From Pearl Washington to Gerry McNamara, Syracuse has a rich tradition of point guards. After the latest great one, Jonny Flynn, moved on to the NBA in 2009, Brandon Triche was handed the keys to the palace. What he does with them could find the Orange celebrating their second national championship in 2010.
Coming off last Thursday’s win at Georgetown, the Orange (25-2, 12-2 Big East) are ranked in the Top-5 nationally. The freshman Triche has started every game, averaging 9.0 points and 3.1 assists, but his production and PT has been spotty over the last couple of weeks. Earlier in the season, Triche was featured in Dime #55:
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Brandon Triche is not Jonny Flynn. Get it straight. He better not be, at least for the sake of the rest of the Big East Conference. Triche hasn’t averaged 17.4 points per game in the deepest conference in the country. He isn’t running point at Minnesota’s Target Center any time soon. And he probably won’t ever be on the floor in one game for 67 minutes. In the heads of Syracuse basketball fans, Jonny Flynn might as well be dead.
Why start with what Triche isn’t? So we can get to what he is.
“I’ve always been a winner,” says Triche, the 6-3 freshman. “I want to help the team win games. I think that’s what [Coach Jim] Boeheim brought me in for.”
The Orange won 28 games last year and advanced to the Sweet 16, so that’s not to say Syracuse couldn’t win before. But that’s just what Triche does. He wins. In high school at nearby Jamesville-DeWitt (Jamesville, N.Y.), he led the Red Rams to two straight state championships. And at a solid 200 pounds, even his teammates have admitted they expected Triche to be on the court from the start.
“We played one year together in high school,” says ’Cuse senior Andy Rautins. “You look at the kid now, and you look at the body he has right now, and he’s definitely college-ready. His handles, his ability to get to the basket and finish, he’s able to come off screens and shoot the three-pointer with consistency.
“He’s an all-around player, and he’s definitely going to be a player to watch in the next couple years. He sets high goals for himself and he works extremely hard, so we expect big things out of him.”
With Triche starting every game, the Orange were off to a surprising unblemished record and a spot in the Top 5 in both national polls at press time. While most of the credit has gone to the transformation of swingman Wes Johnson from an unknown transfer to a potential Lottery pick, Triche has the Syracuse offense steamrolling teams as talented as North Carolina and Florida. As of mid-December, they were leading the nation in field-goal percentage at a ridiculous 55 percent.
Triche figured he might step on some toes this year, like those belonging to sophomore point guard Scoop Jardine, but that’s to be expected in any position battle.
“Him and I are going at it every day to see who is going to win the spot,” Triche says humbly. “Each one of us made each other better. That’s the main part. Only one of us can start, but if we join together, then we can be one of the best backcourts in the country. Any way I can help the team, I am willing to do.”
While Triche is the team’s third-leading scorer at just over 10 points a night, Jardine has found his niche as the freshman’s backup. In fact, Jardine leads Syracuse at 6.2 assists (Triche is averaging 3.0 apg) and has helped ease the load thrust onto his younger teammate.
Early in the season, Triche’s best scoring nights came against the likes of Maine and Cornell, while he has been inconsistent at times against the top teams on the Orange’s schedule. Boeheim has limited his minutes, bringing the 18-year-old along carefully. The Big East schedule will have begun by the time this issue is released, and from then on, Triche will be expected to withstand a hailstorm of pressure.
This summer, Triche attacked each day knowing the line was drawn. That meant running five miles a day and daily weight workouts. Triche was always a physical player, but now he’s one of the strongest guys on the team.
Once on campus, that dedication only grew. With a facility like the newly constructed Melo Center, a dreamland of slick courts and underwater treadmills, there was no way he was coming to ’Cuse to chill.
“It’s a great atmosphere,” says Triche. “Every one of the guys wants to work out and every one of the guys wants to get better. That’s what I wanted to do coming into this year.”
Despite the confidence Boeheim and the rest of central New York has in him, Triche was not one of the top recruits in the country coming out of high school. He wasn’t even in the national Top 100. In fact, he was relegated to the regional Jordan Brand Classic game instead of the All-American one held at Madison Square Garden last April.
Then there’s that whole “combo guard” thing. Look at some of the high school scouting reports on Triche, and a lot of analysts gave him the dreaded “undersized two-guard” title. Asked about this, Triche didn’t hesitate: “I’m strictly a point guard. I’m more effective as a point guard, playing that game and getting my teammates involved.”
Boeheim even told us that Triche is already better at setting up his teammates than Flynn was.
“You know Jonny’s irreplaceable and he’s not going to be able to replace what he did, but Brandon is a setup point guard,” says Boeheim. “He gets the ball to people and that’s what he does. He can also score a little if he has to.”
He’s playing the point.
But this is nothing new, as Triche has been dealing with labels for a while now. He’s not an overwhelming athlete and doesn’t possess the same lateral quickness and first step of someone like Flynn. Then again, how many people do? He’s more apt to Mayo-you than Rose-you with smooth pull-back J’s and powerful drives into the lane.
A major ACL tear as a high school sophomore caused a lot of scouts to forget about Triche. He went from being a hyped, transcendent talent to watching his name dip behind shadows. Yet, he still found a route to one of the best basketball powerhouses in the country. And that Jordan All-Star game that didn’t want him? He carried his snub off to the lower-class regional game, and dropped a cool 33, winning MVP honors.
“It’s easy to lose confidence if stuff doesn’t go your way,” says Triche. “Coaches will get on you. I know my abilities and so does Coach, so it’s going to be a rocky road. I just have to stay consistent.”
This college basketball season, there are the returning title contenders loaded with upperclassmen (Kansas and Michigan State), the freshmen phenoms (John Wall and Derrick Favors), and dozens of potential one-and-dones already mapping out the skipped spring classes. Believe it or not, Triche has as much pressure on him as any of them.
His uncle, Howard Triche, played at Syracuse and was a part of the 1987 team that went to the NCAA championship. His cousin is NBA veteran Jason Hart, only one of the best lead guards the Orange have ever had. And Brandon went to high school only 10 or so minutes away. And of course, he is inheriting a position held down just a few months ago by a kid who is now hitting game-winners over Deron Williams.
He can see the expectations, but he also envisions a First Team All-Freshman season and a top-three conference finish for the Orange. At least, that’s his hope. But, he’s been preparing for this his whole life. Getting bullied in all of those backyard games with his older brothers. A relentless comeback from the devastating high school knee injury. A legacy at one of the country’s most storied programs. That’s why he admittedly reads all the blogs, rankings and everything that’s written about him. Motivation is easy.
“I just want to see my family smile,” says Triche. “I know when I do good things, they are always happy. I put more pressure on myself than anybody ever will. I’m very humble. I know what things I need to work on and I am not scared to work on those things.”