“Yeah he did it in 10 years; it took 29 for me,” he said. “That’s about right for me.”
If Eeyore was a basketball coach he would be Jim Boeheim. Especially these days.
In private, Boeheim is about as bright, funny and engaging as anyone in basketball. He has also put together coaching numbers that are astounding, regardless of how many years it has taken him to achieve them. Saturday’s victory was the 889th of his career and put him in the Sweet 16 for the 16th time. The only coaches in history with more wins than Boeheim are Mike Krzyzewski at 927 and Bob Knight at 902.
What’s more, the argument can be made that at the age of 67, Boeheim is a better coach now than he’s ever been. This Syracuse team is 33-2 and, as Boeheim points out, has found different ways to win all season.
None of that, though, is the focal point when people talk about Syracuse right now, and it hasn’t been since late last fall when Bernie Fine, Boeheim’s longtime assistant and close friend, was forced to resign after being accused of sexual abuse by two former Syracuse ballboys.
It is fair to say that Boeheim, in spite of all his team’s victories, has had very few moments of peace since then. He came out swinging at Fine’s accusers and then had to apologize, even though he no doubt still believes every word he said. Now Boeheim is completely gagged by his lawyers on the subject, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t waging battles on other fronts.
He’s had to answer questions about a report that a number of ex-Syracuse players tested positive for recreational drugs several years ago and were never subjected to the school’s rules on drug use. Then starting center Fab Melo was declared ineligible for the second time this season just before the NCAA tournament began.
A day later, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, talking about NCAA graduation rates, appeared to single out Boeheim when he mentioned that one college coach had called the idea of penalizing schools for failing to graduate players “completely nuts.”
Boeheim took umbrage with Duncan’s comments on Friday — saying he had called two elements of the graduation rate standards nuts, but not the idea itself — and was also upset with a USA Today story that said if the new standards were in place this season, Syracuse would not have been eligible to play. “Not true,” Boeheim said. “They’re using outdated statistics. If they’d have called us we could have told them that.”
And of course, there was the controversial ending to Thursday’s first-round victory over UNC Asheville. Boeheim didn’t mind seeing several thousand replays of a pass that clearly went off Brandon Triche’s hands but was awarded to Syracuse anyway — although he did say he thought Triche had been fouled. He did mind several TV commentators criticizing a lane-violation call made against Asheville at a critical moment in the game.