When a 19-Year-Old Carmelo Anthony Led Syracuse Orange to Their Maiden NCAA Division I Championship

Published 02/08/2021, 3:00 PM EST


The 2002-03 Syracuse Orange did not make it in the Top 25 of AP’s preseason poll, but they stunned everyone by winning the National Championship at the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans. The winning team’s star was a 19-year-old Carmelo Anthony, who put up one of the greatest freshman seasons in NCAA Division I history. 

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Syracuse had never won the National Championship in the modern era, and Anthony’s recruitment went down as one of the best signings in the college program’s history. They weren’t a top-ranked team going into the season but dominated the Big East with a 13-3 record. 

How did Carmelo Anthony perform for Syracuse Orange in his freshman season? 

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Melo and LeBron James were the two superstars who dominated the 2002 high-school class, but the latter skipped college and directly entered the NBA. 

Anthony, meanwhile, committed to Syracuse and blossomed as a freshman. The talented swingman also managed to perform amid the massive hype and averaged 22.2 points per game in 45.3% field goal shooting. 

Melo took very little time to settle in and played his debut against Memphis Tigers at the Madison Square Garden and dropped 27 points. Anthony scored 21 straight first-half points; the most by any Syracuse freshman in history, but they still suffered a defeat. 

Moving on, Melo dropped a couple of 30-point games during the regular season and began his career with nine-straight games where he scored 21 points or more. 

The Brooklyn native did not stop there and helped the team massively in the postseason, where he was named the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player.

He posted a career-high 33 points in the Final Four game against the Texas Longhorns, which propelled the Orangemen to the championship game for the first time since 1996. 

Carmelo Anthony got the job done with his relentless work ethic

Carmelo Anthony was largely restricted from scoring in the final quarter by the Kansas Jayhawks in the National Championship game, but the team held on to clinch a nail-biting 81-78 victory. Melo scored 20 points, and secured 10 rebounds, along with seven assists. 

The Syracuse Orange largely rode on Carmelo Anthony’s efforts throughout the regular season, and the freshman helped head coach Jim Boeheim win the elusive national championship in his long-standing career. 

“The night before the National Championship game, wake up in the morning, no pregame nap, I was just at an all-time high,” Carmelo Anthony told Bleacher Report back in 2018. 

Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim saw the hunger in Melo’s eyes and put his trust in the youngster to deliver: “He was really excited but he wasn’t anyway nervous which you don’t expect that from a freshman,” Boeheim said. 

The Orangemen flew high on Melo’s brilliance 

The Syracuse Orangemen posted a 30-5 record in the regular-season and got off to a strong start and they went on an 11-game winning streak after losing the season opener to Memphis. Anthony scored a total of 778 points in his freshman year, which went down in the Syracuse history books, along with a few other records. 

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Melo’s historic freshmen year also fulfilled coach Boeheim’s dream, and his former teammates have the memory etched in their hearts as well. In what became an unforgettable moment, sophomore forward Hakkim Warrick came up as the savior for the Orangemen with a crucial block in the dying seconds of the game against Kansas.


17-years-later, Warrick vividly remembered how the celebrations began after the final buzzer: “Melo and I were among the first guys there, so we were at the bottom of the pile. I remember Melo screaming out, ‘I can’t breathe!’ I could barely breathe and I wasn’t even on the bottom. Melo was getting crushed,” Warrick mentioned

Years have passed, but Syracuse’s title run remains one of the best in the tournament’s history. Carmelo Anthony broke out as a star in his freshman season, and the versatile forward never looked back and scaled new heights in his basketball career. 

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Arjun Athreya

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Arjun Athreya is a senior writer at Essentially Sports and has been contributing since early 2020. Having developed an avid interest in sports at an early age, he pursued a Journalism degree and graduated from Madras Christian College. Arjun manages the Golf division and its content, and primarily covers news pertaining to the NBA as well.

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