Syracuse travels to Puerto Rico for tough tests against Georgia Tech, Virginia
Syracuse’s freshman class has stood out over its first three games of the 2012 season.
Cornelia Fondren, Brianna Butler and Brittney Sykes have started every game for SU this season and have had no trouble adjusting to Division-I basketball.
“Each minute, each game I feel more comfortable playing,” Butler said. “And it feels like regular games—almost like high school kind of.”
The Orange (4-0) freshmen face perhaps their toughest test of the season this weekend—a 27-hour whirlwind in San Juan, Puerto Rico for the San Juan Shootout. SU opens up with Georgia Tech (2-1) Friday at noon and tips off just 26-and-a-half hours later against Virginia (3-0) Saturday at 2:30 p.m.
Syracuse passed its first supposed tough test with flying colors, dismantling a St. Joseph’s team that received three votes in the most recent AP poll.
But the Yellow Jackets and Cavaliers should prove to be tougher competition. Both teams are perennial tournament teams from an ultra-competitive Atlantic Coast Conference. Plus, the Orange doesn’t have the luxury of four days to prepare as it did for the Hawks.
Syracuse spent Wednesday traveling to Puerto Rico. It had a chance to practice at Mario Morales Coliseum on Thursday morning, but even that day was cut short by Thanksgiving.
Not only will the freshmen face their fiercest competition yet, but they also face the most unique conditions any of them have ever had to deal with.
The difference for SU this year was expected to be the freshman class. The No. 6 class in the country was the best the school ever had, and it was supposed to get Syracuse over the hump and back to the NCAA tournament, perhaps even giving the program its first-ever tournament victory.
Through three games, Fondren, Butler and Sykes have more than proven themselves.
Sykes has led the freshmen with 7.3 points per game. Butler has averaged six points per game this year as well, but she has shot 6-for-16 from beyond the arc. Fondren has chipped in with three points per game.
“It’s a huge help, and it’s a huge motivator,” senior guard Elashier Hall said. “When they come in and they hit big shots it gets the team going, especially on defense and defense translates to our offense.”
But it’s not just the shooting that’s seen improvement thanks to the freshmen. Adding depth alone has allowed the Orange to more effectively get out in transition, but it also helps to add some of the best athletes the program has seen.
“It’s the weapons that we have,” senior center Kayla Alexander said. “Especially the freshmen who came in. They came in, they contribute, they start, they get up and down the court, they play good defense; it’s a big difference.”
The two-day stretch the San Juan Shootout provides is a unique proposition for a trio of rookies contributing heavily early. But despite the results – four blowouts – the freshmen have been tested.
After an easy opener at home against Farleigh Dickinson, a trip to Maine provided a grueling road environment. Since then, SU hasn’t played a home game and won’t return to the Carrier Dome until Dec. 4.
With the role they’re expected to play all season, another challenge will prove just how close Syracuse is to the goals it came into the season with tied with the arrival of the freshmen.
“It’s everything,” head coach Quentin Hillsman said. “We need their contributions, we need their depth on the court. So we need to do everything we can to keep them on the court.”
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