AMHERST — Before Joey Wallace committed to playing his final season of college basketball at Daemen College, coach Mike MacDonald made sure to highlight a key date on the Wildcats’ schedule.
“He pointed at the game and I saw it was Syracuse,” Wallace said. “I was like, whaaat?”
“This schedule is legit,” MacDonald responded. “We’re not playing around this year.”
Saturday night’s exhibition game at the Carrier Dome will be a memorable experience for all of the Daemen players but even more special for Wallace, the son of a former Syracuse star.
“It’s the best place to play basketball in the world and to have my son play there after I played there is a surreal moment,” said John Wallace, who led the Orange to the 1996 NCAA championship game before playing seven seasons in the NBA and will have his No. 44 jersey retired at the Carrier Dome later this year.
Joey Wallace regularly attended games and camps at Syracuse while growing up in his father’s hometown of Rochester. He played against the Orange at the Carrier Dome in 2017 as a sophomore at Southern Connecticut State, producing eight points, six rebounds and four assists in 37 minutes.
“I’ve been going to the dome my whole life,” he said. “But playing there two years ago was a lot different. The lights were a bit brighter, the stands were more packed and the stakes were higher.
“It was a great experience and I can’t wait to do it again Saturday.”
Wallace, a 6-foot-4 guard with the bulk to play forward, has joined four returning starters on a Daemen team that was nationally ranked last season and made its first appearance in the NCAA Division II tournament.
He started and played 27 minutes in his Daemen debut, tallying 12 points, five rebounds and three assists in a 111-73 exhibition loss at the University at Buffalo on Thursday night.
“In the short time we’ve seen him, we can tell he has a really high basketball IQ,” MacDonald said. “Coming in to a team with four starters back, he has to figure out where to fit in, but I think he’s starting to get it.”
“He brings us a lot of energy,” said Niagara Falls native Breon Harris, one of the Wildcats’ starting guards. “He’s a wing who can really handle the ball and get into the lane. He’s confident in his shot and aggressive on defense.”
Daemen has played exhibition games at UB the past several seasons but this is the first time the program will take the floor at Syracuse. Wallace is helping his new teammates prepare for the experience.
“He told us the atmosphere is crazy,” Harris said. “When you look up at the ceiling it’s going to be like looking up at the sky. There will be a lot of fans there and will probably be one of the most fun games I’ll ever play in.”
Wallace played for two NCAA tournament teams at Southern Connecticut. He averaged 10.6 points, 5.7 rebounds and 4.6 assists as a sophomore before taking a medical redshirt for the 2017-18 season.
Deciding to graduate transfer after last season, Wallace was intrigued by the success enjoyed by Rochester natives Gerald Beverly, Casey Sheehan, Supreme Hannah, Deion Hamilton and Jay Sarkis in recent seasons at Daemen.
“The program is incredible,” said John Wallace, who played for MacDonald during the 1992 Empire State Games. “I’ve known Coach MacDonald since his days at Canisius College. We go way back. I’m happy for my son and looking forward to seeing him perform well there.”
John Wallace will attend the game with a group of more than 30 friends and family members. When his son played at the Carrier Dome in 2017, Wallace wore a Syracuse hat with a Southern Connecticut sweatshirt. He’ll have similarly conflicted emotions this time around.
“I still bleed orange,” John Wallace said. “I always want my son to play well and some of these guys like Sarkis and (Jeff) Redband I’ve known since they were in third grade playing AAU ball with Joey.
“If Daemen is able to pull off the upset, I’d be ecstatic. It would be incredible. But they’ll have to bring their A game.”