Tuesday, April 8, 2003

There's no position super frosh can't play

By Jim O'Connell
The Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS - In an age when numbers define basketball players, none do Carmelo Anthony justice. The use of 1 through 5 to describe positions is pointless for the Syracuse freshman.

He can fill them all. He's simply a basketball player.

On Monday night, the 6-foot-8 Anthony did everything Syracuse needed to beat Kansas 81-78 and win its first national championship.

Syracuse-Kansas national championship
The statistics were impressive, 20 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists - almost the first triple-double in a title game.

They only tell part of the story.

He went inside early as if he were playing a 4 or a 5, and that opened things up on the perimeter for fellow freshman Gerry McNamara, who hit six 3-pointers to help the Orangemen take a 53-42 halftime lead.

Anthony also spent some time facing the basket, hitting jumpers as if he were a 2 or a 3, finishing 3-for-5 from 3-point range.

But he may have been most impressive when he became a 1, the point guard.

We're not talking a whole game running the offense like Magic Johnson, another 6-8 star who led his team to a national championship. All you had to see were the possessions late in the game when Anthony and his bright orange headband went to the top of the offense to direct things.

Syracuse saw a 12-point lead cut to 78-73 after Kansas scored following a 5-second violation against freshman guard Billy Edelin.

Kansas, one of the best man-to-man perimeter defensive teams in the country, was making things tough for the Syracuse guards. So Orangemen coach Jim Boeheim gave the signal for Anthony to become the man with the ball.

"I've done it before and I think I've done a pretty good job of it," Anthony said, referring to being the one in charge of running down the 35-second shot clock. "I want the ball then and my teammates want me to have the ball then."

He stood just inside the midcourt line waiting for Kansas' Nick Collison to come out and get close enough to make the referee start the 5-second count. If the 6-9 Collison got too close, Anthony would probably use his lightning-quick first step to blow by him. If Collison didn't come out, precious seconds would continue to tick off as the Jayhawks tried to rally.

On the first possession, Anthony started the four-pass sequence that resulted in a jumper by Edelin that made it 80-73 with 2:03 to play.

The next time Collison ran toward Anthony near midcourt and fouled him. Anthony missed the front end of the 1-and-1, but Collison picked up his fourth foul with 58 seconds to go.

Kansas, like every team Syracuse played this season, tried everything to stop Anthony.

The Jayhawks used smaller players, bigger players, help defense, even a possession or two of zone. And the result was Anthony's 22nd double-double of what will probably be his one and only season of college basketball.

"I've seen every kind of defense," Anthony said with a smile. "I paid a physical toll the whole tournament, the whole season. Everybody was beating me up."

There wasn't much else teams could do.

Keith Langford, one of the better defenders in the country, faced the same problem that Texas' Royal Ivey, another pretty good defender, did in the semifinals: Find a way to stop Anthony.

"I thought the key of the game was Carmelo is hard to guard," Boeheim said. "He got Langford in foul trouble and Langford was killing us on the offensive end. It's hard to kill us when you're in foul trouble. Everybody that's played him has got in foul trouble. There's no way to guard him unless you do."

Kansas coach Roy Williams said Anthony may be the best player his team faced all season.

"When we made a huge run to get it to three, got a rebound, Jeff Graves throws a pass to the center line. It's intercepted. They throw it back. Carmelo makes a 3," Williams said. "We had a chance to tie it. Instead it's six. Great players make great plays. That's what he did."

Defending Anthony is as tough as describing his game.

The spinning moves, the sweet jumper, the strong rebounds, pinpoint passes and thundering dunks are all just part of what makes him the player without a number.


Jim O'Connell has covered college basketball for The Associated Press since 1987. He was presented the Curt Gowdy Media Award by the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2002.

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