The best insight into Syracuse’s basketball program rarely comes from national outlets. How could it? Reporters for those publications catch a few Big Mondays on television, fly in for the Georgetown game, and base most of their information on the decades-old log of Jim Boeheim stories that have come before. “The 2-3 zone… (white noise)… founding fathers of the Big East… (teacher from Peanuts talking)… Carrier Dome attendance… (and spell check).”
But Michael Rosenberg’s story “Variety Show” in this week’s Sports Illustrated is excellent. This type of story is usually earmarked for the general interest sports fan in Des Moines looking for a pre-bracket college basketball story, much the same way we would be reading a piece on Yu Darvish or the Flyers goaltending. But even for the hardcore SU fan, this has some keen information gathering. Here’s some of the best nuggets:
“The man Boeheim passed for third on the alltime wins list, Dean Smith, wrote a book called The Carolina Way: Leadership Lessons from a Life in Coaching, which easily could be confused with Mike Krzyzewski’s Leading with the Heart: Coach K’s Successful Strategies for Basketball, Business, and Life or Jim Calhoun’s A Passion to Lead: Seven Leadership Secrets for Success in Business, Sports and Life. Boeheim would rather send six players onto the court than write one of those books. He figures your life is your business, and why would you model your business on his life?”
Boeheim’s cranky, old and not that much fun. But he also isn’t self important. He gets it. He coaches basketball. And that has made him influential, famous, and rich. But it doesn’t equate to teaching you how to become a better human being, like the insufferable prophecies of Coach K.
“The truth is: I like the players, but I like the game, ” Boeheim says. “I like to see our players mature and get better. I want them all to graduate. Scoop graduated. But I mean, I like the game. That’s why I’m in it.”
How great is this quote? You could almost hear the amazement in The Per’fesser’s voice. “I’m busting my ass trying to make sure all these knuckleheads actually get a degree and aren’t slingin’ rock like Damone Brown. I mean, SCOOP graduated. How impressive is that? Scoop has a piece of paper!”
“Waiters stayed, partly because he wanted to play one more year with Jardine, who is not his cousin, no matter what news stories and the Syracuse media guide say. They have just been tight since they were kids in Philadelphia, and they like when people call them cousins.”
I honestly don’t know what’s real anymore. You’re telling me the SU Athletics is wrong about this? Like, there’s no way to fact check besides asking Dion and Scoop who just mutter, “Yeah, we cousins.” Whatever. They’re cousins in my book.
“In the past we were all on different islands, we had different agendas,” Joseph said. “It’s not about the individual accolades at this point.”
It’s the underlying reason Orange Nation loves this team so damn much. We all know how fragile it is. One guy starts griping about minutes, not getting enough touches, too few postgame microphones around him, and… poof. It all goes up in smoke. We’ve seen SU hoops with different agendas. It’s soul crushing.
“I’m very thin-skinned, and I’m very sensitive, which is bad for coaches,” Boeheim said. “If you criticize Bob Knight, you think he cares? He doesn’t care. Bob Huggins? Mike Krzyzewski? They don’t care … because they absolutely don’t think you know anything.”
You don’t have to dig too deep to have figured this one out awhile ago. But it’s always eye-opening when Boeheim will admit it. JB has always gone on the offensive at the slightest perceived criticism. It has made him a terrifying ogre to generations of student media. It has given us the tirade against the Post Standard last year. But give Boeheim this: He’s remarkably introspective. He knows his weaknesses and flaws. You get the feeling Knight still has no idea why people think he’s a bully.
Boeheim says he met with his players once to talk about Fine for “about 10 minutes…. I probably said something like, ‘It’s a terrible time for us and for me personally, because of a relationship of 36 years-50 years…. It has nothing to do with you guys. This is something I have to go through, and I’ll go through it. I’ll handle it.'”
Maybe this is the secret behind rising above the Fine Scandal and leaving it in the dust. The team may not have actually benefitted from the media cauldron, but instead from Boeheim absorbing it all. He sheltered the squad from the controversy (as much as he could), and allowed the players to just ball. This is Boeheim’s largest contribution to this magical season.
Unlike many of his colleagues, Boeheim fills out his coaches’ poll ballot himself, with confidence, because he has seen every ranked team, most of them several times.
This note just made me smile. Boeheim isn’t perfect. He’s had some bad March flameouts. But he still puts in an honest day’s work. You can just imagine Calipari passing off his ballot to a grad assistant, because he’s preparing for his 4th speaking engagement of the week at the Lexington Corporate Park conference room, and asking, “Who’s good besides us?” while matching his salmon-colored tie with a shirt.
Hopefully, the national media have a few more reasons to drop into the Orange bubble as we creep closer to March.