BATTLE TESTED: All eyes are on Tyus Battle this season as he tries to develop into the alpha that Syracuse needs

first_imgIn the opening moments of Syracuse’s first exhibition game this season, against Division II Southern New Hampshire, Tyus Battle heard from himself the same things others had been telling him for years. The Orange trailed by five and, in its last five possessions, had missed one shot and turned the ball over four times. Looking around, the playmakers Battle had depended on last year were gone. At 20, he was the leader of a program usually reliant on its veterans.Practically since he learned to dribble, those close to Battle wanted him to be more “selfish.” Battle prefers the word “aggressive.” Either way, he heard it last season as a freshman at Syracuse and for years before. He heard it from coaches and teammates. He heard it in youth hoops and high school and playing internationally for USA Basketball. He heard it from his dad.Battle sized up his undersized defender, drove and and with each step he closed in on the player his old coaches wanted and his new coaches needed. Rather than spin or pull-up, Battle went over the defender for a lay up. That bucket sparked a 22-0 run in Syracuse’s eventual win.“Toward the end of my freshman season,” Battle said, “I started to get the green light from coach (to shoot more). This season, that’s how I have to play right away.”AdvertisementThis is placeholder textThat’s because Syracuse needs Battle’s best for a shot at success. Due to a transfer, exhausted eligibility and the NBA draft, Syracuse lost five of its six most-played players and about 43 of the 57 shots it took as a team per game last season. The Orange now fills that void with four true freshmen, a redshirt freshman, a graduate transfer, a junior climbing back from point-guard purgatory and a redshirt junior whose multiple eye surgeries limited him to seven games last season. And Battle.,With that roster, expectations plummeted. Syracuse did not receive a single vote in the preseason Top 25 and, in the Atlantic Coast Conference preseason poll, the Orange’s peers ranked it 10th in the conference, the program’s lowest projected finish since it has played in a league with at least 10 teams.Now, Battle knows he’ll be the focal point of opponents’ scouting reports and teammates looking for leadership. Added attention from opponents forces the athletic, slashing guard to reckon with the crux of his game: When to be selfless and when to be selfish.“He’s a wait-and-see-how-it-goes kid,” his father, Gary Battle, said. “He feels out (the situation) and then he explodes. This year, we can’t really afford that.”In taking control, Battle realizes the vision he had for himself in July 2015 when he committed to Syracuse. He explained to ESPN: “(The coaches) told me I could be a versatile guard who could have the ball in my hands a lot.”This also puts Battle in the role that Gary has often sought for his son and said he would excel in.In summer 2014, Battle switched from an AAU team in Philadelphia to Team Scan in the Bronx, at least in part because the coach promised Gary to play Battle at point guard. After nearly every game, Gary and his son analyzed what had worked and what didn’t. Often Gary couldn’t wait, opting to direct Battle from the stands. “Take control!” or “That’s your shot!” Gary often yelled, said Reeves Wiedeman, a journalist who chronicled that AAU season.“The whole summer was about getting Tyus to take charge,” Wiedeman said. “He was the best athlete compared to the other guards, but that was his challenge. (Other guards) wanted the ball, and they were tougher and grittier. He was more reserved about it, because that’s who he was personality-wise.”Andy Mendes | Digital Design EditorIn fall 2015, for his senior year, Battle transferred from Gill St. Bernard’s (New Jersey) High School to St. Joseph’s (New Jersey) High School, a local basketball power. That season, Battle averaged 19.1 points and 9.1 rebounds per game. He won New Jersey Gatorade Player of the Year. Yet in the last game of the Falcons season, the South Jersey Non-Public A title game against St. Augustine, Battle mostly distributed from the Falcons’ motion offense.In the stands, athletic director Jerry Smith thought, “Jesus, please let him shoot more.” At halftime, Smith waited outside the locker room as he had a few times that season. When the team emerged, Smith said, he pulled Battle off to the side and again implored him to be more selfish. Battle never attempted more than 10 shots in a game in high school, Smith said.“This is not the NBA,” he remembered telling his team’s star guard. “We need for you to take over the game as soon as you possibly can. This is not (Michael Jordan) letting everyone touch it.”Battle broke into his usual big smile, Smith remembered, and said, “I got you.”“When someone tells me to take over,” Battle said recently, “I love it. That just means go get a bucket. I love moments like that. … That green light is amazing. It’s fluorescent green.”Last season, Syracuse averaged 57 shots per game. This season, it returns 14 shots per game. The Orange needs Tyus Battle to step into that void. Photo illustration by Sam Lee | Staff Photographer Battle scored 10 of his 15 points in the fourth quarter and overtime. On the last play of the game, with the Falcons down two, Battle drove for the lane and seemed to gain a step on his defender. But then another defender slid in front of him. Smith thought Battle was going to attack the basket and draw a foul, but Battle pulled up and turned away from the hoop. He rifled a pass to his friend Breein Tyree, who hoisted a 3 for the win. The shot fell short. Battle doubled over as if he were about to be sick.“Tyus is just a really, really unselfish kid,” Tyree said recently. “Sometimes he struggled with knowing when to score and when to pass. It wasn’t a major problem, though, because there are other ways to win.”Now, Syracuse will likely lean on Battle more than a team ever has before. His teammates last year knew this might happen and tried to prepare him for it, said former Syracuse forward Andrew White, because they saw the initial hesitancy.White tried to serve as a big brother “without overdoing it,” and he understood that freshmen often hear things like, “Be unselfish!” and “Make the extra pass!” So, he reminded Battle everything the offense did was to help the team score. If Battle put the Orange in the best position to do that, then he should shoot.“He passed up a lot of shots early on,” White said. “As a team, we said, ‘Hey Tyus, it’s alright if you shoot on an open shot.’ We wanted him to be confident and make plays, because once we got (to ACC play), we depended on him to score.”Andy Mendes | Digital Design EditorIn ACC play, opponents swarmed the Orange’s top scoring options, so Battle throttled up. He increased his minutes per game from 23.6 in nonconference to 35.7, and he attempted double-digit shots nine times, compared with just once in nonconference play. Last season, when Duke guarded Battle “like he was the forgotten stepchild,” White said, the veteran forward knew his 18 points meant more. White saw Battle growing into the player he needs to be this season.That mentality extended into the summer, Battle said, as he realized he needed to lead the team. Battle is his own biggest challenge this season, his father said, and that he needs to ensure he leads vocally and not just through action.“I’m a laid-back guy, kind of shy, so this is something I really have to work on,” Battle said. “But I think I’m improving with it. It was tough at first, but you know… I have to do it. I’m accepting the challenge.”Then, in Syracuse’s first exhibition, the buzzer sounded and Tyus Battle, the player who has never been the player he’s supposed to be this season, got that much closer. He was, on the first night, everything he said he would be. He was Syracuse’s alpha in beta.Banner photo illustration by Sam Lee | Staff Photographer Comments Published on November 5, 2017 at 11:07 pm Contact Sam: | @Sam4TR,Comments are closed.last_img read more