Jardine brings scoop of flash to Orange

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- His coach calls Scoop Jardine's ad lib plays "boneheaded." Jardine prefers creative.

The Syracuse guard plays like a kid who earned his nickname on the playground -- two parts flash, one part dash with an assortment of twists, turns, hooks and scoops.

Except in Jardine's case, the nickname is the egg.

Or maybe it's the chicken.

Whatever, it predates Jardine's basketball repertoire by a good 21 years.

"Actually, my grandmother started calling me that," Scoop Jardine said. "My head was all messed up when I came out [of the womb], and she said it looked like an ice cream scoop."

The kid with the deformed dome certainly has straightened out his game. Still wily and creative, Jardine has found a way to temper his game without losing style points.

Coming off the bench for Syracuse this season, the sophomore is averaging 8.9 points per game, but it is the energy he injects that changes everything for the Orange. With a mischievous smile chronically splashed across his face, he automatically lifts his teammates and invigorates the fans who wait breathlessly to greet him with a "Scoooooooop" after some sort of "How did he do that?" play.

Jardine rarely disappoints. He is part pinball/part roadrunner, darting through the lane, draining 3s and leaving opponents flat-footed and fans speechless. In a highlight-reel display of excellence against Vermont in the first round of the NCAA tournament, Jardine's ankle-breaking crossover on poor Nick Vier is the play that still has tongues wagging.

"It doesn't matter if you don't make the shot," said Jardine, who made the shot.

Jardine always has been a playmaker, a kid who could do things with a basketball that come only from the beautiful merger of good genetics and experimentation on the playgrounds.

Jardine's canvases were the Fifth and Washington playground in the South Philadelphia neighborhood where he grew up and the Sonny Hill League, the proving ground for any Philly kid worth his salt.

Jardine developed his own style while borrowing from the guards who preceded him in a city known for its backcourt heroes. Kyle Lowry, Mustafa Shakur and Sean Singletary were among the players who gave Jardine his inspiration.

"Sonny Hill, that's where it's at," Jardine said. "That's where you learn to play."

Carl Arrigale, Jardine's coach at Neumann-Goretti High School, calls Jardine a "risk-reward player," the kind who will make you bang your head through a wall for doing something foolish but thrill you the five other times down the court.

He's the same way off the court. Engaging and uninhibited -- "Uptight is not an adjective anyone would use to describe Scoop," Arrigale said -- Jardine can be equal parts entertaining and exasperating.

"He was the kid that the people in the school couldn't wait for him to graduate," Arrigale said. "And then they missed him the minute, the day he left."

It's the same way for Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, who loves Jardine's energy and passion but sometimes is less than thrilled with his freestyling.

"We all come together and try to play together and play smart and don't make bonehead plays like myself," Jardine said after the Orange ran over Gonzaga in the second round.

"Didn't make one today," Boeheim deadpanned.

Jardine's problem was never talent. It was focus. Arrigale said that at the start of Jardine's senior season in high school, he was "as good as anybody in the country," but somewhere between the start of the year and the finish, he lost his way.

Longtime preps writer Ted Silary of the Philadelphia Daily News thought Jardine "got a little bored with high school by his senior season."

Jardine still managed to earn a spot on Silary's all-city second team behind a pretty impressive first team: Brad Wanamaker, now at Pitt; Ramone Moore, now at Temple; Jardine's high school and college teammate, Rick Jackson; Jeff Jones of Virginia; and the Morris twins, Marcus and Markieff, now at Kansas. With a little more work, he would have been first-team.

"Somewhere along the way, he got off track a little bit," Arrigale said. "He was still good, but he got distracted. I think he was ready to get to Syracuse."

Jardine was good if not great in his rookie season at Syracuse but then was forced to the bench his sophomore season, redshirting with a stress fracture in his leg.

That's when the light bulb finally went off. While Jardine nursed his injury, he spent time on the sideline with Wes Johnson, who had transferred in from Iowa State. Johnson is goofy enough to be the perfect co-host for the "Scoop and Wes Show," a Web video show for the Syracuse Post-Standard. But the soon-to-be lottery pick also was serious enough that he helped Jardine rediscover the focus that had abandoned him in high school.

"I always told him, 'When we stop seeing you around here in the summer, that's when I know you're focused,'" Arrigale said. "We didn't see him at all this past summer."

That's because Jardine was in Syracuse, committing himself in the weight room and reconfiguring his diet.

Cursed with a lousy metabolism, Jardine can become a Double Scoop if he's not careful. "He's the kind of kid that could gain weight in a week," Arrigale said. Out went the honey buns and other sticky sweets he loved so much.

"I cut it all out," Jardine said. "No cookies, no late-night snacks, none of it. I'm so much better now. So much."

In the dream scenario, Jardine's hard work is rewarded with a spot in the starting lineup. He doesn't hide the fact that a starting position was his goal.

Boeheim had other ideas.

Jardine and Kris Joseph are options 1A and 1B off the bench. Boeheim says he has seven starters, but the fact remains that only five are introduced before games.

Jardine admits he was initially stung by the decision, but he has never complained. Instead, he and Joseph are the Orange's secret weapons, bench players who easily would start on virtually every other Big East roster.

"I know it's got to be killing him," Arrigale said. "I know he wanted to start, just like any kid, and I'm sure it shook him when he first heard about it. But whether he comes in the first minute and a half or five to six minutes in, his attitude is the same. That's what I'm so proud of. He's not sulking. He gives that team a spark."

The spark can come in all forms -- an in-your-face 3-pointer in transition, the alley on an alley-oop pass, a reverse scoop to the hoop or a crossover that leaves skid marks.

"Man, I wish everyone would stop talking about that," Jardine said.

No, he doesn't.

He loves it, every single morsel of it.

He is a kid born for the limelight of the NCAA tournament and born for a nickname.

Seriously, could you imagine if he were just Antonio Jardine?

"I don't like to be called Antonio," Jardine said. "Maybe I'll use it when I'm done playing basketball. It's more businesslike."

That's for another day. For now the business is basketball, and when Scoop Jardine is the CEO, the basketball business is unscripted.

Dana O'Neil covers college basketball for ESPN.com and can be reached at espnoneil@live.com.