This outstanding college basketball season culminates in tonight's National Championship game between the North Carolina Tar Heels and Gonzaga Bulldogs.
This 2017 season will be remembered for its spectacular freshman class of players like Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball, Malik Monk, De'Aaron Fox, Dennis Smith Jr., Jayson Tatum, Miles Bridges, Josh Jackson, Lauri Markkanen, among others, which has proven to be on par with the 2008 class that featured Derrick Rose, Kevin Love, Michael Beasley and O.J. Mayo, along with the most recent ridiculousness of the 2014 crew that boasted the likes of Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Joel Embiid, Aaron Gordon and Julius Randle.
With all of their talent and remarkable performances, some of us wondered if one of them would emerge from the pack to put up a memorable run through the NCAA Tournament. Prior to the tourney getting underway, the consensus was that of all of them, Lonzo Ball had the best chance to stamp himself a true postseason legend if he could deliver a title.
He played very well, as did the other one-year wonders, but we'll still have to wait and see someone come along and challenge what a freshman from Baltimore, Maryland named Carmelo Anthony accomplished with the Syracuse Orangemen in the 2003 tournament.
I simply call it Melo’s March Madness, where he sewed one of the most dominating freshman performances ever seen into the rich tapestry of the NCAA Tournament.
In the East Regional Final against Oklahoma, he had a double-double with 20 points and 10 rebounds in the 63-47 victory.
Against T.J. Ford and the University of Texas in the ‘03 Final Four (which was the first time casual fans ever heard the name of Marquette’s super duper star, Dwyane Wade), Melo set a record for the most points ever scored by a freshman in a national Semi-Final.
He exploded on the grand stage with 33 points, making 12 of 19 shots, and collected 14 rebounds in the 95-84 victory.
In the 2003 National Championship, Melo – with some assistance from Gerry McNamara, Hakim Warrick, Billy Edelin and Kueth Duany – delivered coach Jim Boeheim’s first NCAA title with an astounding 20-point, 10-rebound, six-assist performance in Syracuse’s 81-78 victory over Kirk Hinrich and Nick Collison’s Kansas Jayhawks crew.
The Sporting News gushed that “…Anthony played the college game better than any freshman in NCAA basketball. Ever.”
Boeheim told Sports Illustrated that Melo was “The best player I’ve ever coached.”
Melo garnered First Team All-American honors, was the Big East Rookie of the Year and the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player.
For those few weeks in March of 2003, Carmelo Anthony solidified himself as the greatest one-year player in college basketball history, the cat who gave every player coming up behind him the one-and-done dream.
For those who watched him as a college freshman, especially during the NCAA Tournament, we’ll never forget how he put the legacy of his coach and an entire program on his young shoulders, delivering a title and stretch of performances that will live on forever.
So people can talk about Lonzo Ball and all of this year's spectacular freshmen all they want. I have no problem with that. They deserve the media spotlight. They’ve earned it. But please don’t start talking about “Best Freshman” anything when it comes to any of them.
Because despite their splendiferous gifts, they didn't shine the brightest on the game's biggest stage like Carmelo did.
For More March Madness Memories from The Shadow League, check out: