For sure, it has been a difficult few months for Syracuse basketball. Which, by extension, means things have been better for Jim Boeheim, who is as connected with his school as any other current basketball coach this side of Mike Krzyzewski, Pat Summitt and, maybe even Jim Calhoun.
Most of the issues at Syracuse are off-court problems, though they have spilled onto the court. Potential disaster was barely averted in the top-seeded Orange's narrow victory over feisty UNC Asheville last night. This close game was aided in part by the loss of top Syracuse rebounder, Fab Melo, to academic suspension.
But Orange fans, in between Maalox tablets, may want to pick up Scott Pitoniak's Color Him Orange: The Jim Boeheim Story (Triumph Press, 244 pages), an orange-tinged biography of the coach who has been part of the Syracuse scene for a half century.
While Pitoniak touches on some of the facets of Boeheim's life that his critics have sometimes jumped on—his somewhat whiny demeanor towards officials, his long-term inability to "win the big one", and others—Color Him Orange is more of a look at the overwhelmingly positive effect that an undersized, under-recruited basketball player from Lyons, N.Y., a town about an hour from Syracuse, has had not only on the program, but also on all of central New York.
Accentuating the synonymous connection between Boeheim and Syracuse basketball, there is little mention of anything else in the first two thirds of the book, after some interesting detail of his formative years where he mostly willed his way into becoming a great player. Boeheim's intense dedication to the game—driving through unrelenting snowstorms to play in Eastern Professional Basketball League games (sometimes to find that they'd been cancelled)—helped him land the Syracuse head coach job in 1976 after nearly taking the University of Rochester job.
Along the way, Pitoniak details Boeheim's lasting friendship with teammate Dave Bing, who along with Boeheim, has probably done the most to make Syracuse basketball the powerhouse it has remained, and relationships with players from Louis Orr to Carmelo Anthony. There is, unsurprisingly little on Bernie Fine, other than lauding him as a valuable assistant for many years.
Boeheim's own personal relationships outside of basketball are left mostly untouched until the introduction of his second wife Juli, whom many credit with in a way giving Boeheim a second act. His 2002-03 NCAA Championship, with a team largely unheralded before the season, was met mostly by others with praise and happiness for the longtime coach.
Will there be a third act? Will the 888 wins and 29 NCAA appearances in 36 years become dulled by the Bernie Fine situation, or leaked positive drug tests among players over the past decade, or still-developing academic investigation?
It would make for an interesting final chapter.