Boeheim's Army was created prior to the 2015 The Basketball Tournament and has participated in every tournament since. The Syracuse alumni team quickly became one of the most prominent and recognizable teams in The Basketball Tournament. One of the key reasons for that was Eric Devendorf.
Devendorf helped raise the profile of Boeheim's Army, helped form rosters each year and was a big reason why Syracuse fans adopted the team as an extension of the Orange. It could be a bit overdramatic to state that without Eric Devendorf, Boeheim's Army does not exist. However, there is no question that Devendorf had a substantial impact on the popularity of the team.
Ditto The Basketball Tournament. The addition of Boeheim's Army to the 2015 tournament was a significant one for the event's organizers. It raised the profile of the entire tournament and sparked the creation of more alumni teams. Those series of events, along with the increasing popularity of the event, ultimately led to ESPN broadcasting tournament games.
Boeheim's Army, with Devendorf as the face of the team, has had its share of success. Boeheim's Army has never lost its first game in a tournament and advanced to at least the Sweet-16 each year. With that success, however, came heartbreak for both Boeheim's Army and Devendorf.
Close losses to Team City of Gods and The Untouchables prevented a Final Four berth in 2015 and 2016. In 2017, they broke through reaching the semifinals, but fell to eventual champion Overseas Elite in a close contest. Losses to Golden Eagles, Team Brotherly Love and Sideline Cancer prevented another Final Four opportunity, and The Basketball Tournament championship remained elusive.
Despite the hype, attention and popularity, Boeheim's Army did not have the ultimate prize.
Devendorf remained the face of the team. As the roster changed year after year, he was a constant. Not only on the roster but in the starting lineup. Still, the results were fruitless. Devendorf was not getting any younger, and father time is undefeated. Something had to change.
And change it did. With Devendorf helping recruit, Boeheim's Army was able to bring in four prominent non Syracuse alums to help put the team over the top.
"It feels good man," Devendorf said after the game. "These two guys right here (DJ Kennedy, Keifer Sykes) and obviously Tyrese (Rice) and DeAndre (Kane), we had to bring in some killers to seal the deal. It worked out, for sure."
Worked out, indeed. Boeheim's Army capped a tremendous, memorable, entertaining run through the 2021 The Basketball Tournament Tuesday night with a 69-67 win over Team 23.
The team gelled right away, and Devendorf was a big part of that. Those that came over to help Boeheim's Army win had extra motivation in helping Devendorf win that elusive title as the face of the team. Even as he stepped back to a much lesser role in 2021, he remained one of if not the most popular player among fans.
Rather than starting every game and having much of the offense flow through him, Devendorf came off the bench and accepted limited minutes. In fact, in the semifinal win over Florida TNT, Devendorf did not play. The reduced role was fine with him. Devendorf just wanted to win. That was always the goal as much as he enjoyed playing.
On Tuesday, he finally won. But he did not win on the bench. It was fitting that when Keifer Sykes' game winning shot went in, Devendorf was on the floor. He made important contributions to the game. In 17 minutes, Devendorf scored five points on 2-3 shooting including making his only three point attempt. It may have been only five points, but each bucket gave Boeheim's Army some momentum.
He made a three pointer in the first quarter to bring Boeheim's Army within one. Midway through the third quarter, a long jumper tied the game, fittingly at 44. Then, Devendorf gave way to his teammates to seal the deal.
"It's a great group of guys," Devendorf said. "We were fighting and arguing this whole time, because we all want it so bad, behind the scenes. But we never quit, we never stopped fighting. That's the type of team we wanted to put together. We wanted to put together guys who had been in these situations, who had that experience. DeAndre and DJ had won four and three. There isn't a situation they haven't saw. We wanted to bring in some killers like Keife and Tyrese. Real killers."
After the game, Devendorf embraced coach Ryan Blackwell. Blackwell had been the head coach each year prior to this one. In 2021, Blackwell was the assistant coach, giving way to new head coach Jeremy Pope. His impact on the team was still substantial, and now Blackwell also has that elusive title.
"Me, Kev (Kevin Belbey) and Black (Ryan Blackwell), we've been there from the get," Devendorf said. "Since 2015, I think? 2015. Every year we were kind of knocking, knocking. One year my man (DJ Kennedy) knocked us out, Overseas Elite. It just feels good, man. All of the behind the scenes stuff that went into it. Trying to get guys, guys dropping out not wanting to play. It's hard trying to get a good group of guys together in the summer, there's a lot going on. So I just told him (Blackwell) that I love him. That's my brother."
Through it all, the support of Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim and the rabid Orange fan base has been there. It has meant the world to Devendorf and the other players.
"I knew he was going to come," Devendorf said of Boeheim's attendance at the championship game. "That's family. I told them, Syracuse is family. If you're from Syracuse, you get it. You don't know much they really.... they're treating this like we played at Syracuse. Back in Syracuse, they're getting it in somewhere. It's family. Coach, Julie, Jimmy, Buddy. That's what Syracuse is."