Syracuse’s Gerry McNamara recalls ‘incredible environment’ in Albany in 2003

ALBANY — Syracuse men’s basketball assistant coach Gerry McNamara was honored Thursday at the Albany Capital Center, just a short uphill walk from where he helped the Oranges reach the Final Four as a player 19 years ago.

McNamara played as a freshman guard on the 2003 Syracuse team that defeated Auburn in the Sweet 16 and Oklahoma in the Elite Eight in front of a sold-out Orange crowd at MVP Arena (then Pepsi Arena) to earn a trip to the Final Four New Orleans.

Syracuse, which also had successful future NBA star Carmelo Anthony, then hit Texas and Kansas at the Big Easy and won its first national championship.

McNamara, who was back in town to accept the Inspiration Award at the Coaches vs. Cancer Basket “Ball,” recalled the home field advantage the Orange had at Albany.

“The crowd,” McNamara said. “The fact that as soon as the bracket came out that year we knew that when we got promoted to the Sweet 16 and came here we would be in the east region. We knew that this would be a great advantage for us. We obviously have an incredible fan base. I only remember the “Let’s go Orange” chants here. Incredible environment. I remember the Oklahoma game pulling away pretty easily in the second half (with a 63-47 win) and kinda playing the last six or seven minutes of that game knowing you’re about to go to a Final Four will go. Very few feelings like it.

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The NCAA tournament returns to the MVP Arena in March for the first time since 2003 with first and second round games.

McNamara, 39, is entering his 12th season as an assistant to Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, the Hall of Famer who recruited and coached McNamara from Scranton, Pa. while McNamara racked up 2,099 career points and became a fan favorite.

Could McNamara eventually succeed Boeheim, 77, heading into his 47th season as the leader at Syracuse? Boeheim told ESPN radio in Syracuse last March there was “a plan” for his retirement and succession. He did not want to say when he will retire or who will be his successor. He said he will contribute to the process but will not have the final say.

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“I think that’s something he’s obviously going to have to explain to a lot of people before I’m going to share his plan for sure,” McNamara said Thursday. “He has to clarify this, not me.”

McNamara acknowledged that he is considering directing the program one day.

“I mean, sure, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t,” McNamara said. “I love Syracuse. I am very confident in what I bring to the table and my knowledge more than anything the work ethic. i love syracuse I was so blessed to raise my four children there, to win a national championship, to be in multiple Final Fours. It brought me so many great memories… That’s the goal of being a head coach and yes, I love Syracuse as much as anyone can.

Syracuse assistant head coach Adrian Autry, a former Orange player also entering his 12th season as an assistant, is another obvious internal candidate.

The Orange, who are coming off a 16-17 season, have a line-up that includes Glens Falls senior guard Joe Girard III, who averaged 13.8 points per game last season.

“I love working with (Girard),” McNamara said. “I love being around him. I love his energy. I can see his rejuvenation.

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McNamara spoke about the importance of receiving the Inspiration Award. He said his family had been ravaged by cancer for the past three years.

“It means a lot,” he said. “Since coming to Syracuse I’ve been a part of Coaches vs. Cancer events and Coach Boeheim got me involved as a player. … These things are important. These make a big difference. The advances are where we’re headed and the difference it can make and the amount of money that’s being raised and getting into the right hands.”

McNamara said Boeheim’s contribution to the fight against cancer outweighs anything he’s accomplished on the basketball court.

Also honored Thursday was the American Cancer Society’s Executive Vice President, Northeast Region, Anthony Marino, who received the Champion of Hope Award. Marino formed the “Ball” basket after seeing McNamara speak at an event in Syracuse. Since then, The Basket “Ball” has raised more than $2.5 million in 17 years.

Tamarac students Evan Franz and Joseph Carista shared the Fighting Spirit Award for their ongoing battle with cancer.

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