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Pitoniak: Jardine becomes a leader

SYRACUSE - After watching Scoop Jardine lead Syracuse to its 20th consecutive victory Monday night - the best start in this basketball program's storied history - Jim Boeheim focused on the intangibles rather than the gaudy numbers on the stat sheet.

                "He is the leader of this team; he's a vocal leader,'' Boeheim said of the point guard who finished with 12 points, 10 assists and just two turnovers in a hard-fought 71-63 victory vs. Pitt. "He's a guy who will make plays. He's not afraid to make plays. He can make plays and he does make plays. And when he shoots the ball good, he's one of the best point guards in the league."

                Then, without pausing, the fourth winningest coach in the history of college basketball took a shot at Jardine's detractors.

                "He's a key guy,'' Boeheim said. "Most people in this town can't quite figure that out. Maybe they will, but I seriously doubt it."

                I disagree.

                I believe the majority of Orange fans have begun to figure out that Jardine is a big reason - perhaps the biggest reason - SU is unbeaten and has been atop the national rankings for six consecutive weeks. The fifth-year senior from Philly has matured into the type of self-less leader you need in order to put together the type of special season that's unfolding beneath the Carrier Dome Teflon big top.

                With 22 points and 19 assists combined his past two games, Jardine has shown the play-making and decision-making skills Orange fans have come to expect from a position once manned by the legendary likes of Pearl Washington, Sherman Douglas, Gerry McNamara, Jason Hart and Jonny Flynn.

                Those confounding "Scoop Being Scoop" moments have been few and far between this season.

                "You live and learn, and, hopefully, you grow from your mistakes,'' said Jardine, who already has earned his undergraduate degree and is working on another. "Like Coach says, it's all part of your educational experience. And it's all paying off for me now. I'm having more fun than I've ever had playing basketball. I'm soaking in and enjoying every moment. This is special."

                Although he logged a season-high 37 minutes against Pitt, Jardine has been averaging just 22.3 minutes per game for the deepest team in Boeheim's 36 seasons. But you won't hear any belly-aching from Jardine about PT. He truly has put team above self. He's making the most of his time, whether he's on the court running the show, or sitting on the bench exhorting on his teammates.

                "I'm doing whatever it takes to win a national championship,'' said Jardine, who's averages 8.6 points, 4.8 assists and just 2 turnovers per game. "If they need me to play 25-30 minutes, I'm there for them. If they need me to play 15 a night, I'm there for them. Play the best 15 minutes I can possibly play. And if I do that, it's easier for the younger guys to do that. That's leading by example. That's the thing.  I came back for this team."

                And the younger guys have taken notice.

                "Scoop has set the tone for everyone,'' said sophomore guard Dion Waiters, who has come to accept and embrace his role as the most dynamic sixth man in the Big East and perhaps the country. "A lot of guys, especially if they were seniors, might be pouting if they were spending periods of time on the bench. But Scoop never stops leading and encouraging. And you figure if he can have that attitude then the rest of us should, too."

                Jardine learned those leadership lessons from his former teammate, Andy Rautins. Scoop and others were frequent recipients of encouraging words from Rautins, particularly during challenging times. And they watched how Rautins gracefully handled his own difficult times.

                "Andy set a great example,'' Jardine said. "Guys respected and loved him for it. It really does have an impact, particularly on the young guys."

                There's no question Jardine could be putting up much more impressive numbers if he were playing more. Boeheim said as much last night, when he told us that Scoop would be leading the league in assists and scoring in double figures.

                But Jardine is measuring himself by other numbers this season. Wins and losses. And he'll consider himself a huge success if he bags the ultimate team goal - a national championship in New Orleans on April 2.

                Now that would a Scoop Being Scoop moment worth remembering.

Award-winning columnist and author Scott Pitoniak has followed Syracuse basketball since the mid-1960s and covered the Orange since 1977. His 14th book, Color Him Orange: The Jim Boeheim Story,  is available both in print and digital editions. His next book, Johnny Antonelli: A Baseball Memoir, will be published this spring. You can read more by Scott at www.scottpitoniak.com .
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