If there is one college team and sport that people follow around here above all others it is Syracuse men’s basketball. I know a lot of diehard fans and many of them make the trek to the Carrier Dome for a game whenever they can. It’s not surprising because the Orange (the school’s nickname) compete for the national title every year.
The name synonymous with Syracuse basketball is coach Jim Boeheim. He has been coaching there for what seems like forever. He bleeds orange through and through. He grew up in upstate New York, attended Syracuse and was an assistant coach there before getting the head job in 1976. With his resume of more than 50 years at the school, more than 900 wins, three NCAA finals, and one national championship, you would think he would be universally loved by Syracuse fans. But that is not the case.
There are those who like him because of his success and longevity but there are others are turned off by his personality which at times appears too pompous and arrogant. There are also armchair coaches who see flawed in-game strategies and substitution patterns. And with his constant influx of talent, there are those who think he should be more successful than he has been.
I, for one, always thought he underachieved for the talent he accumulated. It wasn’t really the lack of national championships but the fact that his teams always seemed to flame out in the NCAA tournament sooner than they should have. Boeheim also seemed carry a sense of self-importance that often comes when someone has been around so long he views himself as bigger than the institution he represents (just look at some of his press conferences).
I thought I might be too hard on someone I didn’t really know, so I was pleased to see Boeheim has just come out with his autobiography, the aptly titled “Bleeding Orange: Fifty Years of Blind Referees, Screaming Fans, Beasts of the East and Syracuse Basketball.” It was finally a chance for diehards of Syracuse basketball and me (who isn’t) to see what really makes this man tick. Perhaps he isn’t the jerk he appears to be on TV.
I will first say that any fan of Syracuse basketball will enjoy this book. It’s definitely a trip down memory lane as Boeheim discusses all the great teams, games and individual players he has coached over the last 39 years. He explains strategies (such as why he only plays a 2-3 zone defense) and why he used certain players the way he did. He also talks a lot about his college days playing with Dave Bing, Syracuse’s first basketball superstar and later one of the best NBA players of all-time.
For pure entertainment Boeheim relates a lot of memories from the Big East, which in its heyday in the 1980s and ‘90s was the best conference in college basketball. What helped make it unique was the colorful coaches that appeared larger-than life. Bobby Knight, the infamous and highly successful coach at Indiana, once described the Big Ten as a conference of “institutions” while the Big East was one of “coaches.” In that sense, it isn’t surprising that Boeheim would think highly of himself.
Another plus is that Boeheim does not duck the controversies that have soiled his reputation. He explains his sometimes mean-spirited remarks at press conferences, his impassioned defense of an assistant coach accused of molesting two ball boys and his getting kicked out of a game against Duke last year. Whether you accept his explanations is another story.
Weaknesses in the book include Boeheim glossing over some of his players’ well-publicized off-court issues and ignoring the academic reputation of the school. Despite the fact the university excels in several different disciplines, it doesn’t appear to be the reason any of his recruits chose Syracuse. He makes it sounds like it’s just a basketball factory.
Even with these shortcomings “Bleeding Orange” deserves a thumb’s up. Boeheim shows he is clearly devoted to his adopted hometown and manages to prove he’s not as big a jerk as he is sometimes portrayed. The book enhances his legacy and provides some pure reading pleasure for all Syracuse basketball fans.
David Kent is the director of the Village Library of Cooperstown. He can be reached at email@example.com. Please note that all book and movie reviews are for titles that the Village Library has available to borrow.