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Wednesday, January 2, 2013
Boeheim's career more than a number

By Dana O'Neil
ESPN.com

From Jeff Capel (167 wins at age 37) to Bob Huggins (700-plus at 59) and with some Rick Pitino (600-plus at age 60), Billy Donovan (400-plus at 47) and Brad Stevens (100-plus at 36) sprinkled in, ESPN Stats & Information has devised a pretty good guesstimate about the next record-setting coach in college basketball.

This top-10 list is based on logic and math, comprised of men who are of a certain age with a certain number of wins already on their resume.

Jim Boeheim
It's been an historic 37th season for Jim Boeheim, now No. 2 in wins among D-1 men's coaches.

The equation -- age + wins, if you will -- is supposed to predict who has, if not a likely one, at least a statistical chance to win 900 games.

Except there is an inherent problem with just using math and logic to predict human achievement -- it ignores the human part.

Jim Boeheim didn't get into college coaching to win 900 games and at no point in his career did he take aim at Bob Knight, whose spot as the second winningest coach Boeheim surpassed with Syracuse's 78-53 win against Rutgers on Wednesday night.

He got to the top of the mountain for a few reasons: the good fortune of an early start to his career; old-fashioned smarts and know-how; savvy recruiting; patience, tolerance and support from his varied administrations; and a Kevlar-lined skin.

But mostly he got there because he loves basketball enough to make it is his lifelong hobby.

"This is better than sitting home, playing golf four or five times a week," Boeheim said. "I like golf, but I don't like it that much."

To presume someone else will follow in his footsteps just because the numbers add up is folly. The numbers don't account for single-minded obsession, for a willingness to break down film and sweat out 20-year-olds' class attendance when he could be enjoying a 19th-hole cocktail.

Some folks have it. Some folks don't, no matter what the numbers say.

Even those considered the most statistically likely to reach 900 would have to soldier on for a long time. If Huggins continues to average 24 wins, as he has in his West Virginia tenure, he's still looking at least eight more years in the profession to reach 900. Donovan, no longer Billy the Kid, probably has in the neighborhood of 20 more years to go and Bill Self no less than 15.

"It's so far out there, so hard to fathom that it's like traveling through the Milky Way to another galaxy if you ask me," Gonzaga's Mark Few said. "I can't imagine pulling it off."

Jim Boeheim
Boeheim, seen here in 1977, went 26-4 in his first year and hasn't stopped winning since. His worst season in all those years was 16-13.

Boeheim had the good fortune of coming up when the world was, if not simpler, then a little more private. The stakes at Syracuse have always been high. The Orange is to the city of Syracuse what the Yankees are to the rest of the state, the best and most beloved game in town.

But the scrutiny was never as it is today, in the world of message boards, social media and 24-hour news cycles -- "I'm not sure the Junction Boys would fly today," Few joked.

"There's just a lot less tolerance in the world today," Huggins said. "That makes every job harder."

The intolerance isn't just in the media or among the fans. It's often in the main campus buildings, where impatient administrators aren't as willing to weather hiccups or losses.

Since Boeheim coached his first game as the head man in 1976, Syracuse has had three university chancellors and two athletic directors, each with his own vision and set of expectations. Boeheim has weathered them all.

That's not easy to do, in part because of that impatience but also because coaches rarely stay in one place long enough to build up equity and more important, loyalty.

Of the 344 Division I coaches in the business this season, only 24 have been at their current institutions since the 1998-99 season or earlier and only one -- Sacred Heart's Dave Bike -- came to his employer in the 1970s, as Boeheim did.

"Honestly, it's amazing what he's done. He's been coaching longer than I've been alive. OK, no, not really," said Huggins, who had his own administrative run-ins while at Cincinnati. "The administrations change, that means the philosophies change, the way people think things ought to be done, who ought to be recruited, the whole deal. That's what makes it amazing."

Boeheim said he believes someone else will win 900 games after him. He named Few, Donovan, Sean Miller and Shaka Smart as good coaches who, like him, started in their careers early.

"That's a bunch of really, really good coaches who started when they were 28, 29 or 30," he said. "If they coached until they were maybe 70, it will happen."

But who does? That's the real question.

Jim Calhoun, Jim Boeheim
Boeheim outlasted Big East rival Jim Calhoun and just about every other coach from his generation.

Boeheim said he always remembered Dick Bennett and Dean Smith lamenting that they retired too early. That stuck with him, and clearly others are cut of the same cloth. Pitino keeps threatening to retire but keeps re-upping on his contract. Jim Calhoun finally walked away after a litany of health issues that would have crushed many in the job.

Not everyone has that same sort of commitment, though. Self, who just turned 50, already has said to count him out. He recently told the Kansas City Star that whoever dubbed him the most likely to win 900 games "doesn't know me very well. I don't think I'll want to coach near that long."

What ultimately has kept Boeheim going is he is a basketball junkie. Not just addicted to winning or the limelight (please).

No, his passion is basketball. When he isn't coaching, he's working for the National Association of Basketball Coaches or spending time with USA Basketball, picking Jason Kidd's brain ("He knows more than most coaches," Boeheim said of Kidd.) or taking tips from Mike Krzyzewski and Mike D'Antoni.

More than once, Few has finished a Gonzaga game and within minutes found a text message from Boeheim.

"We played in Pullman [Wash.] the other night -- that's an 8 o'clock Pacific Time start -- and when the game was over, I get a, 'Great job not calling a timeout,'" Few said. "That's like 2 a.m. his time. He watches basketball all the time. He loves it."

And really that's the most significant part of the equation.

You just can't quantify it.