Syracuse hoops benefits as South Philly's Dion Waiters improves his attitude

Syracuse's Dion Waiters takes on Marquette's Jae Crowder. A talk over the summer with his mother helped Waiters.
Syracuse's Dion Waiters takes on Marquette's Jae Crowder. A talk over the summer with his mother helped Waiters. (KEVIN RIVOLI / Associated Press)
Posted: January 10, 2012

Dion Waiters has grown up.

Once hindered by a sense of self-entitlement, the Syracuse guard is at peace with himself and basketball. And as Villanova could find out Wednesday, the Orange is benefitting from the new-and-improved Waiters.

The South Philadelphia native is arguably the most exciting player on the team that is ranked No. 1 in the nation in both the Associated Press and the USA Today/ESPN coaches polls.

The Orange (17-0, 4-0) will likely be big favorites to beat the Wildcats (8-8, 1-3) for the third time in four meetings, and Waiters is expected to play a major role in the outcome.

The 6-foot-4, slimmed down 215-pounder is Syracuse's second-leading scorer at 12.5 points per game despite being the backup point guard. The sophomore also leads the Orange in steals, with an average of 2.1 per game, and is third on the team in assists, with an average of three per game.

"This season is unbelievable," Waiters said. "It is 20 times better than expected."

The 20-year-old said the big difference for him was hard work and maturation in the offseason.

"I was extra motivated," he said. "Everything motivated me."

Waiters was especially motivated to prove he could be a team player and co-exist with Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim. That's something Waiters had a tough time doing at times last season.

The lowlight of the relationship came when, according to published reports, Waiters cursed at the Hall of Fame coach during a blowout loss to Seton Hall on Jan. 25, 2011, at the Carrier Dome.

Both player and coach said they are past that incident.

"We don't even talk about the past," Waiters said of his relationship with Boeheim. "The past is the past. I'm not drowning in the past. I'm moving forward. I have no time to look back."

However, Waiters will admit to being bothered my what he felt was inconsistent playing time. Never mind that Waiters' shot-selection was dismal and that he slacked off on defense. At the time, the graduate of Life Center Academy, located in Burlington, N.J., believed he was entitled to more playing time.

"I'd play one game, and if I'm really playing well, I would play 25 minutes," Waiters said. "And the next game I would come back and play like 10. Stuff like that. I used to get mad."

Waiters was leaning toward transferring after averaging 6.6 points and nearly as many turnovers (0.9) as assists (1.5) that season. He changed his mind, thanks to this summer's conversation with his mother, Monique Brown.

Brown told her son she didn't raise a quitter. She instructed Waiters to show he was capable of excelling in Syracuse's system.

"She was just like, 'Show them. Show everybody. Prove them wrong,' " Waiters said. "That's all the words, I needed to hear. After that, I just took it to another level."

Brown said she considers Waiters' turnaround "unbelievable."

"It's really overwhelming," she said. "He was in a predicament where it was a rocky road, and now he is in a predicament where it is as smooth as it can be."

Changing his diet, Waiters went on to shed 20 pounds over the summer. He also worked out four times a day and attempted 1,000 jump shots per day.

His breakout game came when he scored 11 points - all in the second half - in a 69-58 NIT Tip-Off semifinal victory over Virginia Tech on Nov. 23 at Madison Square Garden. On Dec. 17, Waiters scored a career-high 22 points in an 88-72 victory at North Carolina State.

Now, he brings his action to the Wells Fargo on Wednesday. Waiters said playing there for the second consecutive season will be one of career highlights.

"The whole South Philly is going to be in there when we play 'Nova," he said. "That's priceless, just coming back home playing in front of everybody. Everybody gets a chance to see you on that court."

They will see a player whose shooting percentage (52.9) is way up from last season (41.1). They'll also see someone who has scored in double figures in 14 of the Orange's 17 games.

Syracuse's starting point guard, Scoop Jardine, is a Neumann-Goretti High School graduate, a fifth-year senior, and Waiters' cousin. He told the Watertown Daily Times that Waiters is "now relishing the college experience and showing that hard work" can pay off.

"My goal first and foremost is to win the [NCAA] championship," Waiters said. "That's the No. 1 goal. Individually, I just want to continue to do well, produce for the team and get wins."

Said Jardine, "The scary part is that Dion can still get so much better."

 


Contact staff writer Keith Pompey at 215-854-2939, kpompey@phillynews.com, or @pompeysgridlock on Twitter. Read his blog "Owls Inq," at www.philly.com/owlsinq

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