Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim figures to have a quality team for the 2018-19 season. The Orange are ranked 22nd in our preseason Top 25 (and one). They're coming off a surprise Sweet 16 run and return Tyus Battle, a high-volume offensive player who balked on going to the NBA and could be an All-American.
But the roster Syracuse is fielding this upcoming season will be missing one high-profile player Boeheim expected: five-star commit Darius Bazley.
In late March, Bazley announced he was skipping college altogether to play in the NBA G League. The decision not only could net him some money he wouldn't have earned as a freshman at SU, but by walking out on Syracuse, Bazley became the first prospect to decommit from college to choose the formerly named NBA Development League since Latavious Williams in 2009. Since then, things have veered again for Bazley, who was ranked 17th in the class of 2018 per 247 Sports' Composite. On Aug. 27, Bazley revealed that he was forgoing his opportunity to play in the G League. So now he'll train on his own time and in his own way for the next 10 months in hopes he gets selected in the 2019 NBA Draft.
Whether or not Bazley's surprise defection will wind up affecting the Orange remains to be seen. What is known is Boeheim's feelings for Bazley's decision. The 73-year-old recently spoke about a number of topics, and included this bit on Bazley, via Syracuse.com:
"I mean, he made a mistake. It doesn't do any good to talk about it," he said. "Everybody thinks I'm criticizing him. I'm not. I'm just telling it like it is. He made a mistake. He should own it. He's just not ready. He's just not physical. They're not letting him play in the G League because he'd get killed."
Boeheim has been unfiltered for years -- it's one of his signature personality traits -- and a quote like this, while harsh, has validity. I spoke with scouts and recruiting analysts since Bazley's defection from Syracuse, and there was a sense of doubt over his readiness to play at the G League level, even as a certifiable 18-year-old talent with a professional future in hoops.
The G League is loaded with grown men in their mid-20s who are playing for very little money in the hopes they can break through to the NBA and fulfill a dream. It's a bloodthirsty grind. Bazley, who's 6-9 and 200 pounds, is still physically underdeveloped at this point. It's why his move to the G League was strange to begin with. Bazley didn't help his case by failing to show well at August's Nike Academy camp, which featured dozens of talented NBA prospects.
And now you've got Boeheim down a player who could have been a top-20 freshman in America. If he's still frustrated by Bazley's back-out (because it never needed to come to this), that's understandable. Not many coaches would have gone as far on the record as Boeheim did, but that's Boeheim.
Again, he has a point.
The 2018-19 Syracuse season could be a fun one. But unless the Orange wind up being No. 1 seed-caliber, there's probably going to be a what-if throughout. Because even if Bazley isn't ready for the NBA and the G League, it's hard to figure how he wouldn't have been a key factor for the Orange, who had one of the thinnest benches in college basketball a season ago.