Rony Seikaly arrived at Syracuse University with crude basketball ability, bad hands and the propensity to make easy dunk shots bounce off the rim.
He also arrived unannounced, all 6-foot-10 of him. Nobody bothered recruiting him because no one knew about him, as Seikaly went to high school in Athens, Greece, after his family fled troubles in Beirut, Lebanon, when he was 10 years old.
Coach Jim Boeheim figured he couldn’t go wrong when Seikaly walked into his office one day. After all, the kid was 6-10.
But it hasn’t been easy. Seikaly has been embarrassed by 7-0 Patrick Ewing of Georgetown, but also by shorter Walter Berry of St. John’s and Harold Pressley of Villanova, among others, during the past Big East Conference basketball wars.
They are all gone now, and Seikaly, a junior, has the opportunity to be the a prominent center in the Big East. His skills have improved and there aren’t too many talented big men in the conference, or in the nation, for that matter.
“I don’t know if I can be the most dominating center in nation,” Seikaly said. “I just want to be the most dominating center in the Big East.”
With the Big East season heating up, the Orangemen are ranked No. 5 in the nation with a 13-0 record. In conference play, they have beaten Connecticut and Providence.
Seikaly’s progress was slowed this summer when, as a member of the U.S. team in the World Games in Spain, he suffered a stress fracture in his foot.
Offensively, he has done well with a 12.5 scoring average, but he admits his rebounding and defensive work, needs improvement. Against Providence Jan. 5, he scored a career-high 29 points.
Lately, he has been especially effective hitting the turn-around jump shot from the low post.
“With four months off your feet (because of the foot injury), it’s been difficult,” Seikaly said. “But I’m improving. I’m not 100 percent yet. Statistics-wise, I’ve done well in scoring, but my main concern is my timing. My reaction has been slow defensively and in rebounding, but it’s getting better.”
Seikaly came to Syracuse because his sister came from Athens to go there. His brother went to Colgate.
“The first game I ever saw was in the Carrier Dome, Syracuse against Colgate,” Seikaly said. “I knew I wanted to go there. I had played basketball in Greece, but it was nothing like in the United States. “
No dominant teams have emerged in the nation so far this season, and Boeheim isn’t confident his team can survive the Big East without several losses. The Orangemen were picked second behind Georgetown in the preseason poll of the league’s coaches.
“It looks like everybody is going to beat everybody,” Boeheim said.
Syracuse has depth, which a lot of teams, Big East and elsewhere, don’t have.
The Orangemen have sophomore Sherman Douglas running the offense, taking over for Dwyane “Pearl” Washington. Senior Greg Monroe joins Douglas in the backcourt, with touted freshman Stephen Thompson from Crenshaw High School coming off the bench.
Joining Siekaly up front are 6-9 freshman Derrick Coleman and 6-5 senior Howard Triche, with 6-9 sophomore Rodney Walker and 6-9 junior Derek Brower as the top reserves.
“In the past, Pearl Washington ran the show and they’d (opposing teams) put three men on me,” Seikaly said. “If they put three men on me now, they’re in trouble because we have five threats out there on the court. Last year we had a lot of veterans, but now we’ve got good young players who are going to get better. They haven’t reached their potential yet. All they can do is get better.”