|Jim Boeheim is the head of Syracuse basketball, as every Orange fan knows. (Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)|
Coach is a Jim dandy
Boeheim always has Orange ready at tournament time
Every office from Bangor to Richmond - perhaps from Presque Isle to Key West - has a Syracuse guy. That school must have 70 million alumni.
They all love their Orange, and, you know what? They should. The Syracuse basketball program is a phenomenon unto itself.
The TD Garden will look like an orange grove when Syracuse tips off against Ohio State for the East Regional’s Final Four berth Saturday night. The thing is, these people have been here before, and they will undoubtedly be here again. Some Syracuse teams, this one in particular, are better than others, but none of them are what you would call bad, or even mediocre. One of the most reliable facts of life in all of modern Western Civilization is that Syracuse will win 20. It’s right there with Death and Taxes.
You think about the marquee programs and coaches in college basketball and you always include the likes of Kentucky, North Carolina, Duke, Kansas, and if you’re old enough, UCLA. (Hey, do they still have a team?) It’s also necessary to mention Michigan State and Tom Izzo.
Just don’t forget The ’Cuse. Or Jim Boeheim. I don’t know about you, but 890 wins, 29 NCAA appearances, four Final Fours, three trips to the final game (1987, 1996, 2003) and a national championship (’03) have my attention.
You think Ron Paul is predictable? Well, he’s Mr. Flip-Flop compared with Jim Boeheim. He is what he is what he is, and Syracuse, as much as any basketball program in America, is what it is, day after day, week after week, month after month and, as the Boeheim Era closes out its 36th season, decade after decade.
Start with the fact he came to Syracuse as a walk-on player in 1962 and he’s still at Syracuse 50 years later. Now that’s a man who knows what he wants out of life.
You know that Syracuse is going to recruit an occasional McDonald’s All-American, you know that Syracuse will sign a couple of guys everyone else overlooked and they will wind up making All-Big East. You know that Syracuse will seldom leave the state of New York in November and December and you know Syracuse will play a 2-3 zone.
You know that Syracuse will put 20,000-plus people in the Carrier Dome for every game.
And you know that Jim Boeheim will alternately amuse and mystify people with his deadpan remarks, only 80 percent of which will be sarcastic.
It’s the most predictable package in all of college basketball.
Jim Boeheim never disappoints. No other coach is as comfortable in his own skin. Most coaches choose to perpetuate the notion that this whole college basketball thing is populated by players and coaches whose every corpuscle is dripping with unabashed adoration for the product. They all do this because they love it, coaches included. They can’t think of any place on earth they’d rather be than in a gymnasium, 24/7/365.
Then there’s Coach Boeheim. Asked to clarify a recent statement saying that if a doctor were performing surgery on you, the last thing you’d want is for him to be having “fun,’’ Mr. B responded as follows: “A better comment would be if I want to have fun, I’ll go play golf,’’ he said. “This is not fun. If I wasn’t getting paid, I wouldn’t be doing this. I don’t think too many of you [i.e. the media members] would be sitting out here if you weren’t getting paid, would you? No, I don’t think so.’’
By way of elaboration, he said, “You get satisfaction out of doing something right, just like everyone does.’’
So much for those of us who like to romanticize sport.
Having said that, Boeheim did say the game with Wisconsin Thursday night was “one of the best games I’ve been involved with in a long time,’’ adding that “I think [that’s] the best game anybody has ever played against us and didn’t beat us.’’
But the experience still wasn’t, you know, “fun.’’
What’s amusing about the Syracuse circumstance is that this stupefying, laconic individual presides over one of the most raucous scenes in American sport, that being a Syracuse home game at the cavernous Carrier Dome, where the ’Cuse has led the nation in attendance 12 times, including one run of 11 straight (1985-95). It’s kind of like Calvin Coolidge being POTUS during a good portion of the Roaring ’20s.
Neither Jim Boeheim nor anyone else foresaw anything like this happening when the Orange left beloved Manley Field House in favor of the Dome at the conclusion of the 1979-80 season. It was feared that Syracuse was about to forfeit its very powerful home-court advantage by leaving cozy Manley for the supposedly impersonal Dome.
Good teams begat great crowds, which begat more good teams, sometimes even great teams. Very often The Dome recruits itself. A generation or two of basketball-oriented American youth associates Syracuse with hoop enthusiasm and monster crowds.
“It’s one of the main reasons I came to Syracuse,’’ says Orange point guard Scoop Jardine. “You’re playing for a Hall of Fame coach in front of 30,000, maybe 25,000 on an off night. I’ll never forget the first time I went there and saw and heard that crowd. It was also the first time I signed an autograph. That’s all she wrote, right there.’’
Let’s get serious here. You can’t make a suitable basketball omelet without breaking a few hoop eggs here and there, and Syracuse has had a few moments where charges of various kinds of malfeasance have been leveled, some of it legit, some not. Whatever the case, the ’Cuse is no better or worse in this regard than 90 percent of the heavy hitters. They’ve got a clientele to please, and they’ve been putting smiles on many faces for many years.
Did I say “They?’’ No it’s Him, Jim. He is the Syracuse program, and let me tell you a little secret.
He’s not going anywhere.