Back at the 1997 Big East basketball media day at a large New York City hotel ballroom off of Fifth Avenue, we remember asking Jim Boeheim how long he expected to coach the Syracuse program.
Remember, the future Hall of Famer was “only” at 502 wins going into what would be his 22nd season, averaging an astonishing 24 wins per year, and we asked him if he would still be around for another 10-15 years to reach 800 plus victories.
With a quick turn to face us, a squint in his eyes, and an expression that could best be described as having just asked him to lend us some money, Boeheim was a little incredulous with that quick inner laugh.
“800 wins, that many years (to get there), whoa, I don’t know about that,” he said looking at us like we were crazy to even ponder such a thought. “I look on the (career victories) list and see Adolph Rupp (the legendary 41-year Kentucky coach who at the time had just been passed as the career leader at 876 by Dean Smith who unexpectedly retired prior to the 1997 season with 879 wins, and was passed later by Bob Knight then Mike Krzyzewski as well) at 800-something. That’s 20 wins a year for 40 years, plus (76) more wins. I can’t fathom that.”
Well, here we are about to welcome 2012, 14 seasons later, the 36th year of Boeheim Ball, with an upcoming holiday break before what could be the final season of Big East play tipping next week, and off Thursday night’s win against Tulane to go to 13-0 for the nation’s top-ranked team, the Orange boss stands only eight wins away from moving past Rupp to become number four all-time (with four more victories than Jim Calhoun of 10-1 UConn as this article was published).
That could come as soon as the Jan. 21 game at Notre Dame if the ‘Cuse remains unbeaten until then, or unless something truly spectacular happens, the historic win figures to come at least by the end of next month when SU hosts West Virginia on Jan. 28.
Even ascending to the top of his profession with enshrinement in the Naismith Hall, a national championship, and Olympic gold medal success on the international stage, there’s no doubt that moving past Adolph Rupp on the all-time victories list will have extra special meeting for an old-school coach that always stood in awe of Rupp’s mark during his own successful five decade career.
Jim Boeheim, soon to be number four all-time in coaching victories. Wow. Good luck to our friend Mike Hopkins in a year or so, that’s a tough act to follow.Brad Bierman