Syracuse Orange forward James Southerland has shown that he can shoot from deep as well as play close to the rim, but has never really taken on a leadership role for the team. With Kris Joseph no longer in the locker room, the time to step forward for Southerland is now.
As far as how much he feels will be put on his shoulders in that role, Southerland said, "I wouldn't put a lot on my shoulders ‘cause you don't wanna stress it, you don't wanna force anything. So I feel like I'm [going to] do a lot more. I'll be a lot more progressive and take over games without forcing anything."
Southerland is not the only member of the Orange asked to guide the team after being behind someone earlier in their career. Syracuse guard Brandon Triche joins Southerland as a senior and more importantly, someone Southerland has learned to trust.
"Being with him since my freshman year, coming in together, I feel like he's definitely a guy I can rely on," shared Southerland. "We can rely on each other. I know what he brings to the table. He knows what I'm gonna bring to the table. It's gonna be great, and I feel like there's no other person I would want to step up to play with besides him."
Consistency has been an issue in Southerland's ability to take over games in his career. Going into the upcoming season, he does not believe he will be hindered by his inconsistency of the past.
"I feel like I'm gonna be more consistent this year," Southerland expressed. "The more you grow, the slower the game gets, and I feel like it definitely has been a progression from my freshman year to now. The game was a lot faster my freshman year but now everything seemed to slow down, and I feel like it's gonna be great."
Known as an outside shooter, Southerland has worked to improve his interior game to become more of an all-around threat, rather than a mere shooter.
"I have a lot of confidence in my inside game," Southerland stated. "Especially inside, mid-range game because I actually used to start games inside out. The past couple years, they've been needing a shooter so I've been out there shooting the ball."
Trevor Cooney's activation by Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim after being redshirted for the 2011-12 campaign, takes some of the pressure off of Southerland to be the sharp-shooter from outside, opening up his game for the season to come.
"…Knowing that I have an extra shooter on my side, Trevor Cooney, he's gonna be really great, watching him shoot the ball," said Southerland. "So I feel like I'm [going to] be not only a threat on the outside but on the inside, mid-range. Just an all-around threat in the offensive game."
Asked about how the Orange offense will perform inside without having last season's starting center, Fab Melo, Southerland responded, "I feel like we have a lot of fire power, especially underneath there. We still have Rakeem [Christmas] and Baye [Keita] and DaJuan [Coleman]'s looking real good offensively. He's definitely gonna bring a lot and I can see it already.
"And, just knowing that even though we lost Fab [Melo], Dion [Waiters]. We lost four of our guys [including Kris Joseph and Scoop Jardine], [but] we still have a lot of talent to still be an elite team," Southerland stated. However, scoring is not the only thing Southerland has to be concerned with. Without Melo and Joseph, rebounds underneath have to be accounted for.
"I feel like rebounding's just a mindset," said Southerland. "So when the ball's up there, just go after it. And I've been really wanting those rebounds lately. Definitely, it's been the key. Especially in the tournament, where we lost Fab [Melo] and it was basically just Rakeem [Christmas] and Baye [Keita] left at the center position, so everyone has to gain rebounds and that's what we did."
Looking back on that moment when the Orange left the NCAA Tournament without a berth into the Final Four, Southerland uses the bitter taste to fuel his for his final season with Syracuse.
"I was definitely motivated, especially for guys that played last year and felt how it is to reach, to almost get there, and then fall short," expressed Southerland. "So I feel like we have that in the back of our mind. It's not really what we think about, but we're just focusing and we know how it is to lose, especially that late in the season. We don't wanna lose like that again."
Syracuse's quest to return to the NCAA Tournament and get farther than last season starts on Friday, November 9th, when the team will board the USS Midway to play atop the aircraft carrier against San Diego State.