INDIANAPOLIS — At the end of his postgame interview, Jim Boeheim laughed. Customarily as bubbly as a week-old cup of Pepsi, he flashed a little fizz Sunday night after Syracuse upset West Virginia.
He told expansive stories, including one about his eighth-grade guidance counselor. He lavishly praised his players. And there was that verifiable grin-chuckle. Boeheim is wrecking brackets as a double-digit seed (again), with a team led by his son (a first), and life is suddenly lovely for Coach Gloomy.
“It’s hard to make the Sweet Sixteen,” Boeheim said upon arrival in his 20th, a staggering body of work. “When I started coaching … some of them, I don't even think we celebrated—probably 10 of them. We just figured that's what we're supposed to do. But it's very hard.”
So, yeah, the 76-year-old coach of the Orange is going to embrace this one. He’s enjoying a third Sweet Sixteen in the last five tournaments, with teams seeded 10th, 11th and 11th. The worst thing that can happen to teams in the Big Dance is to draw a Syracuse team that just barely staggers into the field, because the Orange are coming for you.
Even if the current edition of the underdog Orange don’t make the Final Four, like they did in 2016, this might be the sweetest of Boeheim’s septuagenarian tourney runs. Because junior guard Buddy Boeheim is the guy going off.
He scored 25 points Sunday against the Mountaineers, 23 of them in the second half. That was two days after he dropped 30 on San Diego State. He’s cashed 13 threes in this tourney already, in 23 attempts. Buddy is on a shooting tear that conjures up memories of another of his old man’s favorite shooting guards, current assistant coach Gerry McNamara.
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This is all the more noteworthy when you consider that Buddy didn’t much resemble a Syracuse-level prospect for much of his high-school career. High-major last name, mid-major game. The recruiting website 247 gave him three stars; Rivals did not give him any but listed him as the No. 43 shooting guard prospect in the class of 2018.
Dad eventually decided Buddy had done enough at Brewster Academy, a prep school in New Hampshire, to earn a roster spot. (No word on whether his wife, Julie, influenced that decision.) But even then he had a lot of work to do—defense, strength, diversifying his game beyond being a stand-still shooter—to crack his dad’s rotation.
Jim finally moved Buddy into the starting lineup for the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament at the end of his freshman season. He’s not left it since. Sunday night he passed Eric Devendorf for fifth in school history in three-pointers made, now at 220. He seems a cinch to move into at least second by the time he’s done, and possibly even making a run at McNamara’s school-record 400 if he takes advantage of the NCAA’s extra year of eligibility.
“He’s made himself into a really good player,” Jim said of his son. “He works harder than anybody I’ve ever coached, and it’s not close.”
Despite the work ethic—which often includes hours-long shooting sessions in the gym at the family home—Buddy has not always been imbued with confidence. Jim said his older son, Jimmy, who left Cornell after the Ivy League shut down athletics during the 2020-21 school year, is the confident one.
“I have two sons,” Boeheim said. “If you describe Jimmy, he plays golf. He hits 10 out of bounds in a row, and he thinks the 11th one is going to go in the hole on a par 4. Buddy can play ten good holes and one bad one, and he thinks the next one is going to be bad.
“But Buddy's gotten better. He believes in himself now 100 percent, and it's taken a while to get to that point.”
Well, maybe not 100 percent. Buddy said he still occasionally benefits from pep talks from McNamara, including one at halftime Sunday. “I don’t care if you miss 200,” McNamara told him. “Just keep shooting.”
He kept shooting. And they started going in. And they pretty much never stopped. His last three was confidence personified: Syracuse’s lead down to a point, Buddy completely covered, and he rose up and swished it anyway. That was the start of a 10-0 run, and all the Orange had to do after that was to avoid a total meltdown against the Mountaineers press to walk out with a victory and swagger into another Sweet 16.
“Can't even describe it,” Buddy said. “Something I dreamed about my whole life. This means everything. If you were to ask me a month or two months ago, where I think we would be, I don't think I would say Sweet 16, that's for sure.”
On Feb. 6, Syracuse was 10-6 and had lost league games by 17 (Clemson), 23 (Virginia), and 20 points (Pittsburgh). Sixteen days later they went to Duke and were routed, giving up 50 in the first half. But when the calendar hit March, the Orange beat North Carolina, Clemson and North Carolina State in succession. When they lost on a buzzer-beater in the ACC tourney to Virginia, they had done just barely enough to make the tourney field.
During the season, the Boeheim critics surfaced as they occasionally do. Skulking around the bubble had gotten old for a lot of them, and their coach was old, and some were itching for new blood.
“All of that stuff on the internet, not one sentence on the internet matters,” he said. “Not one.”
There will be many nice sentences about Coach Gloomy and his shooting-star son this week. And many busted brackets, thanks to another Syracuse run—this one sweet enough to make even Jim Boeheim laugh.
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