It was an up-and-down season, one filled with highs and lows that proved to be an adventure from start to finish as college basketball tried to navigate a season played amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.
But it ended with a trip to the Sweet 16 for Joseph Girard III and the Syracuse men’s basketball program, a “positive note” that the Glens Falls native and his teammates intend to build off.
“That led us into an offseason that we all were hungry for, and eager to get to, because of the way we ended the season,” Girard said in a recent interview with The Daily Gazette.
The former Glens Falls High School standout, who scored more points than anyone in New York State high school basketball history, Girard has dedicated his offseason to preparing to help lead the Orange to another strong NCAA tournament run. The 20-year-old has found some time for golf — a sport he developed fondness for last year when so many other activities weren’t accessible because of pandemic restrictions — but his focus has been on improving his game and making sure he’s in the best shape possible for the 2021-22 campaign.
After a season that saw Girard’s scoring average dip to 9.8 points per game from 12.4 as a college rookie, the rising junior spent ample hours working out alongside teammate Buddy Boeheim with Syracuse assistant coach Gerry McNamara before heading home for a couple weeks. Now back on campus and participating in formal offseason workouts for Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame member Jim Boeheim’s program, Girard said he feels strong and headed in the right direction.
“We’re all trying to get faster, stronger, quicker,” Girard said. “That’s the main thing.”
For Girard, that’s especially important after the challenges he faced last season. Staying in top shape and in a rhythm was difficult for all college basketball players, as pauses of team activities became the norm for so many programs as they navigated through the pandemic, but Girard also dealt with his own bout with COVID-19 starting in late December. Girard said he didn’t feel ill, but was tired enough every day “for three, four weeks,” that if he wasn’t moving around or standing, he’d “fall asleep right away.”
“Oh, it took a long time,” Girard said of when he felt back to 100%. “I have asthma, so the tiredness and the breathing was the hardest part for me.”
Syracuse finished 9-7 in ACC play last season, and exited in the conference tournament’s quarterfinals. After a 6-1 start to the season, Syracuse was 10-8 during the remainder of the season prior to the NCAA tournament — and a number of Orange fans were heavily critical of Girard’s play on social media during that stretch.
“I saw it all, obviously,” Girard said. “But, you know, I’ve had to deal with that since high school, so it wasn’t too hard on me because I knew who to listen to, the right people to listen to — all that kind of thing.”
Of the criticism he received, Girard added: “That’s just something that comes with part of being here, part of playing the game. Everybody takes it differently and everybody handles it differently, but we all get it at some point.”
Girard played some of his season’s best basketball during the Orange’s Buddy Boeheim-led NCAA tournament run as a No. 11 seed. Girard scored a dozen points in each of Syracuse’s three tournament games, and made 9 of 21 attempts from 3-point territory. In Syracuse’s two tournament wins, Girard contributed seven assists and six rebounds each game.
Despite the solid showing in the NCAA tournament, Girard said the social-media chatter he read helped fuel his offseason routine.
“It’s definitely something that’s a motivating factor,” Girard said.
So, too, is the relative lack of national buzz around the Orange this offseason. Like nearly every men’s college basketball team this offseason, Syracuse’s program has seen players come and go, and the highest-profile incoming player for the Orange is another Boeheim, as Jimmy Boeheim — who previously starred at Cornell — transferred to play for his father’s team. During summer workouts, Girard said Syracuse’s chemistry has been apparent, and “honestly, it’s been pretty easy” to form.
“Everybody is locked in and working hard, and we all have the same goals,” Girard said. “We made a Sweet 16 run and everybody seems to be forgetting about it — but we haven’t forgotten about it.”