Make us your home page

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Syracuse, Wesley Johnson hope success continues in NCAA Tournament

Wesley Johnson made a splash in his first season with the Orange, winning Big East player of the year.

Associated Press

Wesley Johnson made a splash in his first season with the Orange, winning Big East player of the year.

When the season began, Syracuse was unranked and Wesley Johnson largely unknown to college basketball. The other three No. 1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament — Kansas, Kentucky and Duke — opened the season in the top 10, their success well anticipated based on returning talent.

The Orange, on the other hand, was supposed to be down after three underclassmen left early following last year's round of 16 appearance. Syracuse was picked to finish sixth in the Big East by the league's coaches, and in accepting his Big East coach of the year award two weeks ago, Jim Boeheim said the credit belonged to people who expected a down year and didn't listen to him about how great Johnson was going to be.

Now the Orange is back in the round of 16, having won a Big East regular-season championship and jumped to No. 1 in the national polls before back-to-back losses entering the NCAA Tournament.

Ask Johnson if he expected to be Big East player of the year, if he expected to make the difference he has made, and the 6-foot-7, 205-pound forward from Corsicana, Texas, admits he has surprised himself a bit.

"You always want to have confidence in yourself," said Johnson, who sat out last season after transferring from Iowa State. "I felt like I could make an impact on this team, just not to the magnitude of this. I just went out and did what (Boeheim) asked me to do."

Officially, Johnson made his splash in November, when then-No. 24 Syracuse got a 22-point win against then-No. 12 California at Madison Square Garden in the Coaches vs. Cancer tournament. He had 17 points and 11 rebounds, then 25 points the next night in a 12-point win against then-No. 4 North Carolina.

In two big wins he had arrived, but for his teammates, it was old news.

"It was the coming-out party of Wesley Johnson," guard Scoop Jardine said. "We had a whole year to see him. Nobody had seen him yet. He … played really great down at the Garden. Once he came out there, we wasn't looking back."

Johnson had two stellar years at Iowa State, averaging 12.3 points as a freshman and 12.4 as a sophomore. But the Cyclones weren't a postseason team — they went 15-16 and 14-18 in his two seasons — and he made the decision to transfer.

Johnson, averaging 16.5 points and 8.5 rebounds, is new to the NCAA Tournament, but he has played on major stages before. He had a double double in a February win against then-No. 8 Villanova, played in the Carrier Dome before a crowd of 34,616, the largest on-campus crowd in NCAA history.

In the opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament, with Syracuse center Arinze Onuaku out with a knee injury, Johnson had a team-high 18 points in a win against Vermont, then went for a career-high 31 points and 14 rebounds in a dominating second-round win against Gonzaga, playing all 40 minutes. That made Syracuse 12-0 this season when he has a double double.

Johnson's path to a Final Four could bring him back to his Big 12 roots, potentially facing second-seeded Kansas State in the region final if the Orange can get past Thursday's game against fifth-seeded Butler. Johnson faced the Wildcats in his final home game at Iowa State, a four-point loss. This is a different game, a different team, and a different Wesley Johnson.

"He brings scoring and rebounding, and plays great defense in that zone," guard Andy Rautins said. "He's really been a huge asset to our team. I can't say enough about what he's done for us, as well as being a leader. It's his character as well as his plays. He's extraordinary, and a big part of this team."

Greg Auman can be reached at and at (813) 226-3346.

Syracuse, Wesley Johnson hope success continues in NCAA Tournament 03/22/10 [Last modified: Monday, March 22, 2010 11:12pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Bucs talk social issues, protests at team meeting


    TAMPA — Each time Dirk Koetter walks through the door of his office at One Buc Place, he passes by the only jersey framed on his wall.

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans (13) wears custom cleats to represent Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality (RISE) as part of the NFL???‚??„?s "My Cause, My Cleats Campaign" before the start of a football game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, Calif., on Sunday, Dec. 4, 2016.
  2. The 10 silliest names for college football bowl games


    The Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl hadn't even been officially announced when SBNation called it the silliest bowl name ever. Ten others worthy of consideration:

    Logo for the Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl. [MATT BAKER | Times]
  3. Austin Pruitt faces the Blue Jays tonight at the Trop.
  4. USF football and the undefeated degree of difficulty


    TAMPA — In the wake of the latest solar eclipse, USF fans eagerly await the next astronomical phenomenon.

    USF head coach Charlie Strong leads his team during practice last month in Tampa.
  5. Nature Coast puts unbeaten streak on the line vs. IMG White


    BROOKSVILLE — Nature Coast currently rides a 22-game regular-season win streak, but first-year football coach Cory Johns was not around for any of those wins. Neither was most of his coaching staff. This is an entirely new campaign with new obstacles ahead.

    Nature Coast offensive lineman Louis Miele (66) blocks a Sunlake defensive player during the Clash 4 Clayton football scrimmage and fundraiser Aug. 12 at Springstead High School.