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Looking back 20 years - A recap of the Syracuse men's basketball 2003 title run

Syracuse men’s basketball celebrates the 2003 national championship while standing on stage in white t-shirts and orange shorts
Syracuse men’s basketball celebrates the 2003 national championship

“It what just a months long party.” Brent Axe said.

That was after the state of the city depicted by ESPN Syracuse’s Brent Axe after Syracuse men's basketball won its first and only national championship. And today, the team that brought so much joy back to Central New York is being honored inside the Dome. But to get the full story of what was 2003 we have to go all the back to the beginning and meet a shooting star. A game WAER sophomore at the time Jason Horowitz remembers well.

“It started with a game where Syracuse began the year at Madison Square Garden,” Horowitz said. “I think it was against Memphis, and all of a sudden the whole country got to know the name Carmelo, it wasn’t even a two-part name anymore. It was like Lebron.”

Freshman Carmelo Anthony had 27 points in his first career game that night, but he wasn’t the only freshman making waves in a Syracuse Uniform.

“Then, as the season went along, you saw the special talent that Melo was, but nobody knew Gerry McNamara. Right? Like this little dude from Scranton, Pennsylvania, came in dropping threes left and right. We were like woah, who’s this guy?” Axe said.

The Pride of Scranton, Pennsylvania Gerry McNamara was just starting to blossom in his young Syracuse career. And the regular season was going strong for the Orange, who sat at 18-4, 22 games into the regular season. But for many around the team, like, at the time, WAER senior Andy Demetra and Brent Axe, there was one particular game that changed the season.

“The first time I really knew that this team could be something was when they went to Michigan State, and they beat the Spartans in just a tough environment.” Andy Demetra said.

“They played an amazing game at Michigan State,” Axe said.

That win against Michigan State propelled the Orange into the postseason, where the Big East Tournament ended prematurely with a loss to UConn in the Semi-Finals. The loss to the Huskies might have been a blessing in disguise to SU to get the seed it always wanted. Well, at least according to ESPN’s Dave McMenamin.

“We had a practice at Manley Field House, and Mike Hopkins, long-time assistant coach, who is now Head Coach at Washington, he told us if we get the three seed we are going to f-ing New Orleans,” McMenamin said.

McMenamin was a manager on the championship team. And after wins over Manhattan, Oklahoma State, Auburn, Oklahoma and Texas the Orange not only went that the Final Four in New Orleans they got the national title game. And not just because of the two freshmen but because who well the entire team came together.

“It was an interesting mix of younger players,” Axe said. And older players like Keuth Duany, who they called grandpa on that team, and Craig Forth and Jeremy McNeil and some of these guys who have been around a little bit.”

And one of those guys that had been around but not that long, sophomore Hakim Warrick, made the biggest play of the year to seal the national championship win over Kansas: a block of a Jayhawks three-point shot with the Orange leading 81-78 with less than two seconds to go.

So when you look back at 2003, you think of the freshman, the leadership, the block and the pride a college basketball team brought to an entire community.