Item: The two winningest coaches in NCAA Division I history have squared off against each other on opposite ends of the side court sideline 16 times dating back to 1989, a game in Greensboro in the short-lived ACC-Big East challenge series, followed by a 1998 NCAA Tournament matchup in St. Petersburg. Then there was the evolution to the ACC for the Syracuse program resulting in 12 regular season games versus Duke, an ACC Tournament meeting in Charlotte, and another in the 2018 NCAA Tournament in Omaha. There’s still one more scheduled game in the Dome on February 26 for the longtime coaching friends, and perhaps a meeting in the ACC Tournament in Brooklyn. before Coach K heads off into retirement.
Back in 1988, prior to the first round of the NCAA Tournament East Regional games at North Carolina’s Dean E. Smith Center, as their respective teams were exchanging places on the court for the mandatory day before practice session, Boeheim and Krzyzewski met at midcourt to exchange pleasantries.
Setting up for our broadcast the next day on the WSYR/New York State Radio Network, we were within ear-shot of the two coaches and distinctly remember thinking and saying out loud to no one in particular, “there are the two head coaches of the last two teams to finish as runners-up in the NCAA championship game.”
Duke had fallen to Louisville in 1986, and, of course, we don’t like reminiscing about SU’s loss to Indiana a year later.
That casual pre-NCAA Tournament chat was two years before the Hall of Fame coaches would begin in earnest a 30-plus year friendship that originated with roles for USA Basketball, and culminated in a collaborative coaching effort to bring home Olympic gold medals in 2008, 2012, and 2016.
“It’s been an unbelievable relationship since 1990, so many good memories on the court, but really so many memories off the court,” Boeheim said this past Saturday after his Orange were routed by Duke 79-59 in Durham, the most recent meeting in the series.
“When we first started coming down here,” Boeheim continued half-jokingly/half seriously, “P.J. (Carlesimo) and I came down and had to take Mike out to show him the good places to eat. He was going to Burger King or someplace, he didn’t know any better, but he learned (smiling), he learned quickly over the years.”
Krzyzewski also learned over the years that Boeheim was not only a worthy adversary, but someone that he wanted on his side to properly implement the famous 2-3 zone defense come time for international competition with USA Basketball, and that teaming up would be a force that would prove unbeatable.
No where was that more evident than during an innocuous August 2010 exhibition game in Madrid against the Spanish national team. As reported in the New York Times, in Team USA’s playbook the 2-3 zone was code-named “Orange” in honor of Boeheim.
With the USA leading by a point with less than 17 seconds to play, Spain called timeout. In the huddle Boeheim suggested to Krzyzewski that they switch to zone guarding the inbounds pass. The strategy completely befuddled the Spanish players, and in international play a second timeout could not be called. When the ball was finally inbounded, Kevin Durant proceeded to block successive 3-point attempts from Ricky Rubio and Rudy Fernandez to seal the 86-85 USA win.
“In the timeout, Jim Boeheim said ‘Let’s go orange,’” Krzyzewski said afterwards to ESPN. “We call it ‘Orange’ out of respect for Jim. He said he doesn’t have any buildings named after him in Syracuse, so we named the zone after him. And I agreed with him, but it was his suggestion.”
Moments like that are what basketball coaching lifers live for.
“We spent over 300 days together in the summertime over a period of really, 10 years,” Boeheim reminisced last weekend. “That friendship, and basketball experience during those times was special.”
“We have a unique bond being able to be together for 300 days and never have an argument,” Boeheim continued. “Two people that usually get their own way except at home. Neither one of us gets their own way (at home), ever. I’ve only got two girls at home (wife Juli, daughter Jamie), he’s got a whole lot of them, (wife Mickie, married daughters Debbie, Lindy, and (ironically) Jamie).”
So, make no mistake, basketball is the base for that personal friendship of the coach who has won a record 1,185 games, and the one that is 93 unofficial victories (1,092) behind.
“For me, to see his two sons Buddy and Jimmy (it’s astonishing), I’ve known them since (they were little boys),” Krzyzewski said Saturday after the Duke win. “I mean our families grew up together during USA Basketball for 11 years. And Juli was there (her first game at Cameron Indoor Stadium). Again, you don’t pay attention to that during the game. After the game you get a little bit emotional. They’re beautiful people.”