Friday night was another emotional tug o’ war for Syracuse basketball and its fans. On the court, the #3 Orange dispatched of a worthy foe, the #10 Florida Gators with strong play from its starters, terrific contributions from one of the deepest benches in the nation, and critical late-game free throw shooting.
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Off it, Jim Boeheim, he of the ever steely facade, showed an emotional and contrite side rarely (if ever) seen. The Per’fesser’s postgame comments were fascinating, if for no other reason than it was a completely alien demeanor for those of us who has watched him for decades.
Twitter was abuzz following Boeheim’s presser, all wondering if it meant Bernie Fine’s impending indictment, or potentially the Hall of Famer stepping down. At this point all we can do is read a scattered bag of tea leaves, and even that’s becoming harder by the day. Here in order was Boeheim’s top 5 most significant quotes from Friday night.
1) “I believe I misspoke very badly in my response to the allegations that have been made. I shouldn’t have questioned what the accusers expressed or their motives. I am really sorry that I did that, and I regret any harm that I caused.”
Boeheim almost never admits to a mistake. But those who criticized him for speaking too brazenly about the initial allegations have the last laugh. Even he realized shortly thereafter how insensitive and potentially ignorant his statements could make him look. We all understand his rush to support a friend, and Boehiem’s defiant nature has molded him into a legend. But in the wake of Penn State, and with evidence out there that Bernie Fine may have had some serious demons, it was ill-advised to go on such an offensive. This may be the only time we ever see Boeheim publicly address such a major misstep.
2) “I reacted without thinking. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I’m trying to learn from my mistake, and this has been a hard time.”
The most humanizing comment of all. Boeheim can come off as condescending, arrogant and cold. But he attempted to describe why he lunged to defend Fine, and a reason for his retraction. Is it damage control? Sure. But it certainly seemed like sincere self-awareness.
3) “It’s been everything. I haven’t really thought about the game. I didn’t worry about my players being focused, and I focused for them in practice, but this whole topic – it’s not harder on me. The people who are abused is who it’s hard on.
Boeheim admitted how all-consuming the sordid affair has become. How often in three decades of coaching the Orange do you think he hadn’t thought about the next game? Let alone, one against a top 10 opponent? It speaks to the weight this entire situation carries, and how heavy the burden is on his shoulders. Whether simply to be politically correct or not, a very smart move to address the severity of the victims.
4) “No one said this is what you should say. No one indicated that I had to say something. This is what I feel.”
This spoke to the underlying fear he was being told what to say, and when to say it. A Boeheim unable to speak on his own terms is completely foreign to all of us. It would represent a huge pendulum swing toward a dark side of the forest if the university or lawyers were dictating his words. Surely, he’s sought counsel for how to address questions and apologize for his antagonistic words. But if Boeheim was being directed to say certain things, it would appear we may be seeing his last days. At least for now, if you trust him, he’s still in control of his own words.
5) “I don’t see distraction. We could have lost two of the last four games. I don’t see any distractions. They’re playing, they’re focused on the game. When I’m at practice, I’m with them, coaching them.”
It’s probably the least important aspect of the situation, but wins and losses are extremely relevant to a team with Final Four aspirations. SU is still undefeated, and owners of a top 3 ranking. How this team could not be distracted is almost impossible to fathom. News trucks are camped outside the practice facility day and night. But if Boeheim can shield them from the circus, and the players can focus solely on basketball, Orange Nation truly has something special afoot.
What will tomorrow bring? I’m almost afraid to ask. Just another day in the life and times of Syracuse hoops.