Detroit-Syracuse Preview

Jim Boeheim has experienced a lot since the dawn of the new
century – prostate surgery, a national championship, induction into
the Basketball Hall of Fame, a pair of Olympic gold medals, the
firing of a lifelong friend on his staff.

Yet even though it’s been 50 years since he enrolled as a
freshman at Syracuse, the 68-year-old Boeheim just keeps rolling
along, as intense and focused as ever in his 37th year at his alma
mater, worried only about the next game when he’s not recruiting or
raising money for cancer research.

“He hasn’t lost a beat,” said Boeheim’s wife, Juli. “Jim’s got
an intense edge at all times.”

One that has brought him to the doorstep of another milestone –
900 victories. Sometime soon – the first chance comes against
Detroit on Monday night in the Carrier Dome on the court that bears
his name – Boeheim will join a most elite fraternity, one with only
two other members – Mike Krzyzewski (936) and Bob Knight (902), the
only men’s coaches in Division I history to win that many
games.

“The sooner we get through it, the better we’ll be able to focus
on the season,” said Boeheim, 899-304 for his career after his
third-ranked Orange (9-0) beat Canisius 85-61 on Saturday night.
“This team does not care about how many wins I have. They care
about getting the next win. That’s it. Everything else does not
matter. It really doesn’t. I’m happy I’m still here.”

Even though his Orange have won more games the past three
seasons than during any three-year stretch in his career and
Boeheim’s program is probably better than it’s ever been, crossing
another threshold on the victory list isn’t fodder for the dinner
table.

“We don’t even mention it at home,” Juli said.

One of a vanishing breed, Boeheim has been head coach at
Syracuse since 1976 and has never had a desire to go anywhere else.
His first victory as a college coach was against Harvard in
Springfield, Mass., a 75-48 triumph on Nov. 26, 1976.

“We were behind at halftime, not playing well at all,” Boeheim
recalled. “We just kind of went to something real simple
offensively and outscored them about 20-something to six in the
second half.”

After taking over for Roy Danforth, Boeheim’s Orange went 26-4
in his rookie season, losing in the second round of the NCAA
tournament.

“We were a good eastern program,” Boeheim said. “At that time,
St. Bonaventure, Holy Cross, and all those programs were just as
good as we were. We were a little bit better at that point in time,
but not much. There was really not much difference between all the
eastern schools.”

Boeheim has transformed what was a sound program – Syracuse was
128-71 in eight seasons under Danforth, going 23-9 and reaching its
first Final Four in the 1974-75 season – and taken the Orange into
the rarefied air of three national title games, winning in 2003 in
New Orleans.

Boeheim holds the Division I record for most 20-win seasons at
34, has 48 NCAA tournament victories (fifth all-time and one behind
Jim Calhoun) in 29 trips, and tops the Big East with 402 wins.

And, clearly, he’s in a better place than he was a year ago when
former assistant Bernie Fine was fired amid allegations of sexual
abuse against two former ball boys. No charges were filed, and last
month federal authorities dropped their investigation. Fine has
steadfastly maintained his innocence.

Boeheim defended his lifelong friend and endured criticism and
scrutiny, with some activists calling for him to be fired. He was
questioned repeatedly during news conferences about the case and
was sued for defamation by the ball boys (the case was thrown
out).

Through it all, Boeheim simply did what he’s done for nearly
four decades – prepare for the next game. The Orange responded by
winning a school-record 34 games, narrowly missing another trip to
the Final Four.

“He has so much knowledge and experience. I write in a journal
the way that he handles certain situations,” said longtime
assistant Mike Hopkins, who performs the job Fine held, coaching
the big men. “Last year was 10 years of education in one, managing
and motivating – Cool Hand Luke.

“Every year you think you’ve seen it all, and last year you saw
a whole new chapter just in terms of what a great leader he
is.”

Boeheim has been part of Krzyzewski’s staff for the past two
Summer Olympics, and the two have formed a solid friendship.

“Jim is one of the great coaches of all time, and he’s an even
better man,” Krzyzewski said. “It will be an amazing accomplishment
when he reaches 900 wins. What is even more amazing is that he’s
done that at one school. Jim Boeheim and Syracuse University are
synonymous. He has built one of the great brands in college
basketball, one that has withstood the sport’s most unrelenting
test – the test of time.”

Knight’s Indiana team deprived Boeheim and the Orange of a
national championship in 1987 when Keith Smart’s baseline jumper
with 4 seconds left gave the Hoosiers a one-point victory.

Knight could be courtside on the ESPN broadcast crew calling the
New Year’s Eve game in the Carrier Dome against Central
Connecticut. If the Orange remain undefeated and beat Central
Connecticut, Boeheim would pass Knight on that day.

And despite what the coach says, the Orange are stoked for
Monday night’s game.

“I can’t wait until he gets to 900,” sophomore guard Michael
Carter-Williams said. “He’s been through the ups and downs with the
school. He wants all of us to be great and to play to our
potential. I think that’s what makes him so great.”

Added senior Brandon Triche, who leads the team in scoring:
“He’s one of the best motivators. Sometimes, he’s tough on you, but
he’s motivated me to be the player I am.”

A celebration seems likely against Detroit, which has won four
straight overall but has lost all four of its road games and has
dropped 20 in a row against ranked opponents.

The Titans (6-4) are led by coach Ray McCallum and his son, who
has the same name and is averaging 19.4 points and 4.9 assists.