Like any good coach, Jim Boeheim knows the danger of high expectations and the value of understatement. It would be tempting to predict the world for Syracuse, which is coming off a 26-4 season and its fifth straight trip to the NCAA tournament and has all but two players back. What makes Boeheim's restraint even more remarkable is that his team is built around a quick, strong, intelligent, 6'11" center, a situation most conducive to expressions of optimism.
Yet, instead of crowing about Roosevelt Bouie (above) the way most people would, Boeheim says, "He is going to be good, but right now he's my third best player." A coach whose team had five double-figure scorers and four with rebounding averages of 6.5 or more can say such things with a straight face. But even as Boeheim extolls the virtues of team play, a listener can almost see visions of Bouie owning the middle, intimidating opponents, swatting shots out of the air, sinking sky hooks and hurling outlet passes—all this, of course, dancing in the coach's head.
As a freshman, Bouie showed a natural preference for defense, which many players of his ability take up long after learning about tax shelters and Rolls-Royce maintenance. "I told Roosevelt to rebound and play defense and not worry about scoring," says Boeheim. That is exactly what Bouie did. He averaged 8.1 rebounds and blocked 91 shots in 30 games—and also averaged 10.9 points—despite playing eight games with a broken right hand. Defense seemed to come naturally to Bouie, who did little else while playing at tiny Kendall (N.Y.) High. "In high school, my man never got the ball," he says, "so I learned how to help out, how to time shots and how to go up and get them."
With Bouie as the nucleus and 6'6", 6'7" and 6'8" players around him, Syracuse will be as strong under the basket as any team. The only holes to fill are in the backcourt. Ross Kindel, the third guard for three years, led the team in assists last year. Now he will start. His running mate will be 6'6" Dale Shackleford, who, Boeheim says, is the best Syracuse player. The forwards are 6'8" All-Skinny sophomore Louis Orr and muscular 6'7" senior Marty Byrnes, Boeheim's "second-best player."
But how far Syracuse goes depends on how soon Boeheim is forced to admit that Bouie is No. 1. "He will dominate some people," says Boeheim cautiously, "but it will be some time before he can dominate everybody." Then one of those inner thoughts escapes: "Hopefully by the end of the year...."