Another season, another first for Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim.
Even after more than four decades as head coach at his alma mater, he’s facing something new. When the Orange (4-2) host Cornell (4-3) on Saturday night in the Carrier Dome, the matchup will give the 74-year-old Boeheim a unique moment in time — his two sons will compete against each other on the basketball court that bears the Hall of Fame coach’s name.
A family affair like no other, to be sure.
“It’s a tough game, an emotional game,” Boeheim said. “It is what it is. Just got to get ready.”
Boeheim’s oldest son, Jimmy, has stepped up his game after averaging 3.2 points and 2.2 rebounds in 26 games as a freshman for the Big Red last season. The 6-foot-8 sophomore forward is shooting 46.2 percent and averaging 11.7 points, 4.3 rebounds and 22.1 minutes off the bench. Buddy, a 6-5 freshman guard for the Orange, has struggled, hitting just 2 of 18 shots from long range and 3 of 28 overall after excelling in the preseason.
“They’ve been playing good this year, both of them,” coach Boeheim said. “Buddy hasn’t made any shots. He will. Jimmy’s been playing real good.”
The brothers were fierce competitors growing up, learning the nuances of the game both at home and at the YMCA in downtown Syracuse on Saturday mornings with mom Juli watching intently while sitting on the hardwood floor against the wall of the tiny gym.
“It’s going to be a little weird, lining up against my brother,” said Jimmy, who has a pair of 20-point games this season. “I’m going to do my best to put it aside and play to the best of my abilities.
“I try to treat it like any other game, but that’s a little easier said than done, I guess. I’ve grown up playing there, so it’s just playing basketball to me. Now that I’ve done it once, I’m going into it a lot calmer, I guess, just trying to enjoy it more.”
Jimmy Boeheim already has had a moment the family will cherish forever. He drained a 3-pointer in front of his father on Cornell’s first possession of last season and finished with a season-high 11 points and a team-high five rebounds. The Orange won, so there was a sense of satisfaction on both sides.
“That was awesome. That just totally calmed me down. It brought me so much peace,” Juli said. “I needed to know that he was going to have some success. It really surpassed any of my expectations.”
Like last year, Juli has ordered special T-shirts for the special night and will pass them out to family and friends before the game, then wait and worry.
“I’ll still be a bag of nerves until they’ve both been in and something good has happened for both of them,” she said. “Then I can relax. It becomes a normal game. I just want success for them so badly.”
Syracuse is coming off a road victory over No. 16 Ohio State in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. It was the Orange’s last chance this season to notch a signature nonconference victory away from the Carrier Dome, an important piece for an NCAA Tournament resume.
Buddy started the first two games of the season and played sparingly in the next two. He did not play against the Buckeyes.
“I knew it would be tough (for him),” Juli said. “I knew it was going to be an extremely high-level game. I think Buddy handled it very well. Jim said he was really happy that we won, he had a good attitude about not playing. He completely understood. If he can keep that mindset going, he’ll put a lot less pressure on himself.”
Expect Buddy back in the lineup at some point Saturday night.
“They’d both better play or I’m not going home. That’s all I can tell you,” the old coach said with a laugh. “I can get away with one game, but I don’t think I can get away with two.”
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