Jim Boeheim's Legend Grows as Syracuse Becomes the Ugliest Cinderella Ever

Greg CouchNational ColumnistMarch 28, 2016

Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim reached his fifth Final Four.
Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim reached his fifth Final Four.Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

CHICAGO — Imagine the shock on the Prince's face when he goes door to door across the land to see whose foot would fit the glass slipper, and when he finally finds the right foot to put it on, he looks up... 

Right into Jim Boeheim's glasses: "You're not much of a prince," Boeheim would gripe. "What took you so long?"

The thing is, Syracuse, behind the relentlessness of its coach, Boeheim, beat No. 1 seed Virginia on Sunday in an incredible comeback. With the 68-62 win, Syracuse, a No. 10 seed, became just the fourth team seeded that low to reach the Final Four.

You know what that makes Boeheim? The ugliest Cinderella ever. It's hard to know what to make of this moment. If you take away the moral policing, it's testimony to the art of coaching. On the other hand, Boeheim was suspended for nine games over 32 days this season, unable to have any contact with his own players. And that was just part of a punishment from the NCAA over what it described as academic misconduct. 

And failure to follow drug testing rules. 

And giving players extra benefits. 

And failure to monitor the program.

Syracuse celebrating its shocking Final Four berth.
Syracuse celebrating its shocking Final Four berth.Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

On top of that, most people didn't think Syracuse even deserved to get into the tournament based on its 13 losses. So an off year and an embarrassing scandal, and this could have been the ugliest moment in Boeheim's career. He's 71 now, and what a way this would have been for his career to wind down.

Instead, the Virginia players walked off the court at the United Center, down a hall to their locker room with zero expression on their faces as they passed by a TV that showed Boeheim still out on the court being crowned, holding a microphone and telling the crowd he has never been more proud:

"This is the best comeback we've ever had," he told the crowd. 

This was supposed to be Virginia's time. The Cavaliers have spent three years as a great regular-season team, building toward a big moment. But they could never quite reach the Final Four. They led by 16 points late Saturday. They would finally get theirs. Instead, they will now be labeled as a regular-season-only team.

Syracuse slumped during the 32 days that Boeheim was a basket case in his home rather than on the basketball court, his usual place to be a basket case. So the coach was out and the team was losing and this was a team driving on flat tires.

How did Boeheim start the healing when he came back? If you think there was some sort of mushy moment, then you haven't been paying attention for the past 40 years since he became head coach. What was the first thing he said when he came back?

"He just said, 'We've got to get better,'" Mike Hopkins, longtime assistant who took over for Boeheim during the suspension, told me. "'This is what we have to do. We're a young team; these guys are playing out of position. We've got to get better.' 

"It was like nothing happened." 

They got better. 

Now, Boeheim is known for his grumpiness and a mopey demeanor that screams: I don't care what anyone thinks. But during the week at the Midwest Regional, he did open up about his coaching philosophy. He talked about pushing players. Pushing them hard because players 1) really want it even though they don't know it and 2) have no idea that they really aren't giving 100 percent. 

Boeheim sporting a typically displeased expression on the sideline against Virginia.
Boeheim sporting a typically displeased expression on the sideline against Virginia.Jamie Squire/Getty Images

He said he comes just short of verbal abuse, and never swears.

"If he said he doesn't, he doesn't," said freshman guard Malachi Richardson, who won the game for Syracuse on Sunday with a game-high 23 points, including 17 in the final 12 minutes. 

Well, Boeheim said that players don't appreciate him at the time, but realize later that he was helping them make the most of themselves. He points to former star Derrick Coleman, who told Boeheim that he would never come back to visit.

"He's back more than my sons are," Boeheim said. "So they understand eventually."

Richardson understood about an hour after Boeheim chewed him out Sunday at halftime. 

"I can't really tell you what he said," Richardson said.

But if not the exact words, then what was the gist?

Malachi Richardson celebrates during his stellar performance Sunday.
Malachi Richardson celebrates during his stellar performance Sunday.Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

"I've got to pick it up. I've got to help. I've got to play. I wasn't doing my job."

And you knew at the time that it was for your own good?

"I was like, 'Man, yelled at again. I just can't stop getting yelled at.'"

It worked. Virginia led 35-21 at halftime, and Boeheim started looking for the right moment to have his defense press full court. For the most part, he uses just six players, so he knew they couldn't press for the entire half without wearing out. He hoped to get the deficit down to 10 before making the switch, but with 10 minutes left and Syracuse down 14, he was out of time.

He put on the press and Virginia fell apart. Actually, Virginia was beating the press, but started missing shots and throwing the ball away. Meanwhile, Richardson started making shot after shot, Syracuse got the momentum back and went back to its usual defense.

"If they (Virginia) would have hit a couple of those right away, it would have been a 20-point game," Boeheim said. "But you have to take your chance."

Boeheim said that he has seen everything already, and that he was happiest for his players. He said that they never actually did deal with his time away, but instead they just kept playing. He credited them. He credited his best player, Michael Gbinije, whom he pushed relentlessly a few years ago.

He credited Richardson.

"The players take on the personality of a coach," Hopkins said. "He's (Boeheim's) not going to say it, but you just saw it. It's true. It defined Jim Boeheim from his character to his toughness to never giving up."

It might have been a beautiful sight. But you'll never convince a prince.

Greg Couch covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise indicated. 

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