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Up-and-down experience

Syracuse freshman feels growing pains

Point guard Michael Carter-Williams (center), a five-star recruit from Hamilton, Mass., has been biding his time on the Syracuse bench. Point guard Michael Carter-Williams (center), a five-star recruit from Hamilton, Mass., has been biding his time on the Syracuse bench. (Adam fenster/Reuters)
By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / March 20, 2012
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This, for Michael Carter-Williams, is the freshman adjustment.

One game, he’s got a steady spot in Jim Boeheim’s rotation. The next, he’s a spectator.

It’s difficult and humbling.

Last year around this time, Carter-Williams was a five-star recruit at St. Andrews School in Rhode Island, a McDonald’s All-American, and rated the fourth-best shooting guard in his class in the ESPNU 100.

This year, as Syracuse makes its Tournament push, he’s at the bottom of the totem pole looking up.

“It definitely is humbling,’’ Carter-Williams said. “Last year, I was at almost like the top of the top. Now, I’m almost at the bottom of the bench. It’s just humbling to know that I’ve got a lot of work to do. I’ve just got to go out there and work every day. It is a process.’’

Born in Hamilton, Mass., basketball’s always been in Carter-Williams’s DNA. His mother, Mandy, is the longtime girls’ coach at Ipswich. His sister, Masey, was the team’s starting point guard, helping push the Tigers to the Division 3 North final last week. His stepfather, Zach Zegarowski, played four years at UMass-Lowell, coached at Charlestown, and helped out as an assistant the one year Carter-Williams spent at Hamilton-Wenham.

At St. Andrew’s, Carter-Williams was prodigious (2,260 career points). Temple, Virginia Tech, Providence, and UMass showed interest.

But, in 2009, he decided Syracuse was the best fit, and verbally committed.

His first year had its highs (13 points on 5-of-6 shooting against St. John’s in February) and lows (nine DNPs, including both tournament games). But he’s pushing through the growing pains.

“I’m sure I could go onto a lot of other teams, any other teams and play, but on this team there are three guards ahead of me, so I just try to learn from them and try to be my best every day,’’ Carter-Williams said. “It’s been a great experience. Definitely a learning experience for me. It’s been a fun year just getting to see and getting to participate somewhat and just watching the team excel and just having a good time.’’

Playing for Boeheim is its own lesson. Big on discipline, with little tolerance for mistakes, the margin for error is slim. For a young player, Carter-Williams acknowledged it can be frustrating.

“It’s tough now, because I don’t get a lot of playing time, so sometimes we don’t get along,’’ he said. “But I talk to the assistant coaches and they just tell me to stay patient and stay ready.

“You don’t know with Coach Boeheim if you’re going to play one game and play 20 minutes, then the next game you don’t get off the bench. It’s tough. You try to figure him out, but it’s tough.’’

Part of it is because of Syracuse’s weapons. Between Scoop Jardine and Brandon Triche at the guard spots and Dion Waiters coming off the bench, minutes are scarce (Waiters said last week in Pittsburgh he didn’t feel there was a better guard there than him).

Waiters and Jardine combined for 34 of Syracuse’s points in its 75-69 win over Kansas State Saturday.

“On this team, we have a lot of weapons and when we work together as a team we’re probably the hardest team to stop,’’ Carter-Williams said.

He walked on campus during one of the most drama-filled seasons imaginable. To start the season, the Orange dealt with a scandal involving associate head coach Bernie Fine, who was dismissed after being accused of sexual misconduct by two former ball boys. Then, at season’s end, there were claims of drug policy violations by former players over the past 10 years.

Finally, just before the NCAA Tournament, the Orange ruled Fab Melo, their sophomore center and the Big East defensive player of the year, ineligible, which threatened to rock the locker room at a crucial time.

Through it all, they’ve managed, reaching the Sweet 16 this week in Boston, where they’ll face Wisconsin, and Carter-Williams is ready for the homecoming.

“We’ve been going through some things, then we lost Fab and this and that,’’ Carter-Williams said. “But we’ve just got to put all that to the side. We’ve just got to pull it together.

“It’s definitely been a lot because we’ve been through so much. We’re taking it as we know teams are coming after us right now. It’s time to step up our game.’’

Julian Benbow can be reached at jbenbow@globe.com.

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