NEW YORK (AP) — Walking up to a throng of reporters, Jim Boeheim noted that the last time Syracuse played in the NIT Season Tip-Off, nobody wanted to talk to him.
The Orange are in New York City, with the attention that brings, without longtime assistant coach Bernie Fine. He’s on administrative leave after molestation allegations resurfaced last week that Fine has called “patently false.”
More than a dozen reporters surrounded Boeheim on Tuesday as he sat at a small table in a hotel lounge. When the first question inevitably was posed about the investigation, Boeheim interjected, “This is all about basketball.”
After saying he’d already made his statement and didn’t need to repeat it, Boeheim reiterated it anyway.
“We have to see what happens. I support Bernie, as I said,” Boeheim said. “Known him for 50 years. If something else happens, surfaces — some factual thing — then we’ll have to adjust to that.”
Asked if the media “jumped the gun,” Boeheim replied. “That’s not for me to say.”
A moment later, though, he added: “Read Jason Whitlock.” The Foxsports.com columnist criticized ESPN on Monday for reporting the allegations.
Even when the questions steered toward more basketball-related news, Boeheim still wasn’t feeling chatty. On the subject of Syracuse’s planned move from the Big East to the ACC, he said, “That’s another thing we’re not talking about,” then cracked, “We’ve got a lot of things we can’t talk about.”
The fifth-ranked Orange face Virginia Tech in an NIT semifinal Wednesday at Madison Square Garden in a tournament overshadowed by somber off-court news. Oklahoma State takes on Stanford in the other semi, its first game since women’s basketball coach Kurt Budke, assistant Miranda Serna and two others were killed in a plane crash Thursday.
The Cowboys attended the memorial service Monday in Gallagher-Iba Arena before boarding their flight to New York. Coach Travis Ford spoke to the women’s players afterward, giving them his cellphone number and telling them not to hesitate to call him at any time all season long, even 20 minutes before tip-off of one of his games. He received several text messages from them Monday night checking in on how the trip went.
“I hated to be leaving them,” Ford said.
The Cowboys last played Wednesday, rallying from an 11-point deficit in the final 2½ minutes of regulation to beat UT-San Antonio in overtime and advance to New York.
Since the devastating news came, the men’s team has joined the women’s players in taking part in various activities to try to put a smile on their faces, said senior guard Keiton Page. They know each other well: eating dinner together every day, often taking the same classes, living in the same apartment complex.
Page, from Pawnee, Okla., had never been to New York and was comforted by the normalcy of a bouncing basketball.
“It’s New York City, Madison Square Garden. Once the ball is thrown up, it’s hard not to get consumed with the game,” said Page, who’s questionable with a foot injury.
Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg came over to commiserate with Ford, who talked about how close he was to Budke.
“It’s unusual, unfortunately, in this society of athletics, where you’re often battling for practice time and everything,” Ford said later.
His voice hoarse, Ford was clearly shaken by how routine Budke’s flight Thursday was in the life of coaches. Countless times has he himself taken a quick recruiting trip, when the “only question is when you’re getting back.”
“I’d be lying if I said I won’t have a different perspective, if that’s the right word, or maybe appreciation,” Ford said of Wednesday’s game.
He added: “We’re naïve as coaches that we think we live and die with every game.”
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