Although 7-foot-2 center Paschal Chukwu said he doesn’t remember his first dunk, his teammates’ eyes widened when recalling their first in-game slam. For most SU players, it came on a breakaway sometime around eighth or ninth grade. Sophomore forward Marek Dolezaj celebrated his first dunk with a special treat: a meal at McDonald’s.Starters aren’t the only ones who relish the slam dunk. Reserve sophomore point guard Howard Washington, who’s redshirting this season, first dunked on a breakaway at an AAU game when he was 14. Sophomore forward Bourama Sidibe dunked for the first time at age 13, his first year playing basketball. Freshman forward Robert Braswell, a two-time South Carolina high school high jump champion, dunked for the first time in ninth grade.“I used one hand and it barely went in,” Braswell laughed. “Track kinda helped my vertical, but people don’t realize it’s not the same on the court.”Players said dunking well requires a good vertical leap, or “hops,” as well as agility, coordination and balance. Squats, calf raises and jumping exercises help, but they said there’s no replacement for natural athleticism and coordination. Assistant coach Allen Griffin, whose first dunk came in eighth grade at a park in Brooklyn, said “It just happens. You don’t prep for a dunk.”Senior point guard Frank Howard’s first dunk was in 2011 at an AAU tournament in Virginia. He was “hype about that,” but shares a similar sentiment to Hughes. Layups are less-showy and just as high-percentage.“When I get a breakaway, I kind of already count it,” Howard said. “I’m onto the next play. Get in and get back. Especially in these tough games, you don’t have time to do much showboating.”But the most precocious dunker for Syracuse is junior guard Tyus Battle. He dunked for the first time in seventh grade. For Battle, safety lies in a power dunk. His first in-game slam attempt was a miss, but he got one on a fast break later in the game and redeemed himself.“I’ve been dunking for a while, so I don’t have to practice,” Battle said. “It’s always a good feeling.” When it comes to dunks, players agree on one thing: The feeling of their first-ever slam was freeing, like riding a bike without training wheels. It’s an accomplishment, a vivid memory players carry with them throughout their career, and beyond. The dunk is the highest percentage “shot” in the game and a surefire crowd-pleaser.Most players don’t remember their first 3-pointer or clutch shot. But every scholarship player on Syracuse can dunk, and almost every player recently recalled their first-ever slam. The dunk has become modern basketball’s signature move.When Syracuse (11-5, 2-1 Atlantic Coast) plays at No. 1 Duke (14-1, 3-0) Monday night, the Orange are tasked with containing the best team in the country. They’re also tasked with containing arguably the best player in the country: freshman Zion Williamson, who can dunk from the free-throw line, and is an embodiment of the modern dunker.“A lot of people say a dunk is just two points, but I think it brings more than two points,” said freshman point guard Jalen Carey, who has dunked since age 13. “It might take the heart of the opposing team or gain confidence in your team. It’s a momentum changer.”AdvertisementThis is placeholder textTony Coffield | Staff PhotographerThe NCAA banned dunking from 1967 to 1976. The dunk was legalized again in Jim Boeheim’s first season as head coach at Syracuse. Since then, children have emulated the shot on small hoops. Basketball’s version of the home run turns into highlight reels on the television and YouTube.Kip Wellman, Syracuse director of basketball operations, first dunked in AAU ball, at Scott County (Kentucky) High School. Kentucky high school coaches preach fundamentals and don’t encourage dunking. Some youth coaches outlaw it, Wellman said, but he had to savor this: a steal, fast break and wide-open half court. He said to himself, “Why not?” and bounded toward the hoop for a slam.The shot also is emblematic of where the game has gone: from an admiration of teamwork and elaborate motion offenses to one of force and dominance. The obsession with dunking doesn’t appear to have an end. Dunking is a full-time job for a some and the NBA has run a slam dunk contest since 1984. Some players joked that there’s only two shots in basketball: the dunk and 3-pointer. They like to throw it down with style, either off a pound dribble or via an alley-oop.Dunking is the closest thing to a surefire two points in the game, but the shot does leave room for error. When players miss a dunk, the result can be a fastbreak on the either end. Just as a big slam sparks the crowd, a missed chance can suck the life out of an arena. Hughes believes concentration is paramount: You need to keep your eye on the rim. Otherwise, you might fall victim to an embarrassing miss.After a recent Oshae Brissett missed dunk, Elijah Hughes gestured a layup motion by raising his right arm in the air, signaling Brissett should have laid up the ball off the glass. Brissett told him, “I know. My bad.”It was a rare miss for Brissett, whom his teammates voted as the team’s most athletic player and best dunker. His first came as a put back at age 16. At first, he could reach, but he didn’t know exactly how to place the basketball in the rim. Now, teammates call him an expert.“I try to just be emphatic every dunk,” Brissett said. “I try to dunk as hard as I can. In a game, you’re not really trying to go for style unless you’re up by 40. Just get up there and dunk it.” Others are late bloomers. Syracuse freshman guard Buddy Boeheim didn’t dunk until he was a junior in high school, two years ago. He had a late growth spurt, and he knows he belongs on the perimeter, where he watches with excitement as teammates perform the most-desired maneuver in the game.“I stay outside and don’t try to dunk too much,” Boeheim said. “Hopefully, I’ll get a chance to slam this year. I’ll have to cherry pick one time.” Published on January 13, 2019 at 10:19 pm Contact Matthew: [email protected] | @MatthewGut21 Comments Facebook Twitter Google+
The big game today comes from the County Senior Football Championship, with Éire Óg Anacarty/Donohill looking to build on their progression to the West Final, when they take on Killenaule in a Group 4 clash.Throw-in for that game at New Inn is at 3:30.Elsewhere, two games will throw-in at two o’ clock; Kilruan MacDonaghs face Nenagh Éire Óg in a North U21 A Hurling encounter in Toomevara, while in the North’s U21 B Hurling Championship, Borrisokane are up against Newport Gaels in Kilcolman. At 3 it’s over to Leahy Park for Rockwell/Rosegreen versus Golden-Kilfeacle, in Group 1 of the West U21 B Hurling Championship.