Syracuse fans have never been reluctant to point out fifth-year point guard Lazarus Sims' shortcomings.
Since his redshirt freshman season, they have said he is too slow and can't shoot or play defense. They have said the Orangemen would never win with him in the lineup, and Sims rarely got a chance to prove them wrong.
Until this season.
After four years of waiting, Sims is making the most of his opportunity to direct the Orangemen. He averaged 7.5 assists during the season, sixth-best in the nation, and has averaged 41 minutes in the last three tournament games. Syracuse plays Mississippi State in a Final Four semifinal Saturday.
Sims never lost confidence while he was waiting.
"Of course I thought that I should have been playing more based on what I had been doing in practice," he said. "But I just tried to be patient and remember that all I can do is be Lazarus Sims and my time will come."
Sims is a playmaker, almost to a fault.
"I don't know why he passes so much," said John Wallace, who has been a teammate of Sims' since they played AAU ball in high school. "But that's just his nature."
But Sims can also score.
Several times during the season, Sims' late three-point shooting saved the Orangemen from losses. He made two three-point shots in the final minute of regulation of the 83-81 overtime victory over Georgia in a West Regional semifinal.
"People don't seem to realize that 'Z' has hit key shots for us all year," Coach Jim Boeheim said. "He just likes saving them."
After sitting behind Adrian Autry and then Michael Lloyd, Sims has proved he belongs among Syracuse's list of outstanding point guards that includes Sherman Douglas and Pearl Washington. Earlier this season, he had 17 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists in a victory over St. John's, only the fifth triple-double in the history of the Big East Conference.
Sims almost didn't return to school this season after the death of his father, Willie, of a heart attack July 29.
"I didn't see the point in it," Sims said. "I was second-guessing why I was here. My mother and my brother kept telling me my dad would have wanted me to keep playing. That keeps me going, just knowing that he's watching."