Few players that give as much heart, effort, blood and sweat to a program are as embattled as Syracuse's Trevor Cooney. The subject of much debate within the Orange fan base, Cooney has been the subject of criticism throughout his career.
"He shoots too much."
"He misses too much."
"He never hits big shots."
"He's one dimensional."
Just a few of the shots taken at Cooney, especially over the last two years. Were those criticisms fair? Perhaps. Perhaps not. But that is not the point as Syracuse has reached the fifth Final Four in the Jim Boeheim era. Cooney should, by now, have changed the minds of those who have not appreciated his career contributions.
Yes his missed potential game winners against Pittsburgh and Clemson this season can be used as examples to his detriment. The lack of big moments in the past is also a popular point. Despite that, his play over the last couple of weeks should erase all of that.
Cooney has been a key cog in a team that has made an improbable run to college basketball's biggest stage. One that few saw coming. One that will be remembered by Syracuse faithful forever. One that may be the most magical in Syracuse history.
And as a part of that team, someone who provided major contributions in each of the victories thus far, his legacy now reflects that magic.
True Cooney has not hit the game winning shot to date. But is that necessary? Does that define him? Or does his critical plays against Gonzaga and Virginia to spark comebacks mean more? Cooney stopped Virginia runs multiple times on Sunday, whether it was with a mid-range jumper or drive and layup.
As has been a consistent part of his game throughout his career, Cooney was once again a strong defender. Hey may have only scored eight points in the Regional Final, but he also dished out three assists and collected four steals. Each one of critical importance. Four steals against one of the most efficient offensive teams in the country.
During this four game run, Cooney is shooting 43% from the floor and 47% from beyond the arc. Both would easily be career highs. He has also averaged 1.5 steals and two assists per game.
Against Gonzaga in the Sweet-16, he scored 15 points on 5-9 shooting and stole a pass late that would have all but sealed a victory. Game winning shot? No. Game winning play? Yes. The officials messed it up and called Cooney out of bounds when he was clearly in, but that does not change the clutch play that he made.
Trevor Cooney is what he is. A slightly above average outside shooter who is a great defender at the top of the zone. He has struggled to develop a consistent game driving the ball, but that has changed in the tournament. Against Virginia, he attempted only one three-pointer. He attacked the basket frequently, ending Virginia runs on multiple occasions.
In some ways, Trevor Cooney embodies this year's Syracuse Orange squad. The underdog. Counted out but continues to fight and refuses to go away. No matter how dire the circumstances appear, he still believes. It is that perseverance that has gotten Syracuse to the spot they currently find themselves.
When Syracuse takes the floor on Saturday against North Carolina, Cooney will make Orange history. He will become the first player in the history of the program to play in two Final Fours. That should be Trevor Cooney's legacy. That should be what he's remembered for. This run. This magic. This madness.
Cooney has always taken the criticism in stride. He never lashes out, never spouts back. He simply goes about his business and keeps plugging away. The definition of a professional. The definition of a Syracuse son that should be remembered fondly.