Forth's boos not deserved

Michael Licker

Issue date: 11/19/04 Section: Sports
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Does Craig Forth not get the respect he deserves? Talk about it on The Daily Orange Basketball Forum

NEW YORK CITY - So many times, Craig Forth has heard those boos. Sure, they're expected on the road, but in New York? With a largely pro-Syracuse crowd?

With a mass of Syracuse men's basketball team fans in attendance Thursday night at Madison Square Garden, Forth once again heard those boos - over and over again.

And early on, he deserved them. We saw the old Craig Forth - the missed dunks, the missed free throws and the poor shooting.

Maybe last year or the year before, Forth would've packed it in. Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim certainly gave him every reason to, yanking him from the game just minutes in.

But Forth couldn't repeat what's happened so many times before. Like the rest of his SU teammates, Forth found a way to turn things around. After being shut out in the first half, the senior center finished with 11 points in Syracuse's 71-58 win over Mississippi State.

"Everybody's going to have bad games," Forth said. "It's about bouncing back."

So often, Forth draws the wrath of Boeheim. Though he's started every game in his Syracuse career, Forth always seems to be the first SU starter pulled from a game. It seemed like the clock had barely started ticking and Forth landed back on the bench.

When he returned to the court in the second half, we saw a completely different player. The missed dunks and layups found their way into the basket. The rebounds opponents snatched away in the first half ended up corralled safely in his arms.

And Boeheim didn't let it go unnoticed. He didn't wait for a question about Forth in the postgame press conference; he dove straight into his praise.

"I thought Craig was huge in the second half," Boeheim said. "Craig made some real nice plays. He had a couple of tips. I thought his defense was good. He was good in the second half, and that was a key for us."

Yet it's so easy for Forth to get lost among SU's other stars. He can't dunk like Hakim Warrick and he certainly doesn't have the shooting touch of Gerry McNamara.

Sure, Warrick's second-half surge likely won Syracuse the game. But Forth's own surge contributed nearly equally. SU doesn't need flash from the 7-footer. It gets plenty of that from Warrick and McNamara.

The Orange needs exactly what Forth gave last night. A solid presence down low. A player that can finish layups and dunk when SU's quicker players slash through the lane and feed Forth the ball.

Nearly every championship team has a solid presence down low. Granted, Forth is leaps and bounds away from being Emeka Okafor, Connecticut's center on last year's NCAA championship team. But if he replicates his second half throughout the season, the Final Four in St. Louis may become more of a reality.

What remains to be seen is if Forth can continue to play at such a high level. Last season, he showed glimpses of reliability. He'd have a good game and follow it up with a bad game. The Orange needs his consistency.

And he knows it. That's why he bounced from camp to camp this summer, honing his skills and focusing on basketball whenever possible.

Perhaps more than anything, though, Forth has matured. The boos, like those he received in the first half Thursday, don't bother him anymore. Boeheim's criticism has made him better. He's ready to put it all together and be the presence Syracuse needs down low.

"When he plays like that, we're a different team," forward Josh Pace said. "People got to see that tonight."

The Orange better hope people see it a lot more often.

Does Craig Forth not get the respect he deserves? Talk about it on The Daily Orange Basketball Forum

Michael Licker is an assistant sports editor at The Daily Orange, where his columns appear regularly. E-mail him at mjlicker@syr.edu.

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