Apparently, Jim Boeheim is an affable person off the court. Get him away from basketball, and there’s a warmth beneath his competitive facade. He’s been described as a loving father and a devoted husband, with a wry sense of humor that brings the house down whenever it peeks through after games and on Syracuse radio shows.
Unfortunately, he still makes it easy to criticize him.
Yesterday, No. 11 Virginia resumed its annual domination over Syracuse with a 73-66 win at John Paul Jones Arena. The ‘Hoos played one of their worst games of the season but still led by 23 in the second half and never allowed SU even a single lead. After the game, Boeheim was unusually positive. He had plenty of good to say about freshman Maliq Brown (who played a career-high 37 minutes) and former UVA coach Terry Holland, whose career wins record was surpassed Saturday by minority JMA Dome owner and Cavaliers head coach Tony Bennett.
Unfortunately, Boeheim couldn’t quite make it through his seven-minute appearance without a sprinkle of snark. When asked about Virginia’s 22 assists against his zone, Boeheim detailed that his offense doesn’t operate the same way, which “he’s explained about a hundred times.” Lately, he’s done the same thing concerning the team’s multitude of mistakes, slow starts, and young players who aren’t ready, but who’s counting?
That’s the recent problem with Boeheim. He’s dour after wins, unaccountable after losses, and his act is growing tiresome. Dismissive and condescending works when you’re winning Big East tournaments and get to set the narrative in newspapers two days after the fact. These days, a 10-6 record, 91st overall KenPom ranking, and a combined 0-3 record versus Quad 1 and 2 teams means that his team is like anyone else’s. Therefore, it’s only fair to treat Boeheim like everyone else. If expectations are high, then assessments of performance should naturally follow.
Unsurprisingly, the head coach known for nasty defenses spends plenty of time playing much more defensively than necessary versus the media. The issue is not that Boeheim shuts down speculation, it’s that he treats questions about lineups and players like personal challenges. If you question why Chris Bell continues to stand around in the corner every game like an awkward partygoer, Boeheim may kindly suggest you take your coaching expertise to a local high school. Questions are the media’s prerogative to ask, and they are Boeheim’s responsibility to answer as best he can. Things like repeated mistakes and a 32-31 ACC record over the past three-plus seasons invite questioning. The fact that questions are asked at all does not make it any more likely that either John Wildhack or Cicero-North Syracuse is about to reach out about a fresh head coaching vacancy.
Then again, Boeheim seems baffled that anyone not present on his staff asks questions about the team to begin with. Take his press conference following ‘Cuse’s December 31st win over Boston College, for example. After it was widely pointed out that SU’s forwards were badly inconsistent, Boeheim took to the podium to defend sophomore Benny Williams, calling him the team’s “best forward.” Fair enough to offer support, but Boeheim went a step further and claimed that Williams is routinely great in practices and that anyone who doesn’t come to enough practice or games “can[‘t] judge what’s going on out there…there’s just no way.”
While it’s true that many writers don’t attend practice, Boeheim made it clear later in the presser that there isn’t much reason to. What he says does and doesn’t matter about practice sounds like an SAT logic puzzle. Boeheim referred to Williams as both “a freshman to me” and the team’s “best player in practice every day at the forward position.” Minutes later, he called freshman guard Quadir Copeland “our best player in practice the last four or five practices,” but that his lack of playing time is “just something that happens.” Both players are inexperienced, yet doing great things in practice no one sees, but if practice dictates who plays, Copeland should be out there. He isn’t. It’s merely another fence put up by Boeheim, who just wants the media off his lawn.
Concerns and critiques of Syracuse are legitimate, no matter what Boeheim says. You don’t need to be a renowned mechanic to notice something is wrong with your car when you turn the key and a half-dozen warning lights flicker on. You may not be the one capable of fixing the car, but you still know there’s a problem. If you take that car to Boeheim’s Auto Shop, you get called a know-nothing chowderhead by the head mechanic for suggesting there’s anything wrong with it. After all, you weren’t present in the factory while it was being assembled. You try to ask simple questions, but he tells you to open your own body shop and storms off in a snorting huff. Your problems stay unfixed, your car still breaks down every time it drives through Charlottesville, and you begin to wonder why you keep coming back to this shop to begin with. No wonder the place has only won one Outstanding Service Award in 47 years.