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COLLEGE BASKETBALL / NCAA MEN'S TOURNAMENT : For Boeheim, It's Bittersweet 16 : West Regional: Syracuse coach has survived the hassles and headaches of today's game to rise above the rim of fan and media attention.

March 22, 1994|MARK HEISLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Here we go again.

It's the usual setup, the hotel ballroom, the table, the microphone, the platform in back for the TV cameras, the chairs for the numbskulls with the notebooks. Jim Boeheim has done this so many times, he's afraid he might fall asleep and start snoring.

How long can it be before someone asks the magic question . . .

"Coach, do you intend to go inside to John Wallace?"

Oooh, he knew it! Of course, the Syracuse coach is going inside to John Wallace. Wallace is 6 feet 7, 220 pounds and if he gets the ball on the block, the only thing any of those Wisconsin Green Bay student-athletes will be able to do is call a friend. Do they expect him to make a public announcement beforehand so the other coach can take it away?

"Coach, is there a problem getting players to take a team like (second-round opponent) Wisconsin Green Bay seriously?"

Oooh, he knew it! They're suggesting the other team is so smart and so well coached and, of course, his guys are wild animals and he's just the guy who feeds them basketballs.

Were these guys born yesterday? Anybody can coach nobodies with nothing to offer but obedience. If you want to run with the big dogs, you need athletes, the kind who think they outgrew fundamentals in fifth grade and give you that you-know-I-had-better-offers look if you tell them something. He'd better watch it or he'll go off and they'll start that "whining" stuff again.

What's he doing in this business anyway?

All it is is a hassle anymore. The kids are younger and nuttier all the time and the alumni crazier. The press is on his case and the NCAA counts the number of T-shirts he hands out and Dick Vitale screams "GET A T-O, BABEEEE!" at him. If it wasn't for the money, fame, love of the game and the sheer thrill of it all, he might quit tomorrow.

So he explains, politely if dispassionately, that he doesn't predict how games will go or comment on other teams. The press guys seem to sag a little.

"You know," he says later, "I can predict when I go to a press conference--like I wouldn't answer that guy's question so he's going to write something nasty."

He smiles.

"I wasn't that bad today. I can be worse."

*

Seriously, what is Jim Boeheim doing in a gig like this?

Away from the microphones, he's nice enough, if ever-combative, the grown-up version of the scrawny kid who clawed his way into the Syracuse starting backcourt alongside the great Dave Bing in the '60s.

Even rivals think he runs a clean program, as these things go. Of course, he's a better coach than he gets credit for.

The rest of the old Big East powers such as Georgetown, St. John's and Villanova have rusted, but Boeheim is up to 12 20-victory seasons in a row. He just nursed the program through a season of NCAA sanctions and is back in the Sweet 16--the Orangemen will play Missouri on Thursday night at the Sports Arena--with a team that has one senior starter. He hit 350 victories faster than any other coach in NCAA history.

It's not only Boeheim.

We have entered the era of the embattled coach. The popularity of the NCAA tournament has made them all celebrities, and they're not sure they like everything about it.

Once, schools called their scores into the papers if they played too far from home. Now, every game is on TV. In Boeheim's case, the home games are played before 25,000 in a domed stadium.

"Coaching is the same as it's always been, but now it's just, it's like . . . this," says Boeheim, indicating the ballroom and the TV cameras at Ogden, Utah, during last week's subregional.

"When I started coaching Syracuse, I could go to North Syracuse and not one person knew who I was. We had one game on TV a year, that's it. Now every game we play is broadcast. Every . . . game . . . we . . . play."

Fame, as anyone who's had any can attest to, comes in two sizes: too little and too much.

The modern coach is idolized and scrutinized. He, in turn, complains about everything.

Last weekend, Cal's Todd Bozeman bristled at speculation that his two best players would turn pro, even suggesting it was an effort to tear the Bears' "family" apart. If Jason Kidd and Lamond Murray leave, Bozeman can check out the alternative, competing with lesser players who inspire no speculation.

The droll Norm Stewart, a revered institution in Missouri, grew so tired of references to the Tigers' six first-round losses in eight NCAA appearances, he produced a list after his opening-night victory over Navy and read the names of all the first-round opponents Missouri had beaten since 1944.

Oooh, first-round losses, don't get him started.

"Indiana loses to Richmond," Boeheim says. "Georgia Tech loses to Richmond. It's OK. Syracuse loses to Richmond, 'How the hell could they lose?'

"People think Derrick Coleman was inconsistent. He wasn't. He averaged double figures for every game he played at Syracuse but two. It's a myth, Derrick Coleman is inconsistent. It's just a myth promulgated about Syracuse that we're up and down."

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