NEW YORK -- Bernie Fine might not become the lone controversial topic in Syracuse over Turkey Day.
Scoop Jardine or Dion Waiters?
Let's stop it before the Waiters movement starts to pick up any headway.
Jardine is the incumbent, the fifth-year senior point guard who started all 35 games last season. Waiters, a true combo guard, was regarded as high-maintenance as a freshman last season, a problem child who nearly parted ways with the program in the offseason.
Jardine isn't about to allow this to become an issue. The once-immature and always vocal Philly native has grown up -- and become a terrific leader who has learned to value team over the individual. Even after sitting on the bench for 15 of the 20 minutes after the break and watching Waiters erupt for 11 critical second-half points, Jardine didn't hang his head on the bench. He pulled for Waiters and the rest of his team and later walked out of Madison Square donning his trademark smile.
"Four years ago, I would have caused hell," Jardine said. "But now I understand it's about winning."
"Dion had it going and Coach [Boeheim] stayed with that lineup," he added. "I've been here long enough and know how it goes, but the most important thing is we got the win."
Waiters has looked like a different player through the first five games this season, averaging 13.2 points while shooting 54 percent from the field and racking up 18 assists against only five turnovers. Jardine's production is rather mediocre scoring-wise (5.4 ppg), but he has dished out 19 assists and only four turnovers.
|Dion Waiters nearly turned his back on Syracuse. After some soul searching, he came to grips with coming off the bench. (Getty Images)|
This group has no shortage of those, which could translate into Jardine having more nights like this one -- where he's a bystander and a cheerleader in crunch time. There's Kris Joseph, who finished with a game-high 20 on Wednesday night in a 69-58 victory against Virginia Tech in the preseason NIT semifinals. You've got Jardine, Waiters and Brandon Triche -- three guards all worthy of starting in Boeheim's two-man backcourt.
Translation: One will have to come off the bench -- and it'll likely continue to be Waiters.
"Last year, I couldn't handle coming off the bench," said the slimmed-down sophomore, who is down about a dozen pounds from a year ago to 205. "I'd never done it before. It was hard because I'd been given everything and was used to things going my way, but I think it helped me mature."
Now Waiters watches and learns from Jardine, who went through some of the same growing pains as Waiters early in his 'Cuse career.
"I see him on the bench cheering, and that means a lot to me," Waiters said. "It helps me understand how to be more of a team player."
If Syracuse is to make a Final Four run, depth and chemistry might be the most critical components. While Joseph is a heck of a player, he's not a superstar -- not on the level of a Harrison Barnes, Jared Sullinger, Terrence Jones or Jeremy Lamb.
"We have a lot of dynamic guys," Jardine said. "Guys have to accept their role -- and it starts with me."
Waiters needs to do the same.
It's no secret that he was nearly kicked off the team by Boeheim following last season. Boeheim was noncommital when asked about his talented guard's status for much of the offseason, but Waiters opted to stick it out -- largely because of his mother.
"I was selfish last year," Waiters said. "I can admit my mistakes. I know it."
"I'd be lying if I said I didn't think about leaving," he added. "But my mom told me not to let the man win, that she didn't raise a quitter."
Syracuse has been through enough lately with Fine, Boeheim's long-time assistant, being accused of sexually molesting a pair of former ball boys.
These guys don't need any other potential distractions.
"There's no way I'd let that happen," Jardine said. "This isn't about us as individuals. It's about winning."