When the Syracuse Orange take the floor of the Carrier Dome on Saturday afternoon against Villanova, they likely wont need any additional motivation.
With 34,616 tickets having been sold an NCAA record for an on-campus game and an opportunity to all but lock up the Big East regular season title, its a safe bet Jim Boeheims team will be ready for this clash of top ten national powers.
Still, the party wont officially start in upstate New York until the opening beat of the teams warm up song, Shut It Down begins blasting over the arena speakers.
What makes this introduction selection unique from just about any other team in the country however, is the artist responsible for this musical prelude will be wearing a shirt and tie on the Orange bench.
While on a recruiting trip in Detroit last September, Syracuse assistant coach Rob Murphy found himself in a recording studio, mingling with a bevy of hip-hop artists. The guest of his friend, a producer in the music industry, the fifth-year assistant spent the majority of his night talking basketball with the artists present. As the evening wore on though, pressure began to be applied for Murphy to test his mettle in front of a microphone and show what he could do. Reluctantly, he obliged his audience.
The producer played a couple of beats for me and I didnt really like any of them, then all of a sudden the beat that would become Shut It Down came on, Murphy said. Immediately I thought, shut it down is a basketball concept, so I said let it play for a little and I said I would try free styling. I jumped in there and it started out as a joke, but I wound up bringing a copy back with me to Syracuse.
The CD sat in Murphys basement for the better part of a month, where it seemed in all likelihood to stay, until the Syracuse team got its first listen.
One night before the season began, several Orange players were over at Murphys house discussing music, when the coach decided to sample his musical dabbling for the small audience. Needless to say, it was well received.
He told us about it and when I heard it, I was surprised because it was actually a good song, said forward Wesley Johnson
. When he said he wasnt planning on doing anything with it, we said he should get it out to someone and then it just blew up from there.
The song quickly became a part of the team warm ups for home games at the Carrier Dome and continued to grow from there. Murphy was approached by head coach Jim Boeheim and his wife Juli about incorporating the song into the efforts of the Jim Boeheim Foundations fight against cancer. An mp3 version of the song was soon thereafter uploaded to iTunes
, with all proceeds going towards the foundation. T-shirts and sweatshirts with the slogan Shut It Down soon followed and the Orange had a full-fledged motto to their season.
Murphy and the players are quick to point out though that the mentality of tough lock down defense was something being preached well before the song ever came to fruition.
Losing what we did, we knew if we played defense and rebounded the basketball, we have people who can score points, Murphy said. We thought the guys we had would buy into the defensive side of the ball more, it was always about the defense.
Prior to the start of the season, it certainly seemed like the Orange would have their struggles on the offensive end and be forced to rely on their defensive efforts. The departures of Jonny Flynn
, Paul Harris
and Eric Devendorf
left Syracuse without its top three scoring options, leading rebounder, top assist man and their best perimeter shooter. At the time, no one knew how good Wesley Johnson
would be nor did they know how the younger players would adjust to an increased role.
Questions about the offense were quickly answered with convincing early season wins over North Carolina and Cal, and the wealth of scoring ability the roster featured became apparent with seven different players scoring 20 points in a game to date. Still, it was the defense that set the tone for the Orange, holding opponents in check night after night. In fact, prior to Tuesdays high scoring win over Providence, Syracuse hadnt allowed an opponent to score more than 71 points in a game in nearly two months.
All told, according to the statistical database maintained by Ken Pomeroy
, this is the best defensive showing from Syracuse in the seven years the database dates back to, a fact that has fans of the program thinking Final Four.
Our defense helps us a whole lot, there arent a lot of teams that have the kind of size we do, sophomore forward Kris Joseph
said. Especially in the zone, it makes it hard for teams to set up like they want and to get a lot of open shots.
Defense wins us games, especially in a long season, added Johnson. We can key in on the opposing teams best guy and its harder to do that with us since we have so many players capable of scoring.
The players have officially dubbed the matchup with Villanova as Shut It Down Day, an ode to the style of play that has driven them to the heights of the national polls and established them as the elite team in the Big East
. Though the pregame festivities will be no different than any other game (save for the presence of ESPNs Game Day crew) the players admit that the acknowledgement of the song will make it a special affair.
This isnt a regular warm up song, this is our song that one of our coaches made for us as a team its motivational, Joseph said. It definitely does and will have us fired up.
As for Murphy, hell be able to sit back and see the players motivated by a piece of art that he put together himself. Since the creation of the original Shut It Down he has created two more versions, an upbeat remix and a version for the womens basketball team, in addition to a special tribute song in honor of Boeheims 800th win collected earlier this season.
With the rampant success that Murphys maiden plunge into the rap scene has experienced, it is only natural to wonder if he plans on diving further into what appears to be a blossoming music career, in addition to his exploits in the game of basketball. The assistant coach can only laugh at the prospects of cutting anymore records in the near future.
I have plans to be a head coach one day, he said. I love the game of basketball and I want to continue moving up the ladder in the next few years. This all started out as a joke, and I guess it was a talent I never even knew I had.
Take it from the rest of the country, there is plenty about Syracuse that no one knew they had this year.