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Familiarity Among Forwards

 Syracuse freshman Justin Taylor elevates for a jumper against Bryant
Syracuse freshman Justin Taylor elevates for a jumper against Bryant

A swish and a slam. Two sounds that represent the prettiest basketball has to offer - and that can accentuate the difference in identity between players and teams. As one of the youngest teams in the ACC, Syracuse men’s hoops is still carving out its identity - as are two of its highly-touted freshmen who are often paired in the same breath: Maliq Brown and Justin Taylor.

Outside of both impressing head coach Jim Boeheim, contrasts and comparisons have followed Taylor and Brown as a pair. Although Taylor stands as a small forward and agile shooter versus Brown as a power forward and versatile defender, the two have been well-acquainted for years - going back to their middle school days in their native Virginia. According to Taylor’s mother Kerri, Taylor and Brown’s bond goes back to what formed on the court at a young age.

“They kept in touch and continued to play AAU together in eighth and ninth grade,” Taylor said. “They ended up making the Team Loaded national team, so that’s kind of where they developed both friendship and on-court being able to play well together too.”

Despite that success in the AAU circuit, Taylor and Brown weren’t instant hits on the recruiting trail. Cade Lemcke, who coached Brown at Blue Ridge High School, remembers that both players lifted themselves to new heights through a strong work ethic.

“Neither of them were highly-touted prospects out of the womb,” Lemcke said. “They both continued to work and continued to grind and slowly through their high school careers, they were guys who continued to work and continued to develop.”

As high school wore on, the grind to play at the next level became a priority for both players even as adversity suddenly hit. Brown initially played football at Blue Ridge, but a knee injury his sophomore year led him to focus solely on basketball. As for Taylor, Lemke recalls that the Charlottesville native took advantage of opportunity even during difficult times.

“During the pandemic when a lot of places weren’t open or available, Justin found himself working out at our place a bunch,” Lemcke said.

In the early going, Taylor and Brown have both played in all but one game so far this year as early options off the SU bench. Taylor already has a 25-point game to his credit, while Brown still may have his best work ahead of him - just ask Lemke how SU’s newcomer compares to other ACC bigs he’s coached.

“[Former University of Virginia forward] Mamadi Diakite won a national championship with the Bucs, and [former Clemson University forward] Aamir Sims had a great career as an All-ACC player at Clemson, but Maliq is every bit as good as both of those guys,” Lemcke said.

That typical high praise befits a tandem that has worked through years of basketball, traveled to SU from the Old Dominion State, and assumed a complementary thunder and lightning contrast with one another in the Syracuse rotation.