Much like a fine wine, Syracuse basketball head coach Jim Boeheim seems to get better with age.
Boeheim, the only coach Syracuse has known since Gerald Ford was president, is certainly a Syracuse lifer. He started as a walk-on at Syracuse in 1962. After his time as a player ended, Boeheim never left town. He considers the area the perfect place to live.
In a Sports Illustrated feature from 1996, Jack McCallum told a story of how Boeheim was once on vacation with Rick Pitino, and their wives and they were discussing the places they'd want to live most. Hawaii and San Francisco were locations that were tossed around, but if you can believe it, Boeheim said his choice is Syracuse.
Said he wasn't kidding, said he wouldn't even consider anywhere else. Said it was the best place on earth, and Hawaii was just 'Syracuse in July.'
Classic Boeheim. The SI piece went on to discuss how Boeheim was underachieving as a coach. It talked about how he could never win the "Big One" after coming up short in the national title game against Indiana in 1987 and Kentucky in 1996.
But Boeheim reached the summit in 2003 on the back of star freshman Carmelo Anthony. Incidentally, Boeheim and Anthony cut down the nets at the Superdome in New Orleans, on the very same floor where Keith Smart broke Boeheim's heart in '87.
Because Boeheim has only the one title, some would argue he's not on the same level as Mike Krzyzewski, Bob Knight, Pitino or even Billy Donovan. But the body of work speaks for itself. Think of it this way: Leo DiCaprio is a phenomenal actor, even if his Oscar shelf is lacking.
So, heading into his 39th year as Syracuse's head man and 70th year of life, what does Boeheim have left to prove? The short answer: not a whole lot.
Boeheim's list of career accomplishments is miles long. Start with his 948 wins, which are second only to his good buddy Krzyzewski. Considering the success Boeheim has been having recently, it is just a matter of time before he eclipses 1,000 wins.
Where Boeheim does have a leg up on Coach K is that all of Boeheim's wins came at Syracuse. Krzyzewski was the head man at Army before landing the job at Duke.
Boeheim has been piling up wins for a long time. He's notched a mind-boggling 36 20-win seasons, which of course is an NCAA record. In addition, a Boeheim-coached team has only missed the postseason once.
Boeheim has also been to the Final Four four times, most recently in 2013. A 2005 Hall of Fame inductee, Boeheim is an assistant to Krzyzewski for USA Basketball and has two Olympic gold medals in his trophy case. The United States took gold in the 2008 and 2012 Olympics and also won gold at the 2010 FIBA World Championships.
Even when Boeheim moves on, his legacy will remain in Syracuse. The court at the Carrier Dome was named for Boeheim in 2002 to recognize all of the battles he had won on that floor.
But Boeheim is also a fighter away from the basketball court. A cancer survivor himself, he has lost both of his parents and many close friends to the disease. Because of how it has affected his life, Boeheim is heavily involved in the Coaches vs. Cancer crusade and set up a foundation with his second wife, Juli, to improve the lives of children fighting the disease.
And yeah, Boeheim has his national title. Sure, he has fewer than Krzyzewski, Pitino and Donovan. But one is all that is needed to validate someone as a great coach. Boeheim said as much to Dick Weiss of the New York Daily News:
You can talk about it all you like and say you don't need it or you don't have to have it, but it's the biggest thing that can happen to a college coach. It’s the single, biggest thing that can happen to you or for you and for your program and for all the players and the fans of a program.
Whenever Boeheim does decide to hang it up, he will go down as one of the all-time greats. He built Syracuse basketball into the national power it is today. When he's gone, his seat will be occupied by another from the Syracuse family, be it Mike Hopkins, or if he leaves, another former player-turned-assistant.
All that's left to do now is continue the recent recruiting momentum and watch the wins keep piling up. If another title comes, that's just gravy.
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