- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 10, 2012

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) - Dion Waiters stared over at George Washington’s Dan Guest as the Colonials tried to get a feel for facing Syracuse’s stalwart zone defense.

Suddenly, the Orange guard’s hands flashed across the seams of the ball and Waiters raced down the court for one of his signature one-handed slam dunks to the roars of the Carrier Dome faithful.

Seconds later, Jabari Edwards had the ball for the Colonials and Waiters snared another of his career-high six steals in the game, this time converting a layup and completing a three-point play.

Five points in 27 seconds gave the Orange a 21-7 lead midway through the first half, and they cruised to an 85-50 triumph last month.

All in a day’s work.

“I’m the type of guy, I get mad if I see you keep dribbling in front of me,” Waiters said. “I’m going to try to get it eventually. I just got a knack for the ball, I guess.”

Apparently, Waiters gets mad an awful lot. He leads the top-ranked Orange (17-0, 4-0 Big East) with 37 steals as they get set to play at Villanova (8-8, 1-3) on Wednesday night. Syracuse’s not-so-secret weapon also is tied with fellow guard Brandon Triche for the team lead in scoring in Big East play at 13.3 points per game.

And get this: Waiters has yet to start a game during his breakout sophomore season.

The first man off Jim Boeheim’s talented bench, Waiters is fulfilling the promise that often was hidden during his troubled freshman year, when his Hall of Fame coach yanked him for the slightest transgression, one that led to a brief vocal confrontation for all to see.

As a freshman, Waiters averaged just 6.6 points, managing to reach double figures only eight times. This season, he’s scored at least 10 points in all but four games, notching a career-high 22 at North Carolina State, and is averaging 12.5 points overall, just behind team leader Kris Joseph (14.1).

“It never was a confidence thing. It’s just always how much room you get to make a mistake,” Waiters said. “Last year, if I made a mistake, I’d come out of the game. Then, I started playing like, ‘Dang, I can’t make a mistake.’

“Instead of me just going out there and playing basketball, I started telling myself, ‘Man, come on, when you get in the games, just get yourself involved in every aspect of the game.’ Toward the end (of the season), that’s what I kind of did, which was too late.”

After Syracuse lost to Big East rival Marquette in the NCAA tournament last March, the questions began. Would Waiters return to the school he committed to?

“A lot of times you question yourself. Did you make the right decision coming to the school you picked?” said Waiters, a product of the mean streets of Philadelphia who began dreaming of playing for the Orange before entering high school. “You always tell yourself everything will be all right, even though you know that things weren’t going to be all right at that time.

“I told (Boeheim) I just had to make the best decision for myself.”

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