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Joseph Girard III takes on new/old roles in senior season at Syracuse

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Joseph Girard III is beginning a new chapter in his college basketball career.

His senior season at Syracuse University will see him take on new roles as a leader and a shooting guard. Whether it's the kind of season the ultra-competitive Girard hopes for — a winning season that culminates in the NCAA Tournament — or something less remains to be seen.

Every season is a long road, full of twists and turns, highs and lows. Girard has seen all of that in his career.

The fresh-faced 18-year-old kid who arrived on the Syracuse campus in the summer of 2019 is now a young man of 22, an elder statesman on a team full of youth.

"Time flies, it seems like just yesterday I was getting here my first day and I was the freshman looking at the older guys to lean on," Girard said in a recent phone conversation. "But the roles have reversed for sure."

JG3 the leader

Always the fiercest of competitors, Girard has taken on more of a role as a team leader, and he steps back into an old role as a scorer this season. In his first three seasons, Girard was primarily the Orange's starting point guard, bringing the ball up the court and running the offense.

"It should be fun, taking on more of a scoring role, rather than being the guy making sure that everybody else gets their shots, making plays for everybody else," Girard said. "I'll still be doing that, but the main focus will be trying to make a play for myself and get open."

Some fans who thrilled to every 3-pointer Girard splashed throughout his five-year high school varsity career may have been a little disappointed by his relatively low numbers at Syracuse. In high school, he poured in a state-record 4,763 points in a career as the most celebrated athlete to come out of Glens Falls since Jimmer Fredette.

Over his first three seasons at Syracuse, he has averaged about 12.2 points per game — still good numbers for a 6-foot-1, 190-pound Division I basketball player who was primarily a point guard. Last season was his best, as he averaged 13.8 points and 4.2 assists per game.

"We're glad we have him," longtime Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim said last week. "He's had a really good career. I think it's a little underrated because he didn't score 50 points a game, but that was never going to happen. He's had a really good, solid career and I think he'll have a great year this year."

The leadership role is certainly not unfamiliar to Girard, who led his basketball and football teams to state titles at Glens Falls. But he has had to learn to balance his ultra-competitive JG3 personality on the floor with being a mature leader on and off the court.

"He's matured, he's accepted responsibility when he does make a mistake, I think he's become a really solid leader," Boeheim said. "He's a guy that his teammates can look to and he's going to make a play for them. You look for every player to mature as they go along, and Joe's done a really great job of that."

"He's all about winning more than anything, but he understands that he has a job to do for coach — win or lose, he has to be a team leader," said Girard's father, Joe Girard Jr. "Coach expects that from him — he's a four-year starter, he has to be the leader, even (with) his body language. With six freshmen and a sophomore transfer, half of the scholarship roster is new. So he has to walk the walk."

To that end, Joseph Girard III has tried to model the type of player he has always aspired to be — constantly working harder, learning and striving to get better.

"Staying with it every day — making sure you're going 110 percent every play, every practice, every workout," he said. "It's really a job — when you've worked hard your whole life to get to this point, but then when you get here, you understand how much of a 24/7 process it really is. You have practice six, seven times a week and even when you don't have practice, you've got to work out on your own, you've got to go lift, you have to do all that stuff. It's really a job and when I got here, it was a little bit of an adjustment, but you fall into it quick."

JG3 the scorer

When Girard arrived on campus in 2019, he was fresh from winning state and Federation basketball championships — willing Glens Falls to the titles with his passionate play, vocal on-court presence and seemingly effortless scoring ability.

All of that caught the attention of Boeheim and assistant coach Gerry McNamara, himself a fiery point guard for Syracuse more than 15 years ago.

"One of the main reasons I came here is to learn from somebody who played like myself and was kind of the same stature, the same role," Girard said of McNamara. "So I wanted to learn from him every day, and he's taken my game to new levels and new heights."

"I thought he would be good, I thought he could be the point guard and he did it, he got the ball to people and we were a very successful offensive team," Boeheim said. "He was a big part of that. (In) our run to the Sweet 16 when he was a sophomore, he had a great tournament, and last year he was really solid.

"We lost Jesse (Edwards) and our defense just wasn't good enough at the end of the year and kept us from being a tournament team," Boeheim added. "But (Girard) had a really solid year."

The move from the point to the two-guard is both by necessity and design this season. The Orange lost the Boeheim brothers — Buddy (19.2 points per game) and Jimmy (13.7 ppg) — and Cole Swider (13.9 ppg), who combined to average nearly 47 points per game last season. Syracuse finished 16-17 overall, the first losing season in coach Boeheim's 47-year career.

"I think playing at the two more — probably most of the time — gives him an opportunity to look to score more, which he certainly can do. He's proven that," coach Boeheim said. "It's just an opportunity to get more into the offensive things that he can do. I think that's really what this team needs — we lost a lot of scoring and we need him to do that."

"I'm just a basketball player at the end of the day, this is just a new role," Joseph Girard III said. "(Playing two-guard) makes scoring a lot easier obviously. The way we run our offense, you also don't have to dribble the ball 94 feet, then get into a play set and come off screens to try to score — you're already down there, and the way that we play, it's better for it."

It's been a mixed start this season for Girard. He led the Orange with 19 points in a 90-72 win over Lehigh in the season opener on Nov. 7. A week later, he was held to 14 in a disappointing 80-68 loss to Colgate in which no one played well.

"He realizes that it's only two games in — they have 31 or 32 more games to play," Joe Girard Jr. said. "So you move forward. In the professional ranks, they play every other day or every two days, so you don't get too high or too low."

On Saturday night, Girard led the Orange with 21 points in a 76-48 win over Northeastern, making 5 of 9 3-pointers. That gave Girard 1,180 career points, putting him in the top 50 (49th) of all-time scorers at Syracuse.

Syracuse is very young this season — the Orange brought in a large freshman class, including promising point guard Judah Mintz, the new starter. They returned only Girard, senior center Jesse Edwards, senior guard Symir Torrence, and forwards Benny Williams and John Bol Ajak.

Thus, it was only natural for Girard to assume a more prominent scoring role this season.

"I kind of knew and it was assumed, but coach — even before the season ended last year — kind of talked to me about it a little bit, and I was obviously open to it," Joseph Girard III said. "I'm always the guy that's going to be open to doing the best for the team. Not only is it better for me in terms of scoring, it's also better for the team in terms of the way we have the pieces this year."

"He'll be the focus of opponents now — he's the proven commodity," Joe Jr. said. "He'll be double-teamed, he'll be the focal point, like against Colgate. He's used to that, of course, it happened all the time in high school, but this is a whole other level."

Over his Syracuse career, Girard has learned to keep moving his feet — stay in motion, come off screens, find an open spot, be ready to make a play.

"I think the biggest thing I've learned so far in my time here is moving — moving without the ball, moving on the ball," he said. "In high school, I had the ball in my hands and I was making plays. When I was off the ball, the big thing in college is spacing — making sure there's a lot of lanes, driving gaps for your teammates — and that causes a problem for the defense, and also opens up more shots."

He has also developed into a college shooter — his 40.3 percent 3-point shooting last season against Division I competition is a testament to that.

"I think he's a better shooter now than when he came in, his 3-point shooting is better," Jim Boeheim said. "The thing that's difficult — in high school, you can get to the basket at 6 foot; it's much more difficult in college to get to the basket. For him to score 15, 18 points in college, that's a lot because he's not able to get to the foul line.

"In high school, I saw games where he had 12, 15 free throws — it's more difficult in college for smaller guards," he added. "But he's getting better at it, he's worked on that. I couldn't be happier with what he's doing right now."

JG3 the student

Being a Division I college basketball player means having a very structured life, but at the same time, being responsible for your own decisions, like all college students away from home for the first time.

"Here in college, you're on your own, it's your own self going to the gym on your own time, going to tutor sessions, all that kind of stuff," Joseph Girard III said. "I stay accountable to myself, make sure I'm staying consistent, whether I'm on or off the basketball court, making sure I'm putting my best foot forward."

Girard majors in sports management after switching from broadcast journalism — mostly for scheduling reasons. He's also been able to network with the many people in the sports industry with ties to Syracuse.

"With the Newhouse classes, it was hard for me to schedule classes around basketball practice and traveling," he said. "The sports management program, a lot of athletes are in it, no matter what sport it is, and the professors are more understanding and they help us out a lot. I have taken some communication classes still, but it was more for my workload."

With the NCAA's Name, Image and Likeness rules, he has been able to make money with his JG3 brand, mostly apparel items and "video shoutouts," but his parents, Joe Jr. and Arleen, handle the business end of things while he focuses on basketball.

"It's kind of like getting awards — the better you play, the more winning you do, the more things will come to you," Joseph Girard III said.

"Joe's really good off the court with people," coach Boeheim said. "His parents have done a great job with him. He's a family guy and he's loyal to his friends and family back in Glens Falls, he gets along with everybody. He's a guy that everyone looks up to — he knows how to handle himself and he's a good person, and I think people see that."

Because his career included the COVID season of 2020-21, Girard does have the option of a fifth season after this year, but he has made no decision on that.

"I haven't really thought about it, honestly," he said. "I'm just focused on this year. Everything else will take care of itself."

"I just tell him to savor it and cherish it, every game, every practice, because you never know what's going to happen. Eventually the ball's going to come to a stop," Joe Jr. said. "When college ends, you go on to the next thing, but you think about it when things are done. Control what you can control, it's all about attitude and effort."

Follow Pete Tobey on Twitter @PTobeyPSVarsity


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Covering high school and minor-league sports in Section II since 1989. SUNY Plattsburgh grad. Colleen's lesser half. Three amazing young people call me Dad. Fan of Philadelphia Eagles, New York Rangers and Mets, and Syracuse Orange.

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