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Boeheim reflects as Syracuse heads to ACC tourney

Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim, right, talks with guard Joseph Girard III during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against North Carolina State in Syracuse, N.Y., Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2023.
Adrian Kraus
Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim, right, talks with guard Joseph Girard III during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against North Carolina State in Syracuse, N.Y., Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2023.

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) — Jim Boeheim smiled, eagerly took the microphone from former Syracuse great Gerry McNamara, cleared his throat and told the crowd of 25,000 packing the JMA Wireless Dome that he "just wanted to steal 30 seconds."

Boeheim, choking up, said, "I want to thank this team for the thrill of my life."

The 72-63 win over Wake Forest to close out the regular season last weekend coincided with happier times, with Syracuse celebrating its past by honoring its 2003 championship team and retiring the jerseys of McNamara, now a Syracuse assistant coach, and Hakim Warrick.

"We have the best fans in the country, no doubt about it," Boeheim added. "Thank you for all the support for a long time." And he waved.

Whether that was a final goodbye to the court that bears his name is unkown. Boeheim is 78 with a storied resume and little left to prove. He's won a national title, Big East titles, he's been an assistant coach for Team USA in the Olympics and he's coached his own sons. He's fought cancer, his program was hit by an NCAA scandal that cost him a suspension and a bunch of wins, and he was involved in a fatal crash in which he was not charged.

And he's already put off retirement once, back in 2018.

He told ESPN earlier this winter he has "no other plans."

"Listen, this has been the question of the day for 15 years. This isn't a new question. It's just the calendar going, 'Well, he's 78,'" he said then. "And I'm not going to retire because it's the calendar. Anything can happen. Anything, literally. We'll just see what happens. I don't say anything because I don't know."

With Syracuse opening the ACC Tournament facing Wake Forest on Wednesday, Boeheim said he didn't have time to reflect on his past, before actually opening up and doing so following Saturday's game.

He recalled the skepticism of moving from a field house into the dome — "I said, 'Maybe you can get 15,000 or so,' but for the 30-plus years we've been in here we've averaged over 22,000-something people a year, something like that" — and the dedicaton of Syracuse fans.

"I remember when the Georgetown game was on TV. We had terrible snow and we had 31,000 here. I remember walking out, looking around and saying, 'This isn't even possible,'" he said. "You can't even dream of this stuff. To me it speaks of our fans."

Boeheim said he doesn't spent time reflecting, though McNamara and Hakim prompted it.

"They're great people. Just unbelievable people. Players today aren't like that anymore, not even close. But that's the way life is. There's no more (former Orangemen) Roosevelt Bouies and Louis Orrs anymore," he said. "Now you have guys who want to score points and look at the box score. It's a different world."

Boeheim is very aware of the questions and the chatter about his future, given another lackluster season (17-14, 10-10 ACC) and the likelihood the Orange will not play in a postseason tournament for the second straight season. Still, there was a Sweet 16 run as recently as 2021.

Boeheim remains proudly defiant. He's been to the postseason 41 times in his 44 years of coaching; of Syracuse's 34 trips to the NCAA Tournament, five included the Final Four and that magical title for the former walk-on and team captain at his alma mater. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2005. "24,000 people here and you think they are upset with our program? The people who show up are not the ones who call in on the radio," he said. "Do I want to do better? Yeah."

He added: "It's strictly up to the university how long I coach."

Barring Boeheim's retirement, athletic director John Wildhack will ultimately make that decision along with Chancellor Kent Syverud.

"What coach Boeheim has done here is unprecedented and any conversations we have are confidential," Wildhack told ESPN Syracuse. "In due time, we will talk about the future."