Kansas State sophomore guard Shane Southwell grew up in Harlem, N.Y., and watched his fair share of Syracuse games growing up, including their run to the 2003 NCAA title when Southwell was a wide-eyed 11-year-old.
“Everybody remembers Carmelo (Anthony) from that season and how great he played,” Southwell said. “But the thing I remember is Gerry McNamara lighting it up in the Big East Tournament and what an amazing shooter he was.”
Southwell also pointed out that McNamara, one of the most popular players in Syracuse history, is now a graduate assistant for the Orange, a team that advertises itself as “New York’s College Team” on the front of their NCAA Tournament guides.
So would it be sweeter to get a win against the marquee team from his home state? Not necessarily.
“(Syracuse) is one of the premiere teams in the country, so that probably sticks out more than being from New York,” Southwell. “I didn’t grow up as a fan of them or anything like that. They just had good players I enjoyed watching. Still do.”
“Denis was a workout fiend, constantly in the gym, constantly in the weight room,” K-State coach Frank Martin said. “And when Rodney got here, he immediately gravitated toward Denis and the way he was doing things. Then Jake saw that and he followed the two of them.”
Clemente was a senior two seasons ago, when McGruder was a freshman. Pullen’s final season was last year. The lessons McGruder learned from those two are now being passed down to Rodriguez.
“I just watched those guys, how they stayed the course,” McGruder said. “They never got to overwhelmed or felt like too much pressure was on them.
“Now we can help the younger guys, the guys that never been here before. We can teach them what the other guys taught us, like what Jake taught us when we came here … just stay the course and stay together.”
McGruder doesn’t have a Twitter account and doesn’t regularly interact with fans through social media. He likes to keep his focus on the games, and that didn’t change on Friday.
“Everyone is talking about his scoring,” Martin said. “Over an 18-game Big 12 schedule, he was one of the five best defensive players.”
McGruder made four steals against Southern Miss and should defend Syracuse’s Kris Joseph today.
“He’s come a long way,” Spradling said. “Last year people thought defense was his weakness. From that to the All-Big 12 defensive team, it’s a big turnaround. That’s just him in the gym working on it.”