Syracuse's Jardine thrives in the spotlight

Posted: March 24, 2012

BOSTON - The brightest lights always attracted him.

"You're playing in front of 30,000 fans - on a low night, 25,000," Syracuse point guard Scoop Jardine said Friday about the huge crowds at the Carrier Dome. "When I first went to the Dome, it was the first time I ever signed an autograph. It was all she wrote right there for myself."

Now a senior, about to face Ohio State Saturday in an NCAA East Regional final at TD Garden, Jardine hasn't tired of the spotlight.

"I go everywhere," Jardine said of all the attention on Syracuse basketball. "I don't run from it."

He hates attention, a Syracuse newspaper reporter joked.

"You know I don't," Jardine said. "I'm going to tell you, I go into the arcade with all the kids and just play with them. They probably don't even recognize me at first. Then I'll be in there for hours signing everybody's autograph."

It isn't just him being attracted to the spotlight. The spotlight is attracted to him. Make no mistake, Jardine is the pulse of Syracuse's team. He's fully engaged, always nodding his head at news conferences when Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim makes a point Jardine finds agreeable.

It's enlightening that Jardine doesn't just call Ohio State guard Aaron Craft the best defensive guard in the country "hands down." He adds, "I always thought about if I had to play him, just from watching him on TV, and how he pesters guards. I think it will be a huge opportunity – it's what I ask for."

The potential Craft-on-Jardine matchup will be a huge factor in determining which team advances to the Final Four.

"He's a veteran," Craft said of the 6-foot-2, 195-pound Jardine. "He knows where the ball needs to be, and he knows opportunities, when to attack and when not to. He does a good job of keeping his dribble and just making plays . . . They trust him a lot. They give him a lot of ball screens and they let him kind of make decisions and most of the time he makes the right ones."

Growing up in South Philadelphia, Jardine's game was always the show. One former Neumann-Goretti teammate once described it to me this way: "You think you know what he's going to do, but he does the opposite, 10 times better."

That part of him is still there, Jardine said, just rationed out. The maturation showed in Thursday's 64-63 win over Wisconsin. As the Badgers dropped in six straight threes, Jardine just kept getting Syracuse into its pick-and-roll offense, exploiting matchups at the other end.

"Even last year, I found myself getting in battles like that," Jardine said Friday. "I would try to answer them right away."

He's not claiming perfection. He described how he "got lit up" by Boeheim at halftime after a bad turnover led to any easy Wisconsin hoop just before the break. And he can still appreciate the game's transcendent moments, like when fellow South Philly product Dion Waiters hit a big step-back jumper the other night.

"He made an arcing jump shot," Jardine said. "He does some things on the court that amaze me sometimes, like wow. Just his confidence in himself, I love it. . . . When he made that shot, I felt like we were on the playground or we were in the 'Y' somewhere back home. It didn't feel like we were playing for the Elite Eight."

Jardine remembers saying to Waiters, "That's how you feel?"

Waiters simply nodded his head. These two go back so far that Jardine can't remember when they met. Jardine said the play made him feel so good he went down the next possession and dropped in his own three against Wisconsin.

"It was a crazy moment right there," Jardine said.

Jardine is the first to say he had to grow up off the court to get here. His mother fought to get him away from the street corner. His wizardry with a basketball made that work easier. There were always coaches who understood the kid was special, older players to look out for him. His father has a booming baritone that can be heard encouraging Syracuse players in the loudest arenas.

Jardine's on-court maturation paralleled how he developed away from it. As a freshman at Syracuse, there was a widely publicized incident where he and a cousin were caught using another student's meal card. He thought of transferring home. His family talked him into staying.

Maybe all that set Jardine up for this challenging season. The allegations and subsequent removal of assistant coach Bernie Fine, the questioning of Boeheim's handling of the scandal, then the ineligibility of center Fab Melo kept Syracuse in the headlines. Through it all, Syracuse has kept winning games. It might surprise people to hear Jardine say that no matter what happens against Ohio State, this has been the greatest season of his life. He's a ballplayer who has kept his focus on playing ball, staying fearless.

"I don't think we'll even be nervous," Jardine said of the game that awaits him next.


Contact Mike Jensen at 215-854-4489 or mjensen@phillynews.com or on Twitter @Jensenoffcampus. Read his "Off Campus" columns at www.philly.com/offcampus.

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