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Monday, April 7, 2003
Updated: April 8, 12:34 PM ET

Boeheim finally left smiling after final

Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS -- Jim Boeheim finally got those four seconds back. And they were about the sweetest four seconds of his life.

Sixteen years after Keith Smart's baseline jumper with :04 left gave Bobby Knight's Indiana Hoosiers a 74-73 victory over the Orangemen in the national championship game, Boeheim guided Syracuse to a heartstopping 81-78 victory Monday night over Kansas to win that elusive first national title on the third try.

"I'm happy, but I'm happy for all those fans,'' Boeheim said, a championship cap hiding his balding head, and his 4-year-old son, Jim Jr., in his arms. "They packed the Carrier Dome, they follow us all over the country. They've been with us.

"I'm just glad we won it for (Derrick Coleman), Rony Seikaly, Sherman Douglas, all those guys (on the 1987 team). Our kids had great heart. We played the best first half we could play, then we just hung on.''

When the final horn sounded, Boeheim's trademark scowl turned into a wide grin. He raised his arms in triumph, having validated his insistence on using a 2-3 zone defense -- a defense of which he is the master and which most coaches disdain.

Then he walked over and shook the hand of Jayhawks coach Roy Williams, who lost his second title game in 12 years.

"I told him the same thing Bob Knight told me in 1987,'' Boeheim said. "You'll be back some day.''

Boeheim's resume now is crammed with 653 victories, 22nd all-time, and his .742 winning percentage is third among active Division I coaches. He's the longest-tenured coach at the same school, having coached the Orangemen for 27 years.

Not bad for a walk-on who had to talk his way onto the team when he arrived at Syracuse in 1962. By the time he was a senior, he was starting in the backcourt alongside Hall of Famer Dave Bing.

After four years of minor-league basketball, he returned to the Syracuse bench as a graduate assistant in 1969 and has been there ever since. He was appointed head coach in 1976 with a first contract that paid him $28,000.

"It's the only thing I know,'' he said after the Orangemen eliminated Auburn in the East Regional semifinals. "I don't like change. I've gone to the same barber since I was 17. I'm comfortable where I'm comfortable.''

It was Syracuse's third trip to the title game under Boeheim; the Orangemen also lost to Kentucky 76-67 in 1996.

This may have been his best coaching job ever. Older, wiser and more mellow than ever with three young children at home, Boeheim molded a team that started two freshmen and two sophomores into a winner.

"I've never had a feeling like this,'' said freshman forward Carmelo Anthony, voted Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four. "This is the best feeling I've ever had in my life.''

Despite guiding the Orangemen to an 11-1 record at the start of the season, Boeheim managed to incorporate freshman guard Billy Edelin into the lineup. That decision he called the hardest in his career because it meant the lone senior on the team, Kueth Duany, would lose minutes.

That Edelin even stayed with the program is a testament to the way Boeheim runs it. He has had Bernie Fine as his top assistant for his entire time at Syracuse. Mike Hopkins, another assistant, was a team captain for Boeheim in the early 1990s.

Edelin endured a one-year suspension by the university and a 12-game NCAA suspension at the start of the season, then became a key reserve for the team in the tournament.

"We all went through a lot,'' Edelin said. "Everybody doubted us. It feels great to come out on top.''

Along with such talented players as freshmen Anthony and Gerry McNamara, Boeheim incorporated sophomore Josh Pace into the lineup. He, too, became a solid contributor.

And if Boeheim needed any vindication for using the zone, it came on the last shot of the game. Kirk Hinrich, the Jayhawks' best long-range shooter, was wide open for a 3-pointer in the left corner. But just as he released his shot, sophomore forward Hakim Warrick, who has a 7-foot armspan, flew up and blocked the desperation heave.

This time, the Orangemen survived.



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