Syracuse's NCAA tournament success re-energizes coach Jim Boeheim
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- A couple hours after the 61-50 victory over Indiana, Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim and his oldest son, Jimmy, pondered the family's postponed trip to Disney World.
"We could still go after the Marquette game," suggested Jimmy. "We have a few days."
"I don't think your mother would go for that," said Jim.
As planned more than a month ago, the family trip was not one of triumph, as the story usually goes. Saturday was in fact the original departure day because the Orange did not figure to be where they are now; one step from the Final Four. So Julie Boeheim, sons Jimmy and Jack and daughter Jamie (Jack's twin) will be looking for a rain-check date, and Jim will miss taking a spin on "Soarin'," a flight simulation at Epcot.
"'Soarin' is the thing I really love down there," he says. "Incredible ride."
Boeheim, 68, is on another kind of incredible ride right now, Syracuse's own soaring act a bit of a surprise in the college hoops word. A month ago there were rumors that this his 37th season would be Boeheim's last, and, though he dismissed them at first, he continued to be a little maybe-I-will-maybe-I-won't coy about his future. Lately he's backed off completely and seems energized by a good recruiting class and Syracuse's move to the ACC.
Of course, "energized" is a relative word when it comes to Boeheim. While his counterpart in Saturday's East Regional final, Buzz Williams, will be up and at 'em on the bench, practically injecting himself into Marquette's attack at both ends, Boeheim will likely stick to his sideline schtick, the incredulous, hands-spread you-gotta-be-kidding look, and a style best described as laconic, given the theatrics of most coaches.
That's what happens when you've been doing this for as long as some of your rivals have been alive.
Eight hours before tipoff, Jim Boeheim pronounces his entrée at Edgar in the team hotel -- yes, it is named for J. Edgar Hoover, who lunched there frequently -- as "the best chicken pot pie I ever had." But then the dining omens turn bad. Every time Boeheim finds a dessert option he likes -- and there are five of them -- he finds it includes nuts, to which he is allergic. He has to settle for the final option, vanilla ice cream. (Insert own joke here.)
The bad omen is a little more in keeping with his world view. He feels better now that everything has not worked out.
"Sure, I still get nervous," he says. "I'm nervous right now. I'm nervous before we play Colgate. Maybe a little less nervous because we're probably going to win that game, but I can invent a way to think we're going to lose, too. And we can sure as heck lose tonight."
Boeheim became the second all-time winningest coach this season, joining Mike Krzyzewski (who's ahead of him and will remain so) and Bob Knight (whom he surpassed) as the only coaches in the 900-win club. Still, there are always stories about him being overrated and conjecture about how much coaching he does. Even after losing long-time aide Bernie Fine, Boeheim still has formidable bench help in Mike Hopkins (an ongoing candidate for the head job at USC), Gerry McNamara (a certified 'Cuse NCAA hero) and Adrian Autry, another young up-and-comer. All three played for Boeheim in this Snowbelt version of "All in the Family".
Make no mistake about it, though: This is Boeheim's team. A few hours before tipoff -- four and a half hours, to be exact, because that is a Boeheim tradition -- Syracuse held its film study in a hotel ballroom. He was the only one to talk. Cap perched on his head like a bird's nest, arms folded at his chest, he followed the action and made his points, instructing the video coordinator to "run it back" from time to time.
--"They will push it. They take quick shots. They take threes in transition. We do not want to give them transition baskets."
--"Temple did a pretty good job of getting back and the game was in the 50s. Remember that." [Syracuse subsequently does a great job of getting back and, yes, the Hoosiers get stuck at 50.]
--"You cannot go under on [Jordan] Hulls. You can go under on [Yogi] Ferrell. You have to show on Hulls. He looks for every opportunity to shoot. Always. He loves to come off and shoot." ["Under" means going below a screen instead of fighting through it and sticking close to the shooter.]
--"Zeller [center Cody Zeller] can pass, but when he does not have someone open he will look to go one-on-one without hesitating. And he goes both ways. You have to move your feet. You can't let him have lanes."
After all those years on the bench, Boeheim most values time compression. Endless practices, protracted video study, complicated strategic lectures? "Kids just start tuning you out," he says. Whatever is said in the outside world about Boeheim, he does not get tuned out on his own team, at least not with this team. As he walked to the front in a wildly celebrating locker room after Thursday night's win, everything turned quiet. There would be no Jim Larranaga dance. He conducted it like he conducted the film study, point to point and get the hell off the stage.
"You guys played great at both ends of the floor."
"When we reverse the ball, then attack, that's when we're successful."
"There will be no celebration tonight. We're not done. We have to get ready to play."
"We're playing a good team on Saturday night. They beat us [74-71 at Marquette on Feb. 25 during Syracuse's four-of-five losing skein] mostly because they shot 37 foul shots. We don't want that to happen again."
"You just beat a team that was No. 1 or No. 2 in the country all year long."
As he talked, he assumed one of the standard Boeheim poses, open palm on chin, a la Jack Benny, a name that no one in the locker room besides Boeheim would recognize. He held up one arm, the team came together, re-energized and noisy. It was hot, sweaty and cramped. Disney World seemed a long way off, and what a great feeling that was.