John Wallace Reflects on 1996 Final Four Run

Former Syracuse star forward John Wallace remembers the Orange's run to the 1996 Final Four.

CuseNation.com was able to catch up with former Syracuse star forward John Wallace to reflect on the 1996 squad he led to the National Championship game. Wallace and his teammates will be honored during halftime of Saturday's game against Pittsburgh. 

Here are Wallace's remembrances from that historic and magical season. 

Remembering the 1996 Season

"We weren't supposed to do anything that year," Wallace said. "That's why it's one of those things that made it an improbable run and one of the favorite teams for Syracuse fans. Because we came out of nowhere and no one expected much out of us except ourselves. We knew we were good. Coach knew we were good. 

"It was just a matter of us making that run at the end that capped off the magical year. It would've been really, really special if we would have won the whole thing. But it was still a great year in the end."

Entering the Tournament

"I remember vividly thinking we could win our side of the bracket," Wallace said. "Then, we could get revenge on UConn because they beat us in the Big East Tournament. UConn ended up losing to Mississippi State so we beat them. 

"But there was a chance to get some revenge on UConn. Always thinking about the Big East and the rivalry. We wanted to get one up on them because they got one up on us that year with the Big East Tournament."

A Classic vs Georgia

"To be quite honest, we were expecting to play Purdue who Georgia beat," Wallace said. "We weren't even expecting to play Georgia. It was a very incredible up and down game. We were handling them very easily at the point where I got my fourth foul.

"Then they went on a run. At that point, I just kind of checked myself back into the game. We were down by about 12 points. I was like, I'm not going to let my senior season slip away on the bench watching my team lose. So I inserted myself back. 

"I told coach, 'don't worry I won't get a fifth foul. There was no way I was getting the fifth foul in any circumstance. I was going to give up layups if I had to because I knew I was worth more than two points.

"We just fought back and hit some big shots. Lazarus hit some big shots and some big threes. He got me the ball in perfect scoring position every single time. Todd played great, Cipolla played great, Otis played great. We all rallied around it.

"The play that sent us into overtime, I definitely wanted to take the shot. Coach explained I was the best inbounder. If we don't get the ball in, it doesn't matter. We aren't going to get a shot. So he convinced me and I had to tap my old high school quarterback days. 

"I tossed Cipolla the pass and it went just over the outstretched hand of Shandon Anderson. Then Cipolla hit a beautiful shot on the baseline as he's sliding back on his (butt). It was such a picturesque moment. Then in overtime, we just took over. 

"I remember sitting on the bench and thinking there's no way we're not winning this game. I looked over at them and they were disappointed while we were excited. It just carried over into overtime. 

"The ebs and flows of the game. They were winning and we were winning. In overtime, it was shot for shot for shot. Then I hit the last shot with 2.7 seconds left to win the game. I think about that shot and it still gives me goosebumps. It still gives me that feeling of being so eladed. It's indescribable.

"That game I get asked about more than any other game I've ever played in."

Making the Final Four

"It sinks in with the way we kind of went there," Wallace said. "Winning the overtime game against Georgia was incredible. Beating Kansas. For me, when it really sunk in, was when we landed in Syracuse. That's why we have the greatest fans in the world. 

"There was literally 50,000 people waiting. On the highways, at the airport, at the bus when we got off the bus. It was inexplicable. Syracuse fans are the greatest people on planet earth. It was just an amazing feeling to have that kind of support from our fans when we landed after reaching the Final Four."

The Title Game vs Kentucky

"If I didn't foul out of the game, we would've definitely won," Wallace said. "There's no doubt in my mind. We were making our run. The play that I fouled out on, it was probably the only time Lazarus and I weren't on the same page. If you watch, I've never watched the game, but if you rewatch it, I remember it vividly. I was playing for Lazarus to throw an alley-oop pass. 

"He threw a chess pass that got deflected. In trying to retrieve the ball, I picked up my fifth foul. It's not his fault, obviously. I shouldn't have committed the foul, but I didn't think I committed the foul. It a loose ball and we were both going for it. 

"There were three questionable fouls on me that day. I told the ref as much in probably not the nicest way, but I told them after the game what they did. I know we would've won that game even though they had the better team. 

"That night we were the better team and I was the best player on the court. When you have the best player on the court, you have a really good chance to win."

Being Honored by Syracuse

"It's perfect, man," Wallace said. "Twenty years. I'm looking forward to it. Some of the guys I haven't seen in a very long time. Some of the guys I see all the time. Some of the guys I don't see much but we talk on the phone or Facetime. We stay in contact. 

"It was a very special group of guys. We're going to always be linked together forever. That's what that whole season was about. When you make that kind of run, you're linked together forever and it's a beautiful thing. To be a part of something that the whole city got behind. 

"It's probably my favorite basketball moment, ever. The pureness of it. The way I truly, truly love Syracuse. I truly bleed Orange. So to be able to be a part of something and bring such joy and excitement to the area while I was in school will always be something special and dear to my heart."


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