Think about Scoop Jardine's situation for a moment.
After sitting out all of last year with a stress fracture in his leg, the Philadelphia, Pa., product expected to move into a starting point guard role for Syracuse when Jonny Flynn left early for the NBA.
But when highly regarded freshman Brandon Triche stepped on campus, and won the starting spot opposite Andy Rautins in the preseason, Jardine was relegated to a reserve role for coach Jim Boeheim's team.
How many other big-time recruits would have handled that with such class? Jardine never complained that Triche was starting, nor showed any kind of attitude, as his role was defined during a spectacular regular season.
And now, as SU heads into the NCAA Tournament as a No. 1 seed in the West Region, the 6-foot-2, 190-pound redshirt sophomore is a vital cog in the Orange's quest for a second national title.
"Where would we be without Scoop?" Rautins said. "I'd say for sure we would have lost several more games. He's become such an important player. We treat him as a starter that just happens to come off the bench. When he enters the game, good things usually happen."
Boeheim has said all along that this team has seven starters. Along with the anointed five of Triche, Rautins, Wes Johnson, Arinze Onuaku and Rick Jackson, Jardine and Big East Sixth Man of the year Kris Joseph share time almost equally.
Joseph, in fact, is third on the team in minutes player (27.3 per game), while Jardine ranks sixth at 22.0. Without a start to his credit, Jardine ranks sixth in scoring (8.5), second in assists (4.4), and third in steals (1.3).
And while Triche has struggled over the past month after a fast start to his rookie season, Jardine's game has exploded. He has been on the court at all of the key times for the Orange down the stretch, and is averaging nearly 14 points in his last four outings.
"I'm just doing what coach wants me to do, giving my team a chance to win," said Jardine, who used the year off to get into better physical shape and increase his endurance. "I know I'm going to play key minutes, so when I'm on the floor I just try to get all my teammates involved. Brandon is struggling a little right now, but he's still a key player for us.''
Boeheim uses words like "unselfish, team-oriented, energizing" to describe Jardine. "He creates so much for us with his penetration ability," Boeheim said. "And I think he's surprised everybody with the way he's shooting this season."
Only a 28 percent shooter from 3-point range during his freshman season two years ago, Jardine is now shooting at a .391 clip, hitting 18 of 46.
Jardine said daily shooting drills last summer have paid dividends.
"Coach Hop (assistant Mike Hopkins) worked with me two or three hours every day," Jardine said. "He's improved my range, my rotation and my shooting motion. Now I feel comfortable stepping out and taking that shot."
Said Hopkins of his star pupil: "Scoop put in the time to get better. You have to give him a lot of credit for that. He had a tendency to get the ball back over his head and that prevented a good release. Now, he's shooting it in front of his face and his release is a lot more consistent."
And while Jardine will never be the prime shooter, his ability to stretch defenses has taken some of the defensive focus off Rautins and Johnson. And he's still dynamite in the SU transition game.
"On any other team, Scoop could be averaging 20 points a game," said Johnson, who leads SU in scoring. "But he's such a team player. He's always thinking pass first."
Jardine's relationship with Triche has evolved as well. They always work together in practice, and spend time afterward analyzing each other's game.
"Scoop has been nothing but gracious to me," said Triche, who is averaging 21.2 minutes and 8.3 points in tandem with Jardine. "He's taught me a lot about how to run a team and he's always been encouraging."
In fact, the Jardine-Triche duo (16.8 ppg.) has almost equaled Flynn's output (17.4) and they are averaging one more assist (7.3) than the first-round pick of the Minnesota Timberwolves.
"It's been a good combination for us," Hopkins said. "The great thing is they both root for each other when they are on the bench."
Expect Jardine's role to be even more important in the NCAA Tournament because of the half-court nature of the games.
"He's our floor leader," Rautins said. "We go how he goes."