SU’s Boeheim still driven after all these years
AP Sports Writer
SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) – When the final horn sounded inside Cincinnati’s Fifth Third Arena and Syracuse had yet another road win in the grueling Big East, the Orange were a cinch to move up again in the national rankings.
Orange coach Jim Boeheim surely wasn’t thinking about that, though, even if he does have a vote in the coaches’ poll.
“He takes it all in stride,” said Boeheim’s wife, Juli. “At home, we are not celebrating. It’s good. It’s all good, but he has got the pedal to the metal.
“The intensity is, oh,” Juli said, looking skyward. “This team, everything, I think it’s rejuvenated him.”
After rallying without leading scorer Wes Johnson to beat Cincinnati 71-54 on Sunday, just the Bearcats’ second loss in 13 home games, Syracuse (23-1, 10-1 Big East) moved up two slots to No. 2 in the AP Top 25, its highest ranking since a six-week stretch at No. 1 in 1989-90.
“We have a good, solid, well-balanced team,” Boeheim said. “That’s really the key.”
Nearly seven years removed from guiding Syracuse to its lone national championship, the 65-year-old Boeheim remains focused on the goal at hand – winning the next game – and nothing else.
Discussing the success of his team, which is off to the best start in school history, or even making it to another Final Four is simply premature in Boeheim’s mind, which he jokingly reaffirmed after the Orange rallied from a 14-0 deficit and beat archrival Georgetown by 17 points at home two weeks ago.
“He wants to win another championship badly. To win one is great. To win two is special. It makes you hungrier,” Juli said. “He was hungry to begin with, but that hunger has not eased off at all after winning one.
“We don’t talk about it,” she said. “To realistically say that he thinks we’re sitting on one, I don’t know that he would agree with that.”
Boeheim’s most difficult job might be ignoring what his young sons, Jimmy and Jack, say at dinner time.
“They just talk about it at the table,” Juli said. “They watch it together. They break it down. They know who has beaten who. Now, they’re kind of on his level where they can really discuss it as a family. … They’ll say, ‘Dad, we can beat them.’
“He says, ‘Ahhh. Ahhh.’ Nothing really. No reaction.”
In his 34th year at his alma mater, Boeheim became the eighth Division I coach to reach 800 wins when the Orange defeated Albany in the season-opener. He has taken Syracuse to the national championship game three times – 1987, 1996, and 2003 – winning the title his last trip with freshmen standouts Carmelo Anthony and Gerry McNamara.
While McNamara is a constant reminder – he’s on Boeheim’s staff this season as a graduate assistant – Anthony is an NBA megastar, having left for the pros after that championship season.
This year’s remarkable run has been authored by a group of mostly veteran starters that includes two fifth-year seniors in guard Andy Rautins and center Arinze Onuaku; 22-year-old junior forward Wes Johnson, just the fifth transfer Boeheim has accepted in his long tenure and a candidate for national player of the year; junior forward Rick Jackson; and freshman point guard Brandon Triche, like Rautins a local product with connections to Syracuse teams of the past.
Guard Scoop Jardine and Kris Joseph, both of whom probably could start on just about any team in the nation, have been saviors off the bench. In the past six games, Joseph has 92 points and 36 rebounds while averaging 30 minutes, while Jardine contributed 45 points and 30 assists with just six turnovers while averaging 23 minutes.
“We’re good, especially with our bench contributing right now,” said Rautins, the vocal leader of the Orange. “They’re keeping everybody fresh.”
The departure of the top three scorers from last season’s team – Jonny Flynn, Eric Devendorf, and Paul Harris – figured to have an impact.
It has – in a very positive way.
“I think there were a lot of unknowns coming in, especially Jonny,” Juli said. “He (Boeheim) had a sunny outlook on this team coming in, but not this sunny. He knew Wes would be good, but the way everything has come together I think is surprising to everybody.”
While Flynn and Devendorf were McDonald’s All-Americans and Harris nearly was, this year’s team does not have a player that was ranked in the top 50 of his respective class by Scout.com.
“There was a lot of individual play last year, a lot of isolation,” Rautins said. “This team really moves the ball and we enjoy playing defense. I don’t think our defense last year was as good as it is this year. We really want to work. That’s our core thing.”