Since the departure of Warrick in 2005, Syracuse has not had this type of player. Terrence Roberts, for all his physical tools, lacks certain elements of the aforementioned skill set (handle, shooting, perimeter play). Fortunately, it appears that help is on the horizon, as Towson Catholic forward Donte Greene seems to be the type of player that Boeheim has featured on his best teams.
On Friday night, Greene played an instrumental role in leading Towson Catholic past St. Frances Academy. The game pitted the #1 (TC) and #3 (SFA) teams in the BCL. For about 29 minutes, it was a thrilling game played in front of an incredibly enthusiastic and boisterous crowd. However, those hoping for a nailbiter finish were disappointed, as the Owls used a late 14-1 burst to fly past the Panthers by a final score of 71-58. Donte Greene scored 5 points and added 3 rebounds and a key blocked shot during the run. Virginia Tech-bound PG Malcolm Delaney was the game's high scorer with 26 points.
Greene had a solid overall game, pouring in 21 points on 6-14 shooting (1-4 3pt), grabbing 8 rebounds, and blocking 3 shots. He knocked down 8 of 11 free throws and made several excellent passes after breaking down defenders off the dribble.
Towson Catholic came out fired up and reeled off an 8-0 run to open the game. Greene went to work in the post, scoring over SU recruiting target Sean Mosley on the opening play. He also drew a foul, but missed the ensuing free throw. On the next trip down the court, Greene posted up Eric Brooks (6-6 SR F) and scored on a quick spin move. Greene was also a factor on the defensive end, blocking a shot and forcing Brooks into 2 traveling violations. The early buckets gave the Owls a nice cushion that held until the 4th quarter.
After the Towson run, St. Frances calmed down and slowly worked their way back into the game. Sean Mosley hit a three pointer from the wing to get the Panthers on the board, then sophomore forward Naji Hibbard started to make things happen by slashing to the basket. The Panthers drew within 2 points mid-way through the second quarter, but Donte Greene drilled a smooth pull-up three pointer on the fastbreak and the Owls eventually headed into halftime with a comfortable 39-32 lead.
Things started to get a little tighter in the third quarter, when the TC guards all but forgot about Greene. Sean Mosley put SFA on his back, scoring 7 points and calmly orchestrating a comeback. Mosley finished the game with 20 points on 6 of 11 shooting (1-4 3pt). He went 7-11 from the line and also grabbed 4 rebounds and handed out 2 assists.
With Mosley and Hibbard leading the way, SFA finally drew to a 57-all tie with 3 minutes remaining in the game. Once the game came down to crutch time, Delaney took over and Green played a supporting role. TC regained the lead on a Delaney fastbeak, but the clinching play came when Greene shook Mosley on the perimeter and raced down the lane for a vicious one-handed tomahawk jam (think Hakim Warrick, baby).
The thunderous dunk gave TC a 63-57 lead, but more importantly it effectively silenced the SFA crowd. Greene would go on to make 3 of 4 free throws down the stretch and grab nearly every rebound on the defensive end to help the Owls seal the victory.
Greene followed up his 21 points showing on Friday with 23 points in a 78-71 loss to DeMatha on Saturday evening. Georgetown-bound swingman Austin Freeman led all scorers with 31 points in victory.
Scouting Notes: There is no denying that Greene is a fantastic physical talent. That said, there are many holes in his game and he will have to work hard to really rise up to his potential. Greene has legit size at 6-9, but he will need to get much stronger to star in the Big East. He has a decent frame to work with and is much wider in the shoulders than Warrick was at the same age.
Strengths: Very strong ballhandling for a player his size. He likes to attack from the wing with crossover dribbles and gets surprisingly low to the ground when he does this. However, he comes perilously close to palming the ball each time he crosses over. Greene has excellent court vision and is very unselfish. In terms of ballhandling and passing, he is somewhat similar to Billy Owens.
In terms of offense, he showed the ability to score both inside and out. He played in the post for a majority of the game and showed strong footwork. He displayed spin moves on two different incidents, and also hit a beautiful baby hook over Mosley.
He also used a nice up-and-under move against Brooks that he finished with a finger-roll. When attacking from the perimeter, he would drive to mid-range positions and shoot one-handed floaters. He made two of these, but missed long on several others.
His shooting mechanics are generally pretty good, but he his left hand placement is a little bit odd (more on top of the ball than on the side). This results in occasionally releasing the ball off center, but it is a shooting flaw that should be easily corrected. He can shoot with consistent form out to about 23-24 feet. He gets good rotation and the shot is essentially effortless. His missed three-pointers were all very soft shots and nearly went down.
Weaknesses: Greene has great open court speed with the ball, but he is more interested in leading the break than filling the wings. This was a big disappointment; because he should have been able to score at will in transition, given his size and speed. Instead, he would most often jog up the court when teammate Delaney was leading the break.
Greene also did not show any inclination to use the left hand when shooting around the rim. There were three shots that he took where he could have established a better angle by shooting with his left hand, but he took them all with his right. He missed each one.
Consistent effort is the biggest issue that I see. Both times that I have seen Greene play, he has played every role from dominating difference-maker to indifferent spectator and everywhere in between. He started this game by asserting himself early, but at times he completely faded away.
When he is not involved on the offensive end, he also becomes passive on defense. He does not hustle back in transition and often times he lost position in the TC zone. I counted 3 separate times when he turned his head and lost track of either the ball, or a man sneaking in behind him. Each time, SFA was able to record a basket.
Another issue is that he doesn't seem to really have a "take-over" mentality. In many spots in the game, he would defer to his teammates to try to make something happen. He did have that statement tomahawk jam near the end of the game, but that was his only shot attempt from the field in the 4th quarter. To be a star player and NBA prospect, he will need to develop into more of a go-to scorer.
A final point to make is that Greene's rebounding seems to completely depend on his intensity. He relies solely on athleticism and does not box out or position himself well. When he fades out of the flow on offense, he also disappears on the glass.
He went two full quarters (the 2nd and 3rd) without recording a single rebound, although he did very well on the glass in 1st and 4th quarters. Given SU's perennial difficulties in rebounding out of the zone, I had hoped that Greene would be a more natural rebounder. That does not seem to be the case.
Overall Assessment: While watching Greene, I couldn't help but think that this is the next great SU combo forward. He has a rapidly developing skill set and fits perfectly into Boeheim's mold for the do-it-all frontcourt player. The talk in the gym on Friday night was that Greene would only be at Syracuse for two years, but any talk of leaving early is premature given how uncertain player development is.
In any event, Greene will play major minutes right off the bat and should eventually come to star in the Big East. If I had to guess, I'd expect him to have a freshman year similar to Owens or Wallace (~12 pts/7 rebs), then begin to emerge as a premier player as a sophomore or junior. But, as we've seen this year with Paul Harris, nothing is guaranteed. I want to see an improvement in effort and intensity before I start making grandiose predictions.