SYRACUSE - It was classic Jim Boeheim. Little bit of a scowl, little roll of the eyes. Been that way a long time. You have to look past all that and listen. After all, the man is about to win his 900th game.
“Nobody wants to believe me but I was thinking nine,” Boeheim said after his team improved to 9-0 with Saturday’s 85-61 win over Canisius, the 899th victory of his incredible coaching career at Syracuse. “Now I’m thinking 10. I know what happens. I know what’s going on. I’m not stupid. There’s some people who would argue with that.
“[Getting to 900] just does not matter. This team is completely what matters. They don’t care about how many wins I’ve had. They care about getting the next win and that’s it. Everything else does not matter.”
It was 50 years ago, in the fall of 1962, that Boeheim stepped on the campus as a student and never left. He has been associated with the school ever since as a player, assistant coach and head coach. His name is on the Carrier Dome court. When he was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2005, his presenter was his former college teammate and roommate, ex-NBA star and current Detroit mayor Dave Bing.
Only Mike Krzyzewski (936) and Bob Knight (902) are ahead of him and it’s a pretty solid bet the historic 900th win will come Monday night against Detroit.
“Hey, I’m happy I’m still here,” Boeheim said. “I’m happy I’ve been here this long. I was 17 years old and I almost went home my first year and I’m still here.”
There’s a long list of players who have benefitted. Roosevelt Bouie and Louis Orr. Pearl Washington. Rony Seikaly and Derrick Coleman from the 1987 NCAA finalists. Billy Owens and Lawrence Moten. Rochester native John Wallace from the ‘96 finalists. Current assistant coach Adrian Autry. More recent names like Dion Waiters.
Ten years ago, Canisius also came here for a December game against the Orange, then featuring a pair of rising freshmen named Carmelo Anthony and Gerry McNamara. It was tied with 7½ minutes to go before Syracuse pulled away for an 87-69 win.
How did that season end? With the Orange cutting down the nets in New Orleans for Boeheim’s lone national championship. McNamara is now on the bench as an assistant coach while Anthony is having an MVP season with the Knicks — and his name is on SU’s glittering basketball practice facility after he kick-started the fund-raising for the $19 million “Melo Center” with a $3 million gift of his own.
How does this year’s team rate? Pretty darn good so far. We’re a few months away from finding out if it’s championship-good but it could be.
“Getting to 900 is going to be great but Coach has an ultimate goal to get another championship,” said guard Brandon Triche. “He’s one of the best coaches preparing for games and coming in with a game plan. He can really see what teams are doing.”
Four players average in double figures. The Orange came into Saturday outscoring its opponents by 28.5 points per game and outrebounding them by 11.6 (so big props to Canisius for its 37-34 edge on the boards).
Sophomore point guard Michael Carter-Williams, who is on the Naismith Award watch list, has had 30 assists in the last two games (including 13 in the second half Saturday).
“He’s the key,” Boeheim said. “He’s unselfish. He knows how to get in the lane and he knows where people are. He sees people, makes creative passes.”
For his part, Williams believes Boeheim has harnessed his talent and is thrilled to be part of No. 900.
“He’s a great coach and I’m going to enjoy the moment with him when it comes,” Williams said “... He’s been through the ups and downs of the school. He’s a great person and one of the all-time legends as a coach. He wants us to be great.”
Boeheim turned 68 last month and is routinely ornery with the local media. The Bernie Fine sexual abuse scandal last year ran off his longtime assistant coach but has since proven to be a dubious case. Saturday night, Boeheim took on local reporters again after Williams was allegedly shoplifting here Sunday at a local mall and photos circulated on Twitter of him in handcuffs.
“I wouldn’t take something written in the paper as the truth all the time,” Boeheim grumbled. “The Tomaselli name comes to mind (Zach Tomaselli was one of the men who accused Fine but then recanted his story). Because it’s in the paper doesn’t make it true. So I’m not going to take an action or make an action [against Williams] because of something in the paper, right.”
Success on the court. Grumpy off it. It’s a Boeheim formula that works. Hard to argue.