Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim has said all he will say about what happened four weeks ago, having insisted that people show concern for the victim of the fatal accident, rather than worry about how he’s dealing with everything.
So he’s his usual self in news conferences, taking strictly about basketball and alternating between gruff and charming. Boeheim eagerly fields the questions he likes, joking about how Buddy Boeheim’s mother keeps saying the freshman guard merits more playing time. And yes, he knows who will start in place of suspended guard Frank Howard in Thursday night’s NCAA Tournament game vs. Baylor, but no, he’s not saying who it is.
Boeheim, 74, is making a 34th appearance in the NCAA Tournament in his 43 years as Syracuse's coach. His son is a regular in the Orange's playing rotation and all signs suggest Boeheim will keep coaching throughout Buddy's college career.
Nine years later, the Boeheims are back in the building where the Orange arrived as a No. 1 seed in the Sweet 16, facing a Butler team led by future Jazz players Gordon Hayward and Shelvin Mack. Syracuse led by four points in the last four minutes, only to have the Bulldogs make some improbable plays during an 11-0 run in a 63-59 victory. Asked what kind of memories hit him Wednesday as he walked into Vivint Smart Home Arena, Jim Boeheim said, “Not good ones, at the end, that's for sure. It's a nice city. We had a good time here. You get to go to a great Italian restaurant in Salt Lake, which I never thought would happen.”
So there’s Valter’s, and there’s basketball, and there’s real life, all converging in the past month.
NCAA IN SLC
Thursday’s games at Vivint Smart Home Arena:
• Auburn (5) vs. New Mexico State (12), 11:30 a.m.
• Kansas (4) vs. Northeastern (13), 2 p.m.
• Gonzaga (1) vs. Farleigh Dickinson (16), 5:27 p.m.
• Syracuse (8) vs. Baylor (9), 7:57 p.m.
As Boeheim drove home after a Syracuse game, his vehicle struck and killed a man who had been involved in a freeway accident. In the investigation, Boeheim was cleared of wrongdoing. But he forever will be shaken by what happened.
“This is something that will be with me the rest of my life,” Boeheim said after coaching the Orange two days later in a loss to Duke. “This is never going away. … It's not going to be better next month. It's not going to be better next year.”
Buddy Boeheim sat in the locker room Wednesday, smiling about the years when he would miss school to follow the Orange around the country in March. He was 10 in 2010, when Hayward’s Bulldogs spoiled his first SLC visit in “a game I really remember,” he said, “and that was a tough loss.”
And now he’s a Syracuse rotation player, experiencing a season unlike any other and helping his father cope with what happened on Interstate 690.
“I mean, he’s a tough guy and he’s been through a lot and he’s had a lot thrown at him,” Buddy Boeheim said. “It’s just shown me as a person that courage and staying close to your family can help you get through anything.”
The son’s role is “taking his mind off some stuff and really just having some good family time,” he said.
And the longer Syracuse's season lasts, the better, for multiple reasons.
At one time, Jim Boeheim planned to retire after the 2017-18 season, with longtime assistant coach Mike Hopkins succeeding him. Before the transition could occur, Hopkins became Washington's coach. Hopkins is now a two-time Pac-12 Coach of the Year, leading the Huskies into an NCAA Tournament game Friday vs. Utah State in Columbus, Ohio.
And Boeheim remains on the job at Syracuse, coaching his team again in Salt Lake City. He’s just like he’s always been, but never the same again.