Heading their separate ways
SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- The last time the two were on this floor, they hoisted a national championship banner to the roof of the Carrier Dome.
Guess which one misses the other more now.
"It was great to see him," Jim Boeheim said. "Absolutely."
"I'm just glad," Carmelo Anthony said with a grin, "that he wasn't out there yelling at me." Then, just to make sure nobody got it wrong, the kid flashed that familiar, million-dollar smile.
The next chapter is about to begin in the stories of the 58-year-old college basketball lifer whose critics said he would never win the big one and the 19-year-old former freshman sensation who helped him silence them all. They just won't write any more together.
The Syracuse Orangemen opened practice last weekend for the 28th season under Boeheim, arrayed against more than 300 other Division I programs aiming to knock the crown off their heads. The coach settled into a courtside seat across from his familiar spot on the bench as Anthony's Denver Nuggets became the roundball attraction in town for one night, playing an NBA exhibition against the Detroit Pistons.
It's been little more than six months since they tied off a season marred by scandals at Georgia, St. Bonaventure, Fresno State and elsewhere with a memorable, down-to-the-wire win over Kansas. But that already feels like a lifetime ago.
When Anthony stopped back on campus for a quick visit this summer, he said he couldn't imagine anywhere else that would "feel this much like home." And toward the end of Sunday night's exhibition, when he re-entered the game as chants of "We want Melo!" rocked the building, maybe that was still true.
But by the time Anthony walked into the interview room, he already looked and sounded more like the instant millionaire being the No. 3 pick in the draft had made him. He was in the middle of a grueling road trip, wearing a diamond-encrusted pendant worth close to two years' tuition, and glad to put this game in the rearview mirror.
"Five cities in seven days, and we're playing Portland in Portland tomorrow night," Anthony said, explaining why he didn't mind sitting most of the second half. Besides, an 82-game regular season is looming just two weeks off. "I've got to save my legs," he added.
Last season, Anthony played 35 games in a season bookended by great performances. After the first one -- a 27-point, 11-rebound showing against Memphis -- Boeheim wondered if the kid would return for another go-round. The last one -- 20 points and 10 rebounds in the title game -- removed any doubts.
While Anthony's one-season-and-gone college career made him a mercenary in some eyes, and just another sign of the times in others, Boeheim has no regrets.
His own experience was just the opposite: Boeheim is the longest-tenured coach at the same school. He came to Syracuse as a walk-on 41 years ago and never left, but he remains grateful Anthony stopped by at all.
"He was a once-in-a-lifetime kid for any coach -- a Magic Johnson, maybe even better. It took Magic two years to win, Melo did it in one. And he did it with a younger, much less experienced team around him.
"But he was so obviously ready to move on by the end that the discussion about leaving didn't last more than a few seconds," the coach said. "Another season would probably have been anticlimactic."
Yet Anthony's leaving has guaranteed Boeheim's next one will be anything but.
He argued for years that great coaches didn't need a national championship as validation, which seemed convenient since Boeheim had lost two of them, in 1987 and 1996. But he toed the same line in April, when Kansas' Kirk Hinrich missed a desperation jumper at the buzzer, that he had 16 years earlier, when a last-second shot by Indiana's Keith Smart sent Syracuse home without the trophy.
At that moment, Boeheim said, "I'm the same coach I was just a few minutes ago. If Hinrich had made that jump shot, I probably would be worse."
For all that, he does not discount the magic of winning the big one.
Not because of the way others regard him now, though that, too, has been undeniably sweet. He speaks at more coaching clinics, marches in more parades and the value of a basketball signed by his teams commands more than five times the $800 they used to draw at charity auctions.
The thing that surprised Boeheim the most was what it stirred inside his own gut.
"Before it happens, you think it's good, but you don't really know. And then the moment you have a few minutes to yourself, you start thinking, 'Wouldn't you like to do this again?"
Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org<
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