open transfer portal. Not only can we lose players to the pros, to academics, personal problems and injuries. Now they can just decide to leave and won’t have to sit out a year. Of course, we can also gain talent, not only from high schools, the international ball and, junior colleges but also from players transferring from other schools. JB and his staff wasted no time in taking advantage of this, bringing in three transfers and a top high school recruit to replace no less than five guys with eligibility left who departed from last year’s team. These days you can’t build a team: you assemble it from available parts. I’ve always said that a college basketball team is like a jigsaw puzzle where you don’t have all the pieces and you have to fit them together as best you can to try to get something resembling a complete picture. We’ve lost some speed and athleticism but gained size and firepower, traits which might be more useful in the Boeheim zone defense and pick-and-roll offense.

Note: only recruited players are listed. The term often used is ‘scholarship players’ but walk-ons can be given scholarships at the coach’s discretion. So I make the distinction between players SU recruited to come here with the intention that they could become part of our eventual rotation in some year while they are here and guys who walked-on to the team to help in practice and play in the final minute of one-sided games. We will go where the recruited players take us.

CENTERS

I was all excited about our depth at the center position last year – four of them! They wound up hardly playing so much of what I put here is taken from last year’s preview. I used quotes to identify those passages, and for statements taken from the Athlon or Lindy’s pre-season magazines or from internet sites such as Nunes, 247, etc..

Players lost from last year’s centers: None

John Bol Ajak 6-10 215 eligibility year: sophomore

John Bol, (Ajak is the last name), was the least highly recruited of the four centers. “Ajak not only came here from the Sudan by way of Kenya but missed a lot of time with an achilles injury and a hip injury…2-4-7 rated him 3 stars, the 480th best player in the country and the 76th best center…” He played in 10 games last year, a total of 51 minutes. He scored 2 points, grabbed 4 rebounds and committed 7 fouls. Then he hit the transfer portal only to decide to return. I suspect he may not have had any takers.

My own observation of his play is that looked a bit more muscular than our other big men, moved fairly well and seemed to have a knack for passing the ball – he had a couple of assists. He could develop into a player eventually but he’s clearly #4 in this unit right now. If Sidibe can’t come back, there will be the need for a back-up center and, while Anselem might be the bigger talent, there might be an opening for Ajak there.

He has no highlight film in Orange but he looks pretty good in these two high school tapes:


6' 11" JOHN BOL AJAK Westtown School c/o 2019 (Syracuse Commit)

It’s against high school kids but I see a guy who can drive smoothly to the basket, hit short jumpers and post up inside. He showed some hustle on the loose ball and blocked that one guy’s shot multiple times – with both hands! He could be a player if he gets a chance.

Per 40 minutes:
2021: 1.6p 3.1r 1.6a 0.8s 1.6b = 8.7 positives, 2.4mfg 0.0mft 0.8to 5.5pf = 8.7 negatives NET: 0.0

Frank Anselem 6-10 210 sophomore

“247 ranks Frank a 4-star recruit, (our of 5), the #150th best prospect in the country but the 24th best center prospect, saying “Athletic center with outstanding frame. Good size, wide shoulders and very long arms. Strong kid but not maxed out. Still raw on offense but physical tools give him very high upside. Has budding elbow jumper and hook shot but footwork and post moves can improve. Has chance to be high level rebounder and rim protector given size, length and athleticism. Still inconsistent but upside is very high. Projects as high major starter with professional upside dependent on development of skill.”

Frank played 26 minutes in four early games, the last on 12/12 vs. Boston College. Then he disappeared. There were rumors that he got hit hard by Covid but no one was really sure, (the University does not announce such things). It’s also been suggested that frank made a mistake by re-classifying as a high school senior when he wasn’t yet ready to move on to college, (I don’t understand the process but it’s a thing, somehow.)

But he has one thing that can’t be taught: a 7-5 wingspan. The distance between a normal human being’s fingers when the arms are stretched out is usually very close to his height so Frank has the wingspan of a 7-5 center! He’s also the most athletic of the four centers, so his upside could be enormous. But so far, it’s just an upside, rather than a reality. Assistant Coach Allen Griffin: “We haven’t seen this type of athleticism at this position in a long time in terms of the way he can move and the way he can jump. … He’s gotta work on the motor part, of just playing hard on every possession.

He, too, has nothing but high school highlights:

Frank Anselem, Georgia Stars; Class of 2021

Frank Anselem Is A GOAT!!!

It’s hard to tell much from that. He has some hops and is quick with the hand on blocks. He moves well, especially that dribble around a defender.

Per 40 minutes:
2021: 9.2p 7.7r 0.0a 1.5s 1.5b positives: 19.9, 0.0mfg 1.5mft 4.6to 6.2pf negatives: 12.3 NET: +7.6

Jesse Edwards 6-11 215 junior

“Jesse grew up in the Netherlands. They do have basketball there but he never played it until he heard of Lebron James and started watching him play on You-Tube…He was only 188 pounds when we recruited him. Like Ajak, he had more of a reputation as an offensive player than a defensive player. 247 has him as a 3 star, the 198th best player in the country and the 38th best center…. He played limited minutes last year, (2020), but looked promising. He moved well and had an awareness of what was going on around him. He never got credited with an assist but had the best pass of the season, a wrap-around no looker that bounced off Quincy Guerrier’s hands because he couldn’t believe it.”

Jim Boeheim: “He’s got a very good skillset. He can shoot it, pass it very well for a big guy. He’s just not strong enough yet to play. He’s got to get stronger and that’s going to take time. “In Jesse’s case it’s just physical strength. Nothing else.”

Last year, Marek Dolezaj, who was 6-10 but just 201 pounds, (up from 185), with the skills of a small forward, was our center. He brought a lot to the game- hustle, courage, awareness, passing ability. He could rebound a little and block an occasional shot but opposing centers typically had their biggest games against us. Fans wondered why we never seemed to use any of our natural centers to counter this. Boeheim bristled at the criticism, (as he always does), insisting that Edwards “wasn’t ready”. Jesse played in 10 of the first 23 games for a total of 48 minutes. But starting with the Georgia Tech game of 2/27, he played in each of the last 8 games for a total of 112 minutes. When Jesse was in there we had a 7 footer, (Jesse looked clearly taller than our other centers – more than that one inch), and our zone was a much more formidable defense. He actually wasn’t that much of a shot blocker but he’d learned to position his body in front of whoever got into the paint with the ball and raise his arms to provide a nearly insurmountable object to shoot or pass over or get around. It made a huge difference. JB continued to insist that Jesse ‘wasn’t ready’ but was playing him more and more and he was a key to our post-season run. If he continues to develop and can win the starting position this year, he could make a huge difference.

He, too doesn’t have a highlight clip in, (our), Orange so we have to go back to high school:

Highlights: Syracuse basketball recruit Jesse Edwards of IMG Academy

Jesse Highlight tape 2018

He certainly looks like he can score. If he can learn to block shots, he could be quite a player.

Per 40 minutes:
2020 13.7p 9.6r 0.0a 1.1s 2.7b positives: 27.1, 1.4mfg 1.9mft 1.6to 5.8pf negatives: 10.7 NET: 16.4
2021 8.5p 11.8r 0.0a 1.5s 2.0b positives: 23.8, 3.5mfg 1.0mft 1.6to 7.5pf negatives: 13.6 NET: 10.2
He actually blocked more shots than I remember. But he also committed more fouls. That’s a problem with Ajak, Anselem and Edwards: if you can’t avoid fouls, you can’t stay in the game. And avoiding fouls is largely a product of knowing where you are supposed to be and what you are supposed to be doing, so you don’t commit a foul to try to make up for your failure to do that. May JB was right. Hopefully this year, Jesse will be ‘ready’.

Bourama Sidibe 6-10 218 super-senior (granted extra year due to Covid)

“When Bourama came here four years ago, he was much shorter than Paschal Chukwu, our 7-2 string bean center but seemed like the more talented player…Many predicted he would become the starting center before the conference season began. His high school tape showed about everything you’d want to see from a center: quick movements, aggressive athleticism, running the court, blocking shots making steals, rebounding and scoring both from the low post and on drives, even a medium range jump shot.
The game looked easy for him:

Bourama Sidibe(Syracuse Commit) St.Benedict's Prep Senior Season

“But when he got here, it became hard. He developed tendonitis in his knees, which sometimes bothered him so much that he couldn’t play and other times limited his effectiveness. Only occasionally did he show flashes of the talent in that tope. He not only lost much of his mobility but also his jumping ability and 6-10, (if he is that), is not exceptional height for a modern college center. But he showed ‘flashes’ as Greg Robinson would say. The biggest flash was a 18 point, 16 rebound, 3 block effort in 24 minutes at Pittsburgh. That was easily the best he’s played here…But he had trouble not only with his knees but with foul trouble and thus had only rare opportunities to put those kinds of numbers up.”

“Last year, (2020), after off-season surgery he was moving much more freely and as the season progressed the game seemed to slow down for him. He got better at avoiding fouls, which is often a matter of knowing where to be and what’s going on around him. In his last six games he played 25-35 minutes per game and had 6/10/1 against Georgia Tech, 13/10/4 against Pittsburgh, a really impressive 17/15/6 in the Dome loss to North Carolina, 9/12/1 against Boston College, 2/10/2 against Miami, and 12/13/2 in the season-ending rout of the Tar Heels…I’ll take a continuation of the numbers he was putting up in those last six games.”

What we got was Bourama re-injuring his knee just before the first TV time out, 4 minutes into the first game. That was on 11/27. He was supposed to be out for 4 weeks. We played Pittsburgh on 1/16, seven weeks later and he was still unable to play. Pitt’s star, Justin Champagnie was injured December 20th and was supposed to be out 6-8 weeks. He played in the 1/16 game and scored 24 points and pulled down 16 rebounds. SU fans were tearing their hair out. I can only imagine how Bourama felt watching that game. He came back to play 11 minutes against Clemson on 2/6. That was his senior season: 15 minutes, 3 points, 1 rebound, 1 block, 1 turnover, 4 fouls. He didn’t attempt a field goal and was 3 for 6 from the free throw line. His Net Points: -3. Fortunately, the extra year provided by Covid will allow him another chance to have a senior year, although he was so discouraged, he took a long time to decide to use it, rather than just moving on.

There have been rumors that Bourama’s knees are basically shot and that he’s not going to play at all or not going to be able to do anything this year, either. That would be tragic but I doubt that he would have come back at all if things were that bad. Boeheim has said that his problem was that the knee became infected but that that has now cleared up. I hope so.

Bourama’s highlights from 2020 show the complete game we are looking for. He’s just got to do this consistently and stay out of foul trouble:

Bourama Sidibe 2019-20 Season Highlights | Syracuse Forward

His 40-minute averages:
2018: 8.7p 12.9r 0.4a 1.7s 2.1b positives: 25.8, 2.3mfg 2.3mft 2.9to 7.6pf negatives: 15.1 NET: +10.7
2019: 7.8p 11.0r 0.7a 2.1s 2.0b positives: 23.6, 3.1mfg 3.7mft 1.3to 9.7pf negatives: 17.8 NET: +5.8
2020: 10.1p 12.6r 0.3a 2.1s 2.3b positives: 27.4, 1.9mfg 1.3mft 1.6to 6.8pf negatives: 11.6 NET: +15.8
2021: 8.0p 2.7r 0.0a 0.0s 2.7b positives: 13.4, 0.0mfg 8.0mft 2.7to 10.7pf negatives: 21.4 NET: -8.0

The career averages in fouls per 40 minutes of our four centers are: Ajak 5.5, Anselem 6.2, Edwards 6.7, Sidibe 7.6.At those rates, if Boeheim decided to play any of these guys for 40 minutes they’d never make it through the game. It’s not just about conditioning. They’d foul out before they ever got there. That means they’ve got to be used in some kind of rotation- or again be replaced by a forward. JB started using a forward at center back in 2015 with Chris McCullough. Tyler Lydon played the position quite a bit when he was here and Marek became the starter last season. I hope it doesn’t happen again.

I’ll also repeat this rant from last year’s preview:

“Two things Jim Boeheim has said over the years stick in my mind. He often says that big men take longer to develop so we need patience. I recall his strength and conditioning guy on his show last year saying that an athlete doesn’t really fill out until he has topped off- stopped growing taller. They have to grow into their new bodies. The other thing Boeheim often says is that foreign players also take longer to develop because they didn’t grow up playing the sport. Both are very logical points. So why do we keep recruiting big men from abroad? In this decade we’ve had Arinze Onuaku, (actually, he was born in Maryland to Nigerian immigrants- his father was a soccer player), Rakeem Christmas, (he was born in New Jersey but lived from ages 2-13 in the Virgin Islands), Fab Melo from Brazil, Baye Moussa Keita from Senegal, Chinoso Obokoh from Nigeria and Paschal Chukwu from Nigeria. Then there was Moustapha Diagne from Senegal who was going to come here but the NCAA wouldn’t approve his academic record from Senegal before his visa expired. (He’s now playing for LaSalle). Now we have four centers and a power forward, (Dolezaj), born abroad. All are 6-10 or 6-11. None of them weigh 220 pounds. All are still learning the game. Why can’t we recruit American big men who will have had more protein in their diet and grown up playing the sport?”

We still haven’t.

Late updates: Donna Ditota of Syracuse.com, was just, (10/13) interviewed on the radio saying that Frank Anselem has taken a big step forward and that both he and Jesse Edwards are ahead of Bourama Sidibe at this point.

An article in the Sunday paper (10/17) was entitled “Cautiously Optimistic Sidibe Working his Way Back”. It turns out he wasn’t fully healthy as last year began. He thought, (hoped), he had a bone bruise but decided it was the knee before the first game started. “And it got worse that day.” He wound up having two more knee surgeries and an infection “followed by a summer of renewal and cautious, restored hope…He wants to play one final season at Syracuse to prove his body can withstand the punishment of an entire year to lay the groundwork, perhaps, for a professional basketball career abroad”.

Jim Boeheim, during a news conference, said Bourama would not play in the Tip-Off Event tonight, (10/22) because of his knee. “he’s been out for 8-10 days but had good work-out before that. He’ll practice tomorrow and Tuesday and we’ll see how his knee reacts to that.” He also said “The biggest change is, I think that Jesse and Frank have improved tremendously. They’re light years ahead of where they were last year. I think John Bol has been good. I think his practices have bene good. Jesse’s much stronger. Frank’s stronger. He’s using his physical attributes better this year. He still has a big upside. Still has a ways to go.”
 

SoBristol

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For Frank and Jesse, you might update the above by noting they have each added needed muscle, seemed much improved last Friday per observations by several. JB commented they were different players this season.

That said, I appreciate your deep summary. JB has always said that big guys can take some time to develop, especially those who come in without the strength to compete in the early years. In that way, Jesse was “not ready”. So, how he and Frank look at at this point is the key point.
 

Orangezoo

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Great stuff. We have a stable of 6-10 or taller guys to throw at teams. Not all equal but absolutely at least two very capable bigs in terms of holding their own. If that becomes 3 due to health and even 4 because JBA proves he is good enough for a few minutes - goldmine. Keeps every single forward out of the middle except for say late game scenarios.
 

SWC75

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For Frank and Jesse, you might update the above by noting they have each added needed muscle, seemed much improved last Friday per observations by several. JB commented they were different players this season.

That said, I appreciate your deep summary. JB has always said that big guys can take some time to develop, especially those who come in without the strength to compete in the early years. In that way, Jesse was “not ready”. So, how he and Frank look at at this point is the key point.

Read the last paragraph.
 

SoBristol

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Read the last paragraph.
Yeah, I got a little tired reading all the prior text and missed some of that. There were many reports on this board from fans who attended Friday and watched the scrimmage. Thought that might have helped a tad in bringing down your assessment.
 

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