With more emphasis placed on Syracuse Orange senior forward James Southerland this season after the team saw shooters Dion Waiters, Scoop Jardine, and Kris Joseph move onto the next chapter of their careers, it was unclear how he would respond.
In 32 minutes versus the Arkansas Razorbacks, Southerland accumulated 35 points, going 9-for-13 from three-point range.
Playing the same amount of minutes against the Temple Owls, Southerland amounted six points, missing both of his attempts from long distance.
Then, an off-the-court issue prevented him from competing in six consecutive games for the Orange, who went 4-2 in that time span.
Upon his return, Syracuse started out 3-1, but ended their regular season 1-4 in their final five games.
In the final match of the regular season for the Orange, Southerland attained one point in 30 minutes of play, missing all eight of his attempts from the field.
He would respond by helping guide Syracuse to three wins in three days in their final Big East Conference Tournament to advance to the tournament's championship game. Despite a loss to the Louisville Cardinals in that match, Southerland showed his offensive worth, heating up for 19 three-pointers in the conference tournament, setting a new record for the Big East, topping former Orange player and current assistant coach, Gerry McNamara's, record of 16.
Since then, Southerland's point total per game may have dipped, but his positive contributions have not, as he has aided the team on offense as well as on the defensive end.
Against the California Golden Bears in the NCAA Tournament's round of 32, Southerland amounted nine rebounds, two assists, and four steals.
In Syracuse's Sweet 16 match-up with the east bracket's top-seeded Indiana Hoosiers, the senior forward had seven rebounds, one assist, two steals, and two blocks.
Speaking on the win that has resulted in the Orange competing with the Golden Eagles of Marquette for a spot in the Final Four, Southerland shared that, "It was a good game. Indiana's a great team, but not being in our conference, it's kinda hard to predict our zone. And one thing that's hard to mention is how long we are in the 2-3 [zone]. And we play it differently."
"They got out to a slow start and we just did a good job of bringing the pressure," he added.
Southerland has a strong belief in Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim's 2-3 zone as the team looks to move forward. "One main thing is we communicate," Southerland stated. "We let [each other] know where everybody is, and we crash and get the rebounds. When we do that, it's almost impenetrable."
Working more and more to be a catalyst on both sides of the floor, Southerland also shows leadership in acknowledging that Syracuse must win as a team and not simply through one player.
"Mike [Carter-Williams] and Brandon [Triche] did a great job of getting to the basket and definitely opened the game for us," said Southerland of the contest versus Indiana.
Though you may not always be able to teach an old dog new tricks, you can teach a player willing to learn how to go from an off-and-on outside threat to a competitor who commands themselves to be competent on both sides of the floor.
Southerland may be a senior, but he is still a student-athlete, and his willingness to learn and to grow has the Orange still competing.