Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim won’t forget last season, and not because it was the only losing one in more than four decades on the job at his alma mater.
He coached his two sons — Buddy and Jimmy — and said that was the most enjoyable of his 46 seasons in spite of the record (16-17, 9-11 Atlantic Coast Conference).
“It was great coaching them,” said Boeheim, who turns 78 in November. “I miss them.”
The Boeheim brothers and swingman Cole Swider have moved on, and their offensive contributions were significant. The trio combined to average nearly 47 points a game and made 205 3-pointers. The Orange, who averaged 77.4 points, return two starters — guard Joe Girard and center Jesse Edwards — along with guard Symir Torrence and forward John Bol AJak to help guide six incoming freshmen.
“I like this team in the sense that we may not shoot it as well as we did last year … but we’ve got guys that can get to the basket better and I think maybe get to the foul line better, so I think our offense will be different,” Boeheim said. “I think it can still be very high level.”
Girard will move from point guard to shooting guard, replacing Buddy Boeheim, who averaged 19.2 points in his final year. Girard averaged 13.8 points and led the Orange with 89 3-pointers, shooting a team-best 40.3%.
As the new season looms, the disappointment of not making the NCAA Tournament is still on players’ minds.
“We’ve been using that motivation every day in practices,” Girard said. “In every single drill and every single rep, the coaches are getting on us and making sure we’re going 110% just because of the way things went last year. They want to make sure there’s no chance of that happening this year.”
Boeheim said the six freshmen — guards Judah Mintz, Justin Taylor and Quadir Copeland, forwards Maliq Brown and Chris Bunch, and center Peter Carey — and Duquesne transfer Mounir Hima, a 6-foot-11 forward, will play.
“They’ve been really good so far, all the new guys,” Boeheim said. “Their mindset is in the right place.”
Highly touted forward Benny Williams had a disappointing first season, scoring just 56 points in 333 minutes over 29 games. But he gave a glimpse of his talent at home against Duke in February, scoring 14 points and snaring six rebounds in 30 minutes. That he came back says a lot.
“I think it shows perseverance,” Williams said. “A lot of guys in my situation would have transferred, coming in as a highly touted high schooler, not playing that much, not scoring that much, not doing anything, really. I feel back to myself. I’m very confident of what I’m going to bring this year for my team.”
The 6-11 Edwards was coming into his own last season when he suffered a season-ending injury in early February. Over a five-game span, he shot 31 of 42 (73.9%) and grabbed 33 rebounds, then broke his left wrist in a fall at Boston College. He’s healthy again and ready to go.
“The team was going so good at that point, so the timing was terrible,” Edwards said. “But I think it gave everybody out here extra motivation. Whoever falls out, we’re still going to battle.”
Boeheim said the Orange will have something of a new look on defense, using more man-to-man to complement the 2-3 zone.
“We’ve done that,” he said. “In my first 30 years we did that, so it’s not like this is new for me.”
The 6-3 Mintz, a product of Oak Hill Academy, has been playing alongside Girard in practice and figures the sky’s the limit.
“I want to be freshman of the year in the ACC,” he said. “Just having coach have confidence in me makes everything five times easier. I think I’ve grown as a player since I’ve been here.”
Syracuse, picked for eighth in the ACC, plays in the Empire Classic in New York City on its first road trip, with an opening game against Richmond. The home slate includes Georgetown, Notre Dame, top-ranked North Carolina, No. 18 Virginia and No. 7 Duke.
Freelance writer Mark Frank contributed to this report.
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