By JOHN KEKIS
The Associated Press
SYRACUSE — Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim heads into an offseason like no other in the past two decades — without assistant Mike Hopkins.
Coming off a down year (19-15, 10-8 Atlantic Coast Conference) and without his top assistant to lend extra stability, Boeheim faces a challenging road ahead.
Hopkins, who was in line to succeed his Hall of Fame mentor after next season, was hired Sunday as head coach at Washington.
“It’ll be difficult,” Boeheim said. “I’ve known Mike since he was 16 years old. I would have liked Mike to take over here, but he’s happy. That’s what’s important.”
Syracuse loses two key performers in fifth-year transfers Andrew White, the team’s top scorer (18.5), and point guard John Gillon. Also departing are forward Tyler Roberson, who was relegated to a minor role during the season because of his inconsistent play, and center Dajuan Coleman, who played in only 17 games in the final year of his injury-plagued career.
Up in the air is the future of star forward Tyler Lydon, who was recruited by Hopkins and was very close to him. Although posts on social media indicated that Lydon had signed with an agent, Boeheim said Monday afternoon that he had not been notified.
The season, which began with the Orange ranked in The AP Top 25, came to an abrupt end on Saturday in an 85-80 loss at home to Ole Miss in the second round of the NIT. Syracuse was the top seed, which likely meant just one more victory during the season would have landed the Orange in the NCAA Tournament.
“It’s a season where we did some great things,” said Boeheim, who agreed to a contract extension on Sunday after Hopkins’ departure was announced. “We had some great moments.”
Those moments included wins at home over Florida State, Virginia and Duke when all three were ranked in the top 10 of the AP poll.
There also were too many forgettable moments — a 33-point home loss to St. John’s, the worst setback in the Carrier Dome under Boeheim, and a 15-point loss at Boston College to start the Atlantic Coast Conference portion of the schedule.
Both losses were mirror images of what happened against Ole Miss (15 of 32 makes from 3-point range) and others in a season that ended with five nonconference losses and the most losses in Boeheim’s 41-year career — too many enemy long balls swishing the net.
“It’s just a microcosm of our season,” Boeheim said. “You have to guard the shooters. We haven’t done that all year. We never stopped the other team’s best shooter.”
The 6-foot-9 Lydon emerged as a bona fide star as a freshman in 2015-16 with a strong perimeter game and shot-blocking ability inside while playing center and both forward positions. He added 20 pounds of muscle in the offseason and averaged 13.2 points and a team-best 8.6 rebounds per game this past season.
In his two years in Orange, Lydon also made nearly 40 percent of his 3-point attempts. If he doesn’t return, those are big shoes to fill.
Syracuse has received commitments from 6-3 point guard Howard Washington and 6-8 forward Oshae Brissett, who both play at Athlete Institute in Ontario, Canada, and from 6-9 power forward Bourama Sidibe of St. Benedict’s Prep in Newark, New Jersey.
The Orange had a solid recruiting class last year that included guard Tyus Battle, 6-10 forward Taurean Thompson, and 6-8 forward Matthew Moyer. Battle emerged as a star as a freshman and Thompson displayed a silky offensive touch that bodes well for the future, while Moyer redshirted. Add point guard Frank Howard, whom Boeheim called his best outside defender, and 7-2 center Paschal Chukwu (he underwent eye surgery in December and did not play again) and the Orange has a decent nucleus.
Boeheim said he planned to add another assistant to fill the void left by Hopkins’ departure. At least there will be continuity at head coach.