Philly players a spark for Syracuse in NCAAs

Syracuse's Rick Jackson (center) and Scoop Jardine (right) huddle with teammates (from left) Brandon Triche, Wes Johnson, and Andy Rautins during the second-round rout of Gonzaga.
Syracuse's Rick Jackson (center) and Scoop Jardine (right) huddle with teammates (from left) Brandon Triche, Wes Johnson, and Andy Rautins during the second-round rout of Gonzaga.
Posted: March 25, 2010

Scoop Jardine's time at Syracuse began with scandal, and included setbacks and second chances before becoming a story of redemption.

As a freshman, the Neumann-Goretti product was suspended two games after being linked to a stolen identification card. He sat out the next season with a medical redshirt after suffering a stress fracture in his left leg. And this year, despite being the only experienced returning point guard, he was assigned to the bench.

But when many would have given up, Jardine kept fighting.

Now, after maturing and months of hard work, the 6-foot-2, 190-pound redshirt sophomore is the NCAA's sixth man of the year, as chosen by the Sporting News.

And tonight, he and another Neumann-Goretti product, Rick Jackson, will work to get top-seeded Syracuse (30-4) past fifth-seeded Butler (30-4) in an NCAA West Regional semifinal in Salt Lake City.

"This is all a dream come true. I'm not even going to lie," Jardine said. "Coming from South Philly and the experiences that I have been through my whole career, I can't ask for anything else.

"But I think my experiences also made me stronger," he added. "I don't think a lot of people could go through what I went through as far as the situation I've been in."

Jardine and Jackson, best friends since seventh grade, find themselves in key spots as the Orange go for the NCAA title.

Jardine will be asked to again provide an immediate jolt off the bench. For the year, the 21-year-old is averaging 8.9 points, 4.2 assists and 1 steal per game. And, more significant, his team is 14-1 when Jardine dishes out at least five assists.

Jackson is again expected to be versatile. In the opening rounds of the NCAA tournament, the 6-9, 240-pounder switched from his normal power forward position to center because of the absence of senior Arinze Onuaku (right quadriceps injury). Onuaku will be unable to play tonight, so Jackson will start at center.

Jackson has enjoyed getting another opportunity to play a position he dominated in high school. He averaged 8.5 points, 8.5 rebounds, three assists, and 2.5 blocks in victories over Vermont and Gonzaga. On the season, the 20-year-old is averaging 9.9 points, seven rebounds, two blocks, and 1.6 steals.

Jackson's career at Syracuse has been much more smooth than that of his friend. He's ranked fourth on Syracuse's career field-goal percentage list at 59.4 percent, is 10th on the school's career blocked-shot list with 173, and leads the Orange with 61 consecutive appearances in the starting lineup. What's more, he's carrying a B average and majoring in sociology.

But there is no denying Jardine's rise from a player who had a negative reputation to a fan favorite whose jaw-dropping assists and crossover dribbles are routinely cheered with: 'Scooooop!'

Expecting Jardine to be in a Syracuse uniform at this stage of his college career didn't always seem likely.

A lot of that had to do with his first being dissatisfied with playing time and then being linked to a stolen Syracuse campus identification card as a freshman.

One of the nation's premier high school guards, Jardine expected to make an immediate impact in college.

Instead, he ended up playing behind Jonny Flynn, another highly touted freshman point guard.

"It was really tough to go through that," Jardine said. "Just to know that you are not starting. Which kid wouldn't want to go out there and start? Which kid wouldn't want to go out there and play?"

But Jardine would eventually have bigger problems than not starting.

They began when a cousin, Robert Washington, visited Jardine at Syracuse.

Washington was arrested on suspicion of using a stolen ID card to buy $115.65 worth of food. According to court documents, Jardine knew that another student's identification was used to order the food.

Washington, however, maintained that Jardine wasn't involved, and, in the end, Onondaga County District Attorney William J. Fitzpatrick declined to prosecute Jardine. The charges against Washington, which included forgery and larceny, were also eventually dropped.

The incident, nevertheless, was a huge blow to Jardine's squeaky clean image.

"When that was going on, I was like, 'Ah, man. Everybody is going to think right away that he was your typical street hood,' " Neumann-Goretti coach Carl Arrigale said. "They are going to think he doesn't listen to anybody.

"But part of that was trying to help a guy from the area that he thought needed the help. . . . He's got a big heart. It was just a young kid using poor judgment."

After being redshirted last season, Jardine expected to inherit the starting point guard position that was vacated by Flynn, who was drafted by the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Instead, he learned before the season that that job would be given to freshman Brandon Triche, who played shooting guard in high school.

"With me not starting, it was just another form of motivation to myself to prove to people how good I am," he said.

"This past summer, he worked real hard to get his body in shape," Jackson said of Jardine's shedding 20 pounds. "And it's paying off for him right now."

In the process, Jardine has provided instant excitement off the bench all season. And after some crowd-pleasing performances, he often thinks back to being linked to the stolen identification card.

"A lot of people say just forget it," he said. "But I remember the feeling I had and all the people that vanished from me.

"It just made me work hard. It made me cherish everything I'm getting right now, because it can be gone. And it almost was gone from me."


Contact staff writer Keith Pompey at 610-313-8029 or kpompey@phillynews.com.

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