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In time, NBA in his range

The Baltimore Sun

Syracuse forward Donte Greene is not that different from others in what is widely considered the best freshman class in college basketball history. He has spent most of the season showing his flair - and his flaws.

Greene has incredible range, well beyond the three-point line, but he sometimes has no conscience in heaving questionable shots. He is a terrific shot blocker but often gets outmuscled by older, stronger opponents.

While the Orange has recently turned things around by winning its past three games, Greene is in the midst of his worst shooting slump, making only 22 of his past 65 shots (in four games) and 12 of his past 36 three-point attempts.

"He's still learning," Jim Boeheim, Syracuse's Hall of Fame coach, said.

How long that education continues on the college level for the 6-foot-11, 226-pound player is up for debate. Greene is considered a potential NBA draft lottery pick, possibly as soon as this year.

Yet despite whispers among general managers and scouts that he will play only one season at Syracuse, Greene insists he is in no hurry to leave upstate New York.

For now, Greene is just soaking it all in: The frenzied home fans inside the Carrier Dome. The rage of the opposing teams' fans along what has become a bumpy road for the Orange in the Big East.

Even the early-morning classes.

"I love college," Greene said as he got dressed in the visiting locker room at Verizon Center in Washington after a Jan. 21 game against Georgetown. "I go to class, socialize with the students there. I like being young. I'm not trying to grow up too fast. When you jump to the league, you've got to grow up fast."

Ever since Greene announced that he was going to Syracuse, there have been comparisons to another former Towson Catholic star, Carmelo Anthony. In his only college season, Anthony led the Orange to the national championship and then was the third overall pick in the 2003 NBA draft.

Anthony benefited from playing with a more experienced team at Syracuse, while Greene is going through his growing pains with a group of young players experiencing their own. It has been compounded by season-ending injuries to juniors Eric Devendorf and Andy Rautins.

"When we lost the two guys, there was no question that Donte had to be a focal point in our offense," Boeheim said. "He's accepted his role. He's really been our most consistent player. He's a very talented offensive player, but he's been put in a position where he doesn't have a choice. He's got to accept a big, big load."

Greene doesn't seem to mind the responsibility.

"It just comes with being the leader," Greene said. "If anybody wants to be the leader, you've got to go above and beyond."

Greene has failed to score in double figures only once this season. His 18.3-point scoring average leads the Orange and ranked third in the Big East entering last night's games. He also leads Syracuse in blocked shots (43 total) and is third in rebounding (7.5).

Needless to say, Greene has made quite an impression around the conference.

"We did a great job on him, and he got 25 [points]. What does that say about how good I think he is?" Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin said last week. "With Eric Devendorf out, I know our game plan was geared to stopping him. That's a tough thing for any freshman to go through, no matter how good you are, but he's got a world of talent."

Matt Roe, a former player at Syracuse and Maryland who does commentary on the Orange's radio broadcasts, compares Greene to Detroit Pistons star Rasheed Wallace - minus the attitude - because of the length of their frames, their perimeter skills and their ability to block shots.

Roe would love for Greene to stay at Syracuse for three years but knows that's not going to happen in the current landscape.

"Five or 10 years ago, here was a kid who should stay two or three years and then go in the top five," Roe said. "One thing that kid can do is score in bunches. This kid could eventually be a 20- to 25-point-a-night scorer in the NBA."

Greene is not worried about that next step - yet.

"No pressure, really," he said. "You focus on the season, really. The NBA is always going to be there - there's always going to be the dollars there waiting for you. You've just got to be smart. I'm just taking my time. Right now, I see no reason to leave."

don.markus@baltsun.com

Nation's top freshmen

Michael Beasley, Kansas State: Leads freshmen in scoring (24.9) and country in rebounding (12.3)

Eric Gordon, Indiana: Big Ten's leading scorer (21.8) has drawn comparisons in Bloomington to Isiah Thomas

O.J. Mayo, Southern California: Second in Pacific-10 in scoring (20.1) and first in minutes played (36.5)

Donte Greene, Syracuse: Orange's leading scorer (18.3) has had more than 20 points in only one of past seven games after topping the mark in 10 of first 16

Kevin Love, UCLA: Bruins' big man is tied for Pac-10 lead in rebounding (11.2) and field-goal percentage (.611) while averaging 17.8 points

Nick Calathes, Florida: All-around player is the only freshman averaging at least 15 points (15.8), five assists (6.1) and five rebounds (5.0)

Derrick Rose, Memphis: Leads top-ranked Tigers in assists (4.4) and is second in scoring (14.2)

J.J. Hickson, North Carolina State: Leads ACC in field-goal percentage (.604) and freshmen in scoring (15.0)

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