Trevor Cooney is the Syracuse player Orange fans seem to love to hate

HOUSTON — Syracuse senior guard Trevor Cooney has had, by most standards, a pretty terrific career.

1,400 points.

Third in school history with 267 3-pointers made.

And on Saturday, he’ll become the first Syracuse player ever to play in two Final Fours.

But for some fans, that’s not good enough.

“Trevor’s probably gotten more criticism than any player I’ve ever coached in terms of people in Syracuse,” coach Jim Boeheim said Thursday.

Indeed, his coach may not be exaggerating.

Search Cooney’s name on Twitter after a Syracuse loss, and things get ugly relatively quickly. Heck, even during successful moments, the compliments tend to be back-handed ones. You’ll see things wondering why he shoots so much, or why he doesn’t defend well enough, or why he’s on the floor at all.

Things can also take a darker turn from time to time.

It can be genuinely tough dealing with unruly fans as a college basketball player. For his part, Cooney understands and embraces the role fans have in athletics and puts himself in their shoes.

“I understand it, I get it,” Cooney said. “I’m a sports fan as well. You want your team to win and to play well and you want your players to play well, and I get it. I’m the same way with my teams. I understand it. I’m glad that they’re that way.”

That’s a relatively good attitude to take, especially in the face of what he has accomplished at the university and how the team has succeeded. This isn’t a situation where the program is failing in part due to his play. In fact, with two Final Fours in four years, the program is thriving.

It’s easy to see why he would receive the kind of reaction he does, though. The numbers make clear why he would be a lightning rod for criticism. He shoots 34 percent from the field. He doesn’t really rebound well or make the spectacular passes. But there’s a lot more to Cooney’s game than meets the eye.

Cooney is an important defender for the Orange, experienced in Boeheim’s zone and knows exactly where to be. He has gotten better at attacking closeouts and getting to the foul line when teams take away his jump shot. He can occassionally take over the point guard’s responsibilities when necessary. Plus, he’s a terrific leader as a senior.

“He’s really important to us on the court and off the court,” freshman Tyler Lydon said. “He’s been great at giving advice, leading the team, and bringing us closer together as a unit. Everything he does matters to us.”

Basically, despite the shooting percentages, Cooney is a lot of what you would want out of a role player. But that hasn’t stopped fans from hating him. The good thing about Cooney is that he can block it out and not pay attention to what people say. Even his teammates and coaches notice he’s capable of avoiding the vocal minority of fans who dislike his game.

“I don’t think he pays attention to what other people have to say,” Lydon said. “He knows what he has to go out and do just like we all do in this locker room.”

“He’s at a Final Four so I don’t think he’s too concerned with it at all,” assistant coach Gerry McNamara said. “I can’t put it any more simply than that. I’m not worried about what fans say, I never was. He doesn’t care. The only thing he cares about is what his teammates think and his coaches. That’s the way he plays.”

McNamara may not have been a player that took a lot of criticism from Syracuse fans, but he certainly has experience with criticisim for his play from the outside despite his successful tenure in upstate New York. His legacy as a legend at the university is forever entrenched. Cooney is still writing his script, but one has to think that this run has made certain Syracuse fans think twice about the player they have derided in the past. Until that day of reckoning comes, don’t expect Cooney to think much about it.

“You have great fans, and you have about 1 percent of idiots,” Boeheim said. “He knows that. He understands that.”

Indeed, Cooney does get it.

“It is what it is,” Cooney said. “Fans want their players to play well and win games. I understand that and no one wants to do that more than me and more than this team.”

Syracuse fans may be divided when it comes to the play of Trevor Cooney. But his impact and play at the university have been unmistakably important in this run of successful teams and Final Fours.

Ultimately, that’s where Cooney’s final legacy should lie.

Syracuse's Trevor Cooney is third in school history with 267 3-pointers.. (USATSI)
Syracuse’s Trevor Cooney is third in school history with 267 3-pointers. (USATSI)

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