The Cuse Connection
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The Cuse ConnectionBleeding orange is just a figure of speech, right?
On Wednesday night, the team boarded a plane to Syracuse, NY following a preseason contest against the Pacers. The trip featured three road games but the Pistons-Wolves matchup at the Carrier Dome created a sense of anticipation for Johnson, Flynn, and Jason Hart.
After the media huddled around the three former Orange players at the hotel on Thursday morning, the Wolves jumped on a bus to practice at the Carmelo K. Anthony Basketball Center. Anthony led the Orange to a 2003 National Title and decided to donate a ton of cash for the jaw-dropping 54,000 square-foot facility. In Minneapolis two days earlier to play Minnesota, Anthony jokingly granted the Wolves permission to use his building.
Flynn and Johnson were ecstatic for their first chance to view the Hall of Fame section inside the Center. Witnessing their self-guided tour down the long hallway with glass enclosures on each side was absolutely priceless. Pictures, trophies, and flat screen televisions were all displayed inside the glass to highlight the deep basketball history at Syracuse.
Almost frozen in time, Flynn gazed at the TV screen replaying the six-overtime thriller from the 2009 Big East tournament quarterfinals game between Syracuse and Connecticut. The same player that led the Orange to a marathon 127-117 victory by scoring 34 points, dishing out 11 assists in a game-high 67 minutes stood in front of the screen with his eyes fixated on every moment and shaking his head in amazement.
"The point guard is really the guy the coach talks to the most during the season and in two years here, Jonny not only played well but he's just a competitive guy and no matter what happens, he is trying to win," Syracuse head Jim Boeheim explained. "He is trying to do the things that you need to do to win. As a coach, that's what you appreciate the most I think in players, that determination to be a great player, to be on a great team. Jonny Flynn has that, he's always had that and that's what makes him the player he is."
Johnson moved up the hallway, fast forwarding to the next season where the Iowa State transfer finally got his chance to suit up in the Orange uniform. The Wolves No. 4 overall pick pointed to the list of former Syracuse players that earned a spot in the league and a couple of pictures clearly showing Johnson's picture perfect jumper.
Numerous times, Johnson smiled and quietly said, "Wow." Johnson decided to leave Iowa State in search of a family college atmosphere and chance to play under a legendary head coach. A relatively unknown, Johnson practiced with Flynn while he sat out a year in 2008-09 before breaking out on the Cuse scene the next season. The 6-8 wing perfectly fit Boeheim's famed zone defense and he led a team that captured the Big East regular season title. Johnson drilled jumpers, finished on the break, defended on the perimeter, catching the eye of NBA scouts en route to earning Big East Player of the Year honors.
"I'm looking forward to big things from Wes," Anthony said. "So far, so good in preseason, he is shooting the ball extremely well and over time, he is only going to get better."
On Friday, the Wolves walked into the Carrier Dome, of course, waiting in between two doors due to the pressure control inside the monstrous stadium. Instantly, their heads tilt upwards and around the impressive structure. Prior to the game, a montage of all the amazing highlights from the two players brought the Cuse crowd to a fever pitch. Just minutes later, the fans launched to their feet for Johnson, Flynn, and Hart.
"When Jonny walked out, we both looked at each other and said this is crazy man. We are back in the Dome once again. Especially, not suiting up in an Orange uniform on our professional teams was a good feeling for us," Johnson recalled.
Boeheim, Gerry McNamara, and Derrick Coleman watched Minnesota dispatch the Pistons on the Syracuse floor and former Orange great and Mayor of Detroit tossed the ball at the opening tip. The game was secondary for the fans as they had a chance to pay homage to their beloved players.
"I love them both," Coleman proudly stated. "First time I saw Wes, instantly off the bat, I knew he was a pro. And to watch Jonny on TV and then to come to the games and see him in person, just the way he can get to the basket and his shot is being consistent. I think they are going to be great pros. It's Syracuse man, c'mon they don't make it better. We are the Orange."
Flynn and Johnson now return to Minnesota, the site of their new home at the Target Center and a chance to play side-by-side for the first time in their lives. All the memories established at Syracuse will carry over to the NBA where both players plan on creating a new tradition in the white and blue uniforms...and maybe a shade of orange.
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