SYRACUSE — Kris Joseph came from nowhere to become a significant contributor to the success of last year's Syracuse University basketball team.
After being used sparingly as a freshman, the Canadian born small forward played so many valuable minutes off the bench as a sophomore he finished as the team's third-leading scorer (11.3 points per game), averaged almost six rebounds a game and showed SU fans a glimpse of what they could expect this season.
With the Orange beginning the season Friday with their first full practice following media day, Joseph was in the spotlight. Not only is coach Jim Boeheim asking Joseph to contribute more minutes as a starter, he is asking the 6-foot-7 native of Montreal, Quebec, to step into the huge shoes left by Wes Johnson, the team's leading scorer and Big East Conference Player of the Year who left after one season for the NBA.
"No one can replace Wes. He was a one-of-a kind player,'' Joseph said. "My job is to give us production from the small forward spot, help my teammates on defense and on the boards and try to make us as successful as we were last year.''
Boeheim, whose club went 30-5 a year ago before losing to Butler in the Sweet 16, fully expects Joseph to be an improved player this year. But he isn't ready to crown him as a sure-fire NBA draft pick like many of the preseason publications.
"Last season was perfect for Kris,'' said Boeheim, beginning his 35th year at the SU helm. "Last year much of the defensive scrutiny was on Wes and Andy (Rautins). Kris could so what he does in a free-flowing way without a lot of pressure.''
This season, however, the target is squarely on Joseph's back.
"He's going to have defenses play him more intensely,'' Boeheim said. "That's going to be his challenge, if he can succeed and become our go-to guy.''
Fortunately, the Orange have plenty of firepower returning and incoming to help Joseph out.
Veterans like guards Scoop Jardine and Brandon Triche, and power forward Rick Jackson are proven commodities. And the freshman class of four is rated one of the best in the country.
Joseph said he's not about to carry the team by himself.
"Those older guys have so much experience and confidence in themselves,'' said Joseph, who played nearly 28 minutes a game last season while starting just four games. " That's the kind of player I want to become.''
Boeheim compares Joseph favorably to former All-American Lawrence Moten, still SU's all-time leading scorer.
"Kris is good with the ball like Lawrence, but he's bigger and stronger,'' said Boeheim. "Lawrence made himself into a good 3-point shooter. I believe Kris can develop like that as well.''
Joseph made only 9-of-41 3-point shots last year. He said a summer filled with shooting drills has him confident that he will shoot a much higher percentage.
"It's all about repetition and confidence,'' Joseph said.
Joseph said he's also gotten stronger, which should help him on the boards and compete defensively with the bigger forwards in the Big East.
"I'm still learning how to play at this level,'' Joseph said. "I realize the opportunity is there for me to make an impact, and I don't want to let my teammates down.''
■ Boeheim said 7-foot sophomore center DaShonte Riley will have surgery next week on an injured foot and will likely redshirt this season. Boeheim said Riley's injury is similar to a stress fracture.
Riley appeared in 17 games as a freshman, averaging 1.4 points and 1.5 rebounds. He spent most of his time behind Arinze Onuaku and Jackson. He played in all three of Syracuse's games in the NCAA Tournament after Onuaku sustained a season-ending knee injury.
That means true freshmen Fab Melo, a 7-footer, and 6-10 Baye Moussa Keita, will be the only centers on the SU roster.