Comments On April 5, 2016, Syracuse played Connecticut in the program’s first ever national title game appearance. The contest, an 82-51 beatdown by the Huskies, drew a total television audience of nearly 3 million viewers.Syracuse was on the biggest stage in program history. And although it may not have been a moral victory, the loss benefitted the Orange in the form of eight players — three transfers and five recruits.Since that national title loss, SU has seen an influx of talent. After the 2015-16 season, guard Isis Young, forward Miranda Drummond and guard Jasmine Nwajei, who led all of Division I in points per game that season, all transferred to Syracuse.At the same time, five then-high school juniors — Nikki Oppenheimer, Amaya Finklea-Guity, Digna Strautmane, Maeve Djaldi-Tabdi and Marie-Paule Foppossi — took favor to Syracuse and eventually committed.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textLast season, the Orange graduated four of its five starters including program greats Alexis Peterson and Brittney Sykes, and the team now leans on these eight new players to replace lost production. None of the new faces have played a minute together in a Division I basketball game, but with the three transfers having a year to learn the system and three five-star freshmen on the roster, SU feels this team can reach the game that brought these players to central New York in the first place.“Coach Q took a team of great talent and brought it to that next level where it hadn’t been before,” Young said. “Then, to know that this coach is looking at you to recruit you and think that he can obviously use you to get the next level and get to the national championship is amazing.”The national championship game isn’t the direct reason Oppenheimer chose SU, because she was already committed, but when the Chicago native found out SU would be playing in the Final Four just a few hours away in Indianapolis, she knew she had to go. Attending the game, she said, only deepened her desire to come to Syracuse. Young, Nwajei and Drummond looked on from afar.Andy Mendes | Digital Design EditorAll three of them finished their respective seasons by the time Syracuse and UConn squared off, Nwajei at Wagner and Drummond and Young both exiting the NCAA tournament in the first weekend at St. Bonaventure and Florida, respectively. With no basketball to be played, their eyes turned to the Final Four.“It impacted my decision in a major way,” Nwajei said. “When … I watched the game, I felt like I could play in that system.”Of the five incoming freshmen, three were five-star recruits ranked inside the top 40 of espnW’s HoopGurlz 100 player rankings. The lowest of the three, Fiklea-Guity, will be the starting center for the season-opener on Nov. 10 against Morgan State, Hillsman said. The SU head coach also praised Strautmane and how she can play three positions on the floor.“Digna has been fantastic,” Hillsman said. “She’s been playing really well for us.”As for transfers, Syracuse brings in proven scoring in Nwajei. In her junior season at Wagner two years ago, Nwajei led the entire country with 28.7 points per game.Young and Drummond don’t bring as much scoring — both averaged fewer than 10 points a game at their stops prior to SU — but both had decorated high-school careers, and Young was the No. 12 guard in her recruiting class.The inherent advantage all three Division I transfers wield is the year spent on the bench learning SU’s system. Young, Nwajei and Drummond have all had a chance to build bonds with other players. They have learned the intricacies of the press and fast-paced offense the Orange will run this year.“We’re growing into the identity Syracuse has birthed already,” Nwajei said. “In due time, it will come together.”Another critical component is communication on defense when SU full-court presses its opponents. A major tactic SU is deploying, Oppenheimer said, is a call-and-response whenever Hillsman calls for an adjustment. He barks an order to one player who will relay it to the other four players. Then, everyone responds to ensure there’s no confusion.Outside of basketball, every player has made an effort to get close as a team. In October, Strautmane said, the team had a book club meeting where players recited their favorite quotes from books. Other times, they watch movies as a team. Young and Abby Grant are roommates, and Young dubbed the duo “Sniper Gang” because of their shooting prowess.Now, on a run of four-straight NCAA tournament appearances, the new faces are embracing the chance to make it five. Doing that, players said, would cement the winning culture they all saw in 2016.“Our expectation is to go to the Final Four and win a national championship,” Young said.If Syracuse does make the Final Four again in 2018, it’s likely that other prospective players around the country will be watching too.Banner photo illustration by Josh Shub-Seltzer | Staff Photographer Published on November 5, 2017 at 11:48 pm Contact Andrew: email@example.com | @A_E_Graham,Cancel replyYou must be logged in to post a comment.