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Fresh Princes Headed by commanding Syracuse freshman Carmelo Anthony, a bumper crop of fearless first-year players is already making its mark

Dec. 23, 2002
Dec. 23, 2002

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Dec. 23, 2002

Pro Basketball

Fresh Princes Headed by commanding Syracuse freshman Carmelo Anthony, a bumper crop of fearless first-year players is already making its mark

The calls come every couple of days. Syracuse freshman Carmelo
Anthony will feel his cellphone vibrating, snatch it from his
baggy jeans, flip it open and hear LeBron James already in
mid-sentence. "You made a mistake," James will say. "You should
have come on out, should be in the NBA right now." Anthony will
toss back his head in laughter until his cornrows brush the nape
of his neck and his broad shoulders begin to shake, and then the
two players will talk about what a strange view it is from the
top of the world when you're 18 years old.

This is an article from the Dec. 23, 2002 issue Original Layout

One year ago they checked each other in an epic high school
basketball showdown. Anthony, a senior, scored 34 points to lead
Oak Hill Academy of Mouth of Wilson, Va., to a 72-66 victory
over St. Vincent--St. Mary High of Akron. James, only a junior
and with a weaker supporting cast, had 36 in the loss. Few who
saw that game expected either player to wear a college uniform.
Last Thursday night the two high schools played again, this time
before a national television audience, with James scoring 31 and
helping the country understand why he will, indeed, bypass
college and probably be selected as the No. 1 pick in the NBA
draft. Anthony viewed the game from the Skytop Apartments in
Syracuse, just off the school's south campus. "I was watching the
game and thinking about last year," he said the day after James's
tour de force. "Seems like yesterday."

Time flies. Anthony has chosen to slow it down. Instead of
playing in the NBA, he is part of a precocious freshman class
that is continuing the greening of college basketball. At North
Carolina guard-forward Rashad McCants invokes Michael Jordan's
name when talking about himself. Down the road at Duke, guard
J.J. Redick dropped 20 points, most from long range, on both UCLA
and Ohio State, and says, "To be honest, I haven't had one of my
hot stretches yet." At a low point last winter Indiana coach Mike
Davis told Hoosier Nation that help was on the way; this season,
at week's end, freshman guard Bracey Wright led the team in
scoring (18.4 points a game). Among the other freshmen who have
been dominant at times this season are Florida forward Matt Walsh
and guard Anthony Roberson; Georgia Tech forward Chris Bosh;
Texas A&M forward-guard Antoine Wright; Illinois guard Dee Brown;
McCants's fellow Tar Heels, guard Raymond Felton and
forward-center Sean May; and Arizona State forward-center Ike
Diogu.

Players these days have been competing in big games since they
were scarcely teenagers, lining up in high-powered AAU
tournaments and all-stars-only summer camps. The jump to college
becomes smaller every year. "These kids have played so much
basketball, they're fearless," says Arizona State coach Rob
Evans.

Anthony, the head of the class, might have been gone if not for a
narrow escape on a standardized test, a strong, insistent mother
and the player's own instinct that the NBA and its money will
wait a year or two for a teenager to grow up just a little. At
week's end the 6'8", 225-pound forward was averaging a double
double (24.8 points, 10 rebounds) for 5-1 Syracuse. Already he
is the primary option on a young team that will have to fight for
every win it gets when Big East conference play commences in
January. Anthony's first college basket was a dunk in Madison
Square Garden. It came early in a 27-point, 11rebound performance
during a 70-63 loss to Memphis. Tigers coach John Calipari began
double-teaming Anthony before the game was 15 minutes old. "I
loved the kid against us," Calipari says. "High skill level with
the ball, shooting ability, passing with vision."

In May 2001, Anthony was a skinny, 6'7" junior forward at Towson
Catholic High in suburban Baltimore when he orally committed to
Syracuse on his 17th birthday. "He was basically a regional
recruit," says Syracuse assistant coach Troy Weaver. "But then in
the summer he just blew up nationally." Anthony dominated camps
and tournaments, culminating in a spectacular performance at an
AAU tournament in Las Vegas. By September, when he enrolled at
Oak Hill, a small private school that annually fields one of the
best high school teams in the country and regularly plays other
top powers, Anthony was on the cusp of becoming a top five
national recruit. He was brilliant at Oak Hill and put on 20
pounds of muscle.

A buzz started and grew into a roar. "I was reading my name on
the Internet," says Anthony. "People were writing about me going
to the NBA. I wasn't even thinking about it at first. Then I did.
It's hard not to think about it."

Anthony went through his senior year at Oak Hill lacking a high
enough standardized test score to qualify for freshman
eligibility at an NCAA school. "Without the score, I'd have no
choice," he says. "There was always junior college, but that
wasn't really a possibility. I would have gone to the NBA." In
late April he took the ACT, needing a score of 18. He got a 19,
and all his options were available.

Back in Baltimore, Anthony's mother, Mary, pressed hard for her
youngest child to attend college. A 50year-old housekeeper at the
University of Baltimore, Mary says the prospect of NBA riches did
not move her. Maternal instincts did. She was a mother of three
children (11 to 13 years older than Carmelo) when Carmelo was
born in Brooklyn in 1984. His father, Carmelo Iriarte, died when
Carmelo was two years old, and six years later Mary moved with
Carmelo to Baltimore. They lived in a town house on the west edge
of downtown Baltimore, in a tough neighborhood--"Drugs, guns, all
that," says Carmelo. Mary supported Carmelo's decision to attend
Towson Catholic (a 45-minute commute by rail and bus), but when
he began missing classes and was suspended a few times in his
junior year, she encouraged the move to Oak Hill. "I didn't want
him to go to the NBA," says Mary. "When you get all that fame and
fortune, honey, you become a man, right then and there. I wanted
my son to have a chance to be 18 years old."

Carmelo's life is dramatically different from the one he would
have had in the NBA. He shares a modest apartment with freshman
guard (and fellow Oak Hill product) Billy Edelin, and a tight
circle of teammates keeps him grounded and protected. Anthony
didn't bring his '98 Chrysler Concorde up from Baltimore, so he
has no wheels. He does have new boots and a heavy jacket. "Lot of
snow up here," he says. "Nothing like this in Baltimore." He says
he did well in his five courses during the fall semester, and
socially it's not bad being the most famous freshman at Syracuse.
His smile is nearly as much of a trademark as his 'rows and his
white headband.

"I know a lot of people think I'm crazy to be here, but I like
it," Anthony says. "I'm just going out, playing hard every game,
enjoying college for this one year. After that it's another
decision."

The one-and-done concept is worth evaluating. Calipari had guard
DaJuan Wagner for one season at Memphis. (At week's end Wagner
was averaging 20.3 points as a Cleveland Cavaliers rookie.) "If
you have a guy who's going to stay one year and he's disruptive,
it's not worth it," says Calipari. "DaJuan wasn't like that.
We've got players who benefited from playing with him."

At Syracuse, coach Jim Boeheim secured early commitments this
year from three good players (6'4" guard Louis McCroskey, 6'7"
forward Demetris Nichols and 6'9" forward Terrence Roberts), in
large part because they wanted to play with Anthony on a team
that could contend for a national title next year. That won't
happen if Anthony leaves, but his presence will still have been
beneficial. "If Carmelo stays one year, that's better than no
years," says Boeheim. "For everybody involved."

Last Saturday, Anthony had 24 points, 15 rebounds and five
assists in a 94--58 win over Division I fledgling Binghamton.
After an opening slam, he dished out assists on his next three
touches, as if toying with the Bearcats. There is little doubt
the level of his play will rise with the quality of the opponent.
"He gets bored now," says Boeheim.

As Anthony left the Carrier Dome, he was stopped by a small
cluster of fans seeking autographs. In the night air there were
traces of snow mixed with frozen rain. Such conditions aren't so
bad after a win. "I'm straight with the weather," he had said as
he was preparing to leave the building. He signed his name a
dozen times, pulled a hood over his baseball cap, jumped into a
friend's car at the curb and rolled into the darkness. Just
another freshman, keeping the inevitable at bay a little
longer.

Tim Layden's Viewpoint column appears every Friday at cnnsi.com.

COLOR PHOTO: BOB ROSATO [T of C] GATOR AIDE Florida freshman Matt Walsh (during a 69--64 win over Maryland) will shoot his deadly jumper next against Miami (page 46).COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY MANNY MILLAN WHIZ KID In his debut at the Garden, Anthony earned Memphis's respect--and double-teaming D--by scoring 27 points.COLOR PHOTO: BOB ROSATO (3) J.J. REDICK The surefiring, sure-of-himself 6'4" Duke guard sank 16 of his first 40 trey attempts. "Even if I miss seven in a row," he says, "I'm going to hit the next one."COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT BECK (DIOGU) Ike DIOGU "He's strong, he's skilled, his footwork is so good, and he's got toughness," raves Arizona State coach Rob Evans of his 6'8", 250pound pivotman.COLOR PHOTO: MANNY MILLAN (MCCANTS) RASHAD MCCANTS Freshman? "It's just a label," says North Carolina's charismatic 6'4" swingman, who's comfortable slashing to the hoop, firing from the perimeter--or playing the role of team leader.COLOR PHOTO: BOB ROSATO (3) BRACEY WRIGHT A shooter with astonishing range and a demon on D, the 6'3" Indiana guard is being touted as the best Hoosiers freshman since Isiah Thomas. Says teammate Kyle Hornsby, "Bracey plays in a different gear from everybody else."COLOR PHOTO: BOB ROSATO (3) MATT WALSH "Mentally he's beyond his years," says Florida coach Billy Donovan of his 6'6", Philly-bred forward, who says he aims to take only good shots. "And if I can get someone else a good shot, that's even better," says Walsh.COLOR PHOTO: RICH CLARKSON

VINTAGE YEARS

Since 1972-73, when freshmen first became eligible, here (in
order of impact) are the five seasons in which they played their
most prominent role.

1979-80

Isiah Thomas (above), G, Indiana Ralph Sampson, C, Virginia James
Worthy, F, North Carolina Terry Cummings, F, DePaul Dominique
Wilkins, F, Georgia Sam Bowie, C, Kentucky Antoine Carr, F,
Wichita State Cliff Levingston, F, Wichita State Clark Kellogg,
F, Ohio State

1981-82

Michael Jordan, G, North Carolina Patrick Ewing, C, Georgetown
Charles Barkley, F, Auburn Chris Mullin, G, St. John's Keith Lee,
F, Memphis State Ed Pinckney, F, Villanova Joe Dumars, G, McNeese
State

1991-92

Chris Webber, F, Michigan Juwan Howard, F, Michigan Jalen Rose,
G, Michigan Alan Henderson, F, Indiana Donyell Marshall, F,
Connecticut Voshon Lenard, G, Minnesota

1988-89

Christian Laettner, F-C, Duke Billy Owens, F, Syracuse Alonzo
Mourning, C, Georgetown LaPhonso Ellis, F, Notre Dame Chris
Jackson, G, LSU Anthony Peeler, G, Missouri Bryant Stith, G,
Virginia Malik Sealy, F, St. John's Don MacLean, F, UCLA

1999-2000

Jason Williams, G, Duke Carlos Boozer, F, Duke Mike Dunleavy, F,
Duke Joseph Forte, G, North Carolina Nick Collison, F, Kansas
Drew Gooden, F, Kansas Kirk Hinrich, F, Kansas Gilbert Arenas, G,
Arizona Jason Gardner, G, Arizona DerMarr Johnson, F, Cincinnati
Kenny Satterfield, G, Cincinnati Jason Richardson, G, Michigan
State Casey Jacobsen, G-F, Stanford