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Nostalgia Reshapes Perception of G-Mac

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Human ability to maintain selective memory never ceases to amaze me.

This week's reminder of that comes courtesy of a quick snippet regarding a one-time Big East hero.  Jorge Sierra of HoopsHype reported Wednesday that former Syracuse guard Gerry McNamara will be in training camp with the Jazz

This was a development that brought some excitement to this confused mind because it's always been a hope here that McNamara would get a shot to make an NBA roster.  However, a look back at the scope of McNamara's college career reminded that a significant part of that hope has come from the way I've subconsciously chosen to remember the former member of the Orange.

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When McNamara's name comes up, my thoughts invariably turn to the springs of his freshman and senior seasons.  In 2002-03, McNamara started every game for a team that wound up winning the national championship.  He showed a knack for stepping up and hitting the big shot, and it didn't hurt that he canned six threes in the final game against Kansas.

While the team didn't match the same success during his last three years in town, McNamara may be even more brightly remembered for his heroic efforts down the stretch in 2006 as a senior.  Fighting off a leg injury, he proved himself clutch beyond belief in leading 'Cuse to become the first team ever to win four straight games to take the Big East tourney.  He hit a buzzer-beating three to win in the first round, beat the buzzer to send a game to overtime in the second (in which he finished with 17 points and 13 assists) and gave his team gutsy play throughout the weekend to gain the Big East crown for Syracuse and earn the school an automatic trip to the NCAA tournament.

I remember those Big East games and how many times SportsCenter replayed the clips of his biggest shots all weekend as well as how loud the buzz about this guy was around New York for those few days.  Even more vividly, I remember being at the local gym late in the afternoon of March 18, 2004, when I noticed a television showing an NCAA tournament game being played on the Nuggets' floor in Denver.  A sophomore McNamara was on his way to a historic day, scoring 43 points on 11-for-17 shooting, including 9-of-13 from deep in a Syracuse victory over BYU.  It was unbelievable to watch.  The opponents knew what was coming, knew that the brash point guard wanted to shoot from deep, and yet they couldn't seem to do anything about it.  He just kept finding enough space to get his shot off with just enough accuracy to get it down.

That's the Gerry McNamara I remember and sat down to write about today: the guy who overcame a lack of size and quickness to come up huge in some of the biggest spots for his team.  The guy who had deep range on his three-point shot and had that intangible ability to do whatever it took to win.

But a look back at the history books reminds me that it would be unfair to assess McNamara on pure nostalgia value alone.  That's because if that 2006 Big East performance merits note here (which it certainly does), then so does the NCAA tournament game that followed: 23 minutes, 0-for-6 shooting (0-for-5 from deep), 3 assists and 2 points in a 66-58 loss to Texas A&M.  The leg was bothering him, but still, in the last game of his college career, McNamara was held without a field goal for the first and only time.

If the three-point range and the big-time shots warrant mentioning, so does the shooting McNamara did for the rest of his career.  That includes the fact that he shot better than 40 percent from the field and better than 36 percent from the three-point line just once in his four years at Syracuse.  This is a guy who was a clutch player who shined on the big stage, but he was also a player who did a lot of high-volume shooting, most of it at rather poor accuracy rates.  

Those addendums to my original recollections aren't meant to turn this into a Gerry-bashing piece but simply to underscore the point that memory can be a tricky devil when we let it.  This is a player who had some big moments and a fairly accomplished collegiate career, and he'll always stand fondly in my memory.  But when it comes to thinking about his prospects as an NBA player - my original goal this morning - it stands to reason that the facts that he is undersized (6-2 and more significantly just 182 pounds), an unimpressive defender and a shoot-first point guard who relies on an outside shot that isn't accurate are all likely to be factors that prevent him from making it in this league.

I'll be rooting for the scrappy Gerry McNamara this fall but by no means banking on him to pull down an NBA roster spot.

And in the meantime, I'll keep marveling at the effects of nostalgia.