Boeheim One Win Away From Exclusive Club Back
Tim Gorman, Daily Orange

By the time Jim Boeheim walked into the Delta Upsilon fraternity house on Ostrom Avenue, the brothers already knew him. A tall, spectacled son of an undertaker, he had made a name for himself as he walked on to the freshman basketball team at Syracuse in 1962. He didn't have animal-like athleticism or bulging pectorals, but his work ethic and knowledge of the game gave him an advantage over many of his opponents on the basketball court, simply because he loved the game more than they did.

You see, in the early 1960s before Boeheim made Syracuse basketball a nationally-recognized program, fans trekked to Manley Field House to see the freshmen team only. They would leave before the varsity team, which suffered a 27-game losing streak in 1961, even took the court.

Back in 1962, fans had something to be excited about, too. Boeheim - who turned down scholarship offers for a chance to play at Syracuse - and future Hall-of-Famer Dave Bing were wooing crowds at Manley on a weekly basis and there was reason to believe they would one day steal some of the attention the football team garnered.

Twenty-nine years later, Boeheim has earned that attention both as a player and now as a coach. Tomorrow, he will attempt to earn his 700th victory at the Carrier Dome against Providence at noon. Only 17 Division I coaches have won 700 games and no active coach has ever done it in one place like Boeheim.

"It's really an amazing record because most coaches who started out at the age of Jim have switched jobs two or three times," said Oklahoma State head coach Eddie Sutton, who has 775 career wins. "For you to stay at your alma mater, it means that you've done everything right. Sometimes you have a tendency to turn some people off where you work, but he obviously hasn't done that."

Back in Boeheim's days as a player, his instant success made him appealing to the DU brothers. His teammates, Chuck Richards and George Hicker, also DU brothers, had been after Boeheim for some time. His assigned big brother, Toby Moffett, didn't give Boeheim any embarrassing tasks reserved for normal pledges - Boeheim was a lock. Boeheim said he never officially joined DU, though, only that he worked as a house father during graduate school.

When Moffett was sizing Boeheim up as a potential brother, though, it was hard for him to believe the boy in front of him was a budding basketball star.

"He was a skinny kid," Moffett said. "You can't ever say he was upbeat. He was never the picture of optimism, but he always had a good wry sense of humor.

"He hasn't changed that much."

But a lot at Syracuse has. Since then, Delta Upsilon, once a popular fraternity for athletes, has disbanded. The basketball team moved to the Carrier Dome in 1980. And Moffett has since served four terms in the United States House of Representatives.

"(Boeheim's) one of the best and you can compare him with anyone in the business, not just (from) today," said Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski. "When I think of Jim, the word commitment comes across. Not just his commitment to Syracuse but Syracuse's commitment to him - it's been a great show of teamwork. I think the whole community and the university can share in this because it's the result of working together."

Oddly enough, Boeheim's career as Syracuse's coach almost never began. Had then SU head coach Roy Danforth not left the team before the start of the 1976-1977 season, Boeheim would've accepted a job at Rochester. The move would have at least delayed Boeheim's tenure at Syracuse and most likely would have delayed the record he is shooting for tomorrow.

But why has Boeheim been so successful for so long at Syracuse?

Turn first to SU associate head coach Bernie Fine, who was a team manager during Boeheim's playing days at Syracuse. Fine, who went to coach at nearby Henninger High School, was hired as an assistant by Boeheim when he took the job in 1976.

"He's a very hard worker," Fine said. "He's mellowed quite a bit since his playing days because he's had to. With his demeanor, he was so intense he probably would've had a heart attack."

To describe Boeheim as mellow today, you would've had to see him when he started 29 years ago on the Syracuse sideline. He may match Bobby Knight in intensity but never in his off-the-court antics.

"We're not talking about a guy who was some hothead," Moffett said. "Mellowed out suggests he was a hothead. The perception is that he was a sour guy - I think he gave people that impression. Maybe in that sense he's become more of a Mr. Congeniality."

While longtime SU athletic director Jake Crouthamel recognizes Boeheim has changed, he insists there has always been another side of Boeheim not necessarily seen by the media or the public.

This is the Boeheim who raises millions of dollars for charities like the annual Coaches vs. Cancer Tournament. This is the Boeheim who has always kept his door open for Syracuse coaches of any sport for advice or just friendship.

"Even during the season, he would stop by my office, walk in and sit down for no reason and for no agenda," Crouthamel said. "I know that he would meet with any coach who wanted to seek his counsel. He has a lot to offer with his experience."

Syracuse men's lacrosse head coach John Desko, now in his 26th year as a coach, experienced that same type of companionship with Boeheim.

"He's a very likable guy with a lot of energy," Desko said. "He understands the university, our facilities and our area. He's always been very open with me - he was a great resource."

As for basketball, you can't overstate Boeheim's role as the father of the Syracuse program. From the beginning, he was always known as a student of the game who had a knack for developing talent. His 2-3 zone defense has become a hallmark of college basketball and he is as well respected in the game of basketball as anyone.

"There's a reason that people come to school here," SU guard Gerry McNamara said, "It's because of him. They want to play for Coach. It's the reason I came here. I want to see him get 700."

Now in his 29th year, Boeheim is on the precipice of a milestone few have reached. It's a milestone Boeheim doesn't like to talk about, just another sign of his team-first humility.

"Jim didn't need leadership, he was a leader," Crouthamel said. "He didn't need to be asked to help, he offered it."

"I'm just trying to get to 24 (wins) right now," Boeheim said. "I feel great, I could coach for a long time, but I kinda wait until the end of the year every year. And every year, I've really wanted to come back and get after it next year. Hopefully, that will continue for some time."