To be golf coach was best. At Syracuse in the early 1970s, back
when the athletic department could justify the salary only by
piling additional duties on a graduate assistant basketball
coach, Jim Boeheim preferred coaching golf for one reason: No one
knew the results unless he phoned them in. Imagine a Final Four
that worked that way. No Nantz and Packer; no scrum of coaches in
a hotel lobby down the street; no one knowing what happened
unless Jim Boeheim called with the news. "That was a lot more
fun," Boeheim said last week, recalling his golf-coaching days.
"Everyone thought we were undefeated." ¬∂ No one had that
misapprehension about the two Syracuse teams Boeheim took to the
Final Four before this year, especially the one he brought to New
Orleans in 1987. The world knows that the Orangemen had been on
the business end of Keith Smart's shot with four seconds to play,
the jumper that won Indiana an NCAA title. It took years for
Boeheim to get over the pain of that loss, and the game tape
remains the only one he has never watched. "I wish we'd have won
that game, but would my world really be different if that shot
hadn't gone in?" he asks. "I don't think so. I never thought Marv
Levy would have been a better coach if he'd won one of those
Boeheim was no better a coach by the end of this season, even
after squeezing all he could out of a one-year wonder of a
freshman named Carmelo Anthony, including Monday night's 81-78
defeat of Kansas in the Superdome for the NCAA title. He might,
however, have been a different man. According to his wife, Juli,
he had never before told one of his players "I love you," as he
did to Anthony, a 6'8" forward, after the Orangemen qualified for
New Orleans with their East Regional defeat of Oklahoma.
And what's not to love? From his sweet dish to center Craig Forth
for the first basket of the title game, to his graceful pirouette
while calling timeout in the final minute as Syracuse clung to a
lead, to his 20 points, 10 rebounds and six other assists,
Anthony embodied the credo tattooed to his right biceps, LIVE
NOW/DIE LATER. "Ain't nothing left for him to do," said Anthony's
brother, Justus, in the postgame tumult.
Nor, it seems, is there much left for his coach to accomplish
after 27 years. "There's four seconds he has to clean up," Kueth
Duany, Syracuse's lone senior regular, said of Boeheim last week,
before Anthony and fellow freshman Gerry McNamara delivered the
title by playing with more poise than the Jayhawks' senior
leaders, Nick Collison and Kirk Hinrich. "Those are the four
seconds we're trying to get for him." And get them these unlikely
champions did, replacing four final seconds with a Final Four
Much of the Syracuse narrative leading up to Monday night had
been delivered by television, and for almost a quarter century
that story line had been, alternately, boon and bane. During the
1980s and into the '90s, ESPN's images of a full Carrier Dome
served as recruiting infomercials, particularly effective in
Southern California, where impressionable high school stars, home
from practice and waiting for dinner, would tune in. Many wound
up making the surprising decision to go where winters are long
and the local industry is air conditioning. At the same time,
sideline cutaways always seemed to show Boeheim in full
caterwaul, and to judge by his expression and body language, he
liked neither people nor life, much less basketball, thereby
establishing his reputation as a grouch and a yokel. (He didn't
do much to dispel it. Asked once why he so rarely took his teams
to tournaments in Hawaii, he said with a harrumph, "Ah, Hawaii.
Syracuse in July.") Boeheim had also mined New York City for
recruits, like the playmaker Dwayne (Pearl) Washington, maestro
of those teams in the early '80s. But the next great Gothamite
point guard to come along, Kenny Anderson, chose Georgia Tech. A
comment attributed to a member of Anderson's family may be
apocryphal, but it had the ring of an epitaph: "That city's cold,
and that man is, too."
Still, Boeheim carried on. He earned the respect of other coaches
with his 20-win seasons--25 in all--and his feel for the game,
especially in learning and incorporating its many styles. "He's
very dangerous once they throw it up, because he sees the game
globally," says Dave Gavitt, the founding commissioner of the Big
East, the conference that gave Boeheim the national stage upon
which he seemed so uncomfortable, especially alongside such
outsized coaching personalities as John Thompson, Lou Carnesecca
and Rollie Massimino. But, as Gavitt says, "Jimmy's a very
provincial guy, and all of a sudden his world was national." And
although no Division I coach has been in the same place longer
than Boeheim, other schools never really tried to hire him away.
He attracted plenty of talented players, yet among NBA scouts
they had a reputation for not always developing and not always
practicing hard. Syracuse, you could say, was the UCLA of the East.
Then Jules met Jim. With a gesture as old-fashioned as a blue
blazer or a 2-3 zone, Boeheim caught the eye of a stunning
Kentuckian some 20 years younger, Juli Greene. At a Derby party
in Louisville in 1995, she had returned from the ladies' room to
find her spot on the sofa taken. Boeheim created a place for her
and pulled up a chair. They fell into conversation, then a game
of backgammon; he rebooked his flight to stay another day, and
she taught him how to dance the two-step. A year and a half
later, after he had dropped to one knee in the laundry room of
his Syracuse home to ask if she would marry "this old stiff," she
Boeheim had grown up in the upstate New York town of Lyons, the
son of an undertaker. The family home doubled as a funeral
parlor, and little Jimmy quickly learned that it was good
business to subordinate one's emotions to those of the family's
customers. The critical point here is that Boeheim wasn't
emotionally one-dimensional all those years; he was just raised
to be opaque with his feelings. "He's basically a very shy guy
who's finally reached a comfort level," Gavitt says.
"Everybody says that Jim has changed so much, but he really
hasn't," Juli says. "What the public is starting to see now is
the only Jim I've ever known."
Boeheim remains friendly with his first wife, Elaine, and their
adopted daughter, Elizabeth, 17, who live in Syracuse not far
from Jim and Juli and their three kids, Jimmy, 4, and
three-year-old twins Jamie (a girl) and Jack. Nearly every day
the two boys push aside the dining-room furniture for a hoops
game of their own devising, Starting Lineup, in which one plays
for Syracuse and the other for some NBA team. Their 58-year-old
dad may play a little defense or even cheer one of the boys'
moves. But he's never a coach. "I'm always the coach at home,"
says Juli, a remark that's worth reading at more than one level.
A year ago Boeheim underwent treatment for prostate cancer, the
disease that had taken his father's life, but long before that he
was involved in the Coaches vs. Cancer charity. It's a cause that
fits perfectly with Juli's Bluegrass hostessing skills, and
together the Boeheims help stage the black-tie Basket Ball, an
annual gala that accounts for Syracuse's easily leading all
schools in raising funds for that organization. Only a few weeks
ago he and the team taped a promotional spot for this year's
event, which is set for April 26 and will feature the
Temptations. Boeheim opens the promo with a spiel, then adds some
Motown choreography. His players, unprepared for a Temps-style
spin move, dissolved into such hysterics that the director
couldn't use the take, and this upset Boeheim, who insists that
his best move wound up on the cutting-room floor. "I used to tell
him that there'd be no name on his tombstone, just a caricature
of him with his glasses hanging on his nose," says Gavitt,
mimicking the Boeheimian sourpuss expression with arms
The current Orange players, of course, know only one Boeheim, and
it's not the misanthrope of Big Mondays past. "I heard he used to
throw chairs in the locker room," says Forth. "But he hasn't
thrown one since I got here. And when he does get on you, it gets
you motivated. You want to win for him--sometimes just to prove
him wrong, but sometimes just to make him happy."
The team made him happiest with how it played the 2-3 zone,
which is nothing like that Mickey Mouse setup you'll recall from
CYO days. Today Syracuse looks for long-armed, long-bodied
players with quickness and skills--such as 6'8" sophomore forward
Hakim Warrick--and those physiques lend themselves to an effective
In the East Regional final the 2-3 so flummoxed Oklahoma that
the Sooners had more turnovers (19) than baskets (18). In last
Saturday's 95-84 semifinal defeat of Texas, the top of the zone
dared T.J. Ford to shoot, and when the Longhorns' point guard
penetrated, the back line cheated forward enough to keep him from
probing deep into the lane. "I played a lot of zone in high
school, but there's no zone like this," says Warrick, who made
the crucial block of Michael Lee's last-second three-point
attempt in Monday's final. "You'd never think there's this much
to it. It's like a 400-level class."
Because zones are so rare these days, most teams don't have
highly refined offenses to run against them. "You have to make
shots against a zone," says Gavitt. "And to get good shots, you
have to pass the ball with some imagination. Kids today can do
just about everything better than in the old days except passing.
So if you throw a zone out there and it's active and working, a
lot of teams can't make you pay."
Moreover, the zone may surrender shots, but often in unaccustomed
places, like the midrange. And while so many teams avoid playing
the 2-3 for fear of giving up the three-point shot, Syracuse
will sometimes extend on the wings, inviting opponents to prove
that they can consistently get the ball in the foul circle and
sink that simpler, but less damaging, two-point shot or make a
high-low pass for a layup.
Yet even his great tactical creation has brought Boeheim as much
grief as praise. "I'm still doing the same things," he says. "We
just have better players this year. It's funny: If we lose, it's
always that we shouldn't be playing the zone. You lose with a
man-to-man, it's somehow better."
The Orange sometimes even traps out of its zone, nowhere more
effectively than in the "short corner," the horse latitudes where
the foul lane meets the baseline. Opponents who pick up their
dribble there may find themselves looking beseechingly at a
pom-pom girl, the only friendly face they can find. Eventually,
opposing players get what Duany calls "the bug-eyed look ... like
they're lost and confused."
That described Syracuse a year ago, when discipline problems and
dissension tore the team apart. Boeheim pronounced it his most
difficult season as a coach, quite apart from his bout with
cancer. The departure of three players created room for a scorer
and a floor leader, roles that Anthony and McNamara,
respectively, have assumed. Given their transforming influence on
the team, those two aren't freshmen so much as refreshmen. "I've
never seen Jim have so much fun with a team," says Juli. "Last
year the phone would ring, and you'd know it wasn't good. This
year those calls never came."
Not that the season passed without its dodgy moment. Credit
Boeheim with a deft bit of peacemaking in January, shortly after
the return of first-year guard Billy Edelin, who had been
suspended for 12 games by the NCAA for playing in an unsanctioned
summer league. Edelin feared that McNamara had claimed his
minutes. Anthony didn't think McNamara was getting him the ball
enough, and he was bugged that the press was making such a big
deal over Edelin's arrival. Boeheim spoke with all three
individually, then gathered them in his office to bring them
together. "After that meeting our roles were clear," says Edelin.
Anthony and McNamara combined for 38 points and nine
three-pointers against Kansas, including six three-pointers by
McNamara in the first half. "We tried not to double off
McNamara," Collison said after the title game, "but when Anthony
gets the ball, everyone's got to give help."
"They make a mistake here and there," Boeheim said of his
freshmen after they beat Texas, "but these kids are young enough
to think they can do anything, and I'm not going to tell them
McNamara will remain an Orangeman for three more years. The only
question surrounding Anthony's future, after the NBA-style
clear-outs with which he dominated both games last week to win
the Most Outstanding Player award, is whether he may now be
threatening LeBron James's status as the likely No. 1 pick in the
June draft. For all the skills he showcased over the
weekend-feathering jumpers, plucking rebounds, finding teammates
and, yes, laying Temps-style spin moves on Kansas forward Keith
Langford--the lasting image of Anthony may be one that captured
his unburdened attitude. Late in the first half he stood in front
of the scorer's table, waiting to check in, smiling and waving
two towels as the Syracuse lead crested at 18. Coaches are from
Earth; players are from Pluto.
As for the Mars-and-Venus Department, there's this to report from
Monday night: Before One Shining Moment could be piped through
the Superdome's P.A. system, Boeheim turned to his wife, said
"Let's go home" and tried to lead her into the tunnel. To which
Juli replied, "This is my favorite part. We can't go yet." And he
In the end, even as Carmelo Anthony departs, isn't that the
epitaph Jim Boeheim deserves? HE STAYED. Indeed, Syracuse's only
unexpected phone call this season will be the call in which
Boeheim phones in the score to the fates.
Syracuse 81, Kansas 78. Four seconds, freshly laundered. Ah, New
Orleans: Syracuse in April.
The women's championship game between Connecticut and Tennessee
was played after SI went to press. For Kelli Anderson's account,
go to si.com/basketball/college/women/2003/ncaa_tourney.
finally reached a comfort level."
than the Jayhawks' seniors.
I'm not going to tell them differently."
I've always known."