WILKES-BARRE, Pa. — Syracuse’s Gerry McNamara always carries a swirl of nervous excitement before games. For his next one, though, he’s not exactly sure what he’ll be feeling.

“I’m not worried,” he said. “I don’t think I’ll be too nervous.”

Three years after he became an instant star for the Orange, the senior guard, who leads Syracuse in scoring at 17.5 points per game, is receiving a nice gift during this holiday — a game back home in his honor in a place he’s never played. The Orange’s game Tuesday night against Towson will be played here at the 8,300-seat Wachovia Arena, not in the Carrier Dome, which holds 33,000 for basketball.

“It’s pretty cool for the university to do that,” said McNamara, a schoolboy wonder at Bishop Hannan High School in nearby Scranton. “It’s a great thing for my area. The Scranton fans have been great for Syracuse.”

If there is one lament, it’s the lack of seats — the game sold out the day tickets went on sale in July. But at least it will be on local television for those not lucky enough to be there in person.

“We knew it was going to be big,” said Kathleen Bird, the arena’s director of marketing. “It’s a phenomenon. We sure do wish the arena was bigger.”

“That’s a lot of excitement,” said Bill Clark of Cookies Travelers Inc., a local bus company that has reaped plenty of business from McNamara’s amazing popularity. “It’s going to be like playing in his old high school.”

Coach Jim Boeheim went to work on arranging the game after last season. And don’t think the memory of the six 3-pointers McNamara made in the first half of Syracuse’s victory over Kansas for the 2003 NCAA championship wasn’t still fresh in Boeheim’s mind.

“I’m happy that we can play a game down there,” Boeheim said. “It’s great for the area and for Gerry to go back home and play. They love Gerry, and for good reason. He’s the kind of player that everybody likes. He goes out and gives it everything he’s got every game.

“He’s the kind of kid you want your daughter to marry. People follow players, and they don’t do it because they’re good players. They follow them because they see what kind of person he is. I think that’s why Gerry has such support.”

It is difficult to imagine a player in America with a more dedicated following. Scranton is a two-hour drive from Syracuse, and fans have made the journey through the snows of winter in amazing numbers since he started playing for the Orange in 2002. On two occasions, some 4,000 fans from Scranton — population 75,000 — crowded onto 50 buses for the ride north.

“The following has been so wonderful, incredible and loyal,” said McNamara’s father, also named Gerry. “I run into people in the Carrier Dome I haven’t seen in months.”

And in each of the last two years, a busload of fans from Syracuse traveled in reverse — to Scranton to watch the Orange play a road game on television in a bar just to see what the atmosphere was like.

“They have been unbelievable, and it’s just not Scranton,” McNamara’s mother, Joyce, said. “You would not believe the phone calls, the notes, the newspaper clippings we’ve received from people we have never met.”

“The university might write him a check at the end of the year saying, ’This is on commission,”’ assistant coach Mike Hopkins joked. “I think Gerry is going to start a trend where when a player signs with a school, they’re going to get a commission for fans attended.”

The game also will have special meaning for the 61-year-old Boeheim because the area holds a special place in his heart, too. He starred in the late 1960s for the Scranton Miners of the old Eastern Professional Basketball League, and a game photo of Boeheim still hangs in the bathroom at McMullens, a local tavern.

“I like Scranton. I learned a lot about basketball there,” Boeheim said. “People were always really, really good to me there, and we had tremendous support.”

McNamara has started 111 straight games at Syracuse. It’s the longest streak of any Division I player in the country, and his parents have yet to miss one. And what will be their shortest drive of his college career couldn’t come at a better time.

“I’m looking forward to it because it’s close to home and it’s Christmas time,” McNamara’s father said. “It’s nice to have the family together.”

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