Men's Basketball

After whirlwind 2 years, Syracuse men’s basketball is right back where it started

Jessica Sheldon | Staff Photographer

For years, the plan was for Mike Hopkins, left, to take over once Jim Boeheim retired after next season. Not anymore.

Syracuse basketball’s two-year excursion through the unknown began on March 18, 2015. Then, Jim Boeheim had no planned retirement date. Mike Hopkins was just another assistant coach.

The email from Chancellor Kent Syverud to the Syracuse community that morning hardly addressed Boeheim and the basketball program. That day’s headline contained Daryl Gross, then-SU’s Director of Athletics, who resigned in the wake of NCAA sanctions 12 days prior following a years-long investigation into Syracuse athletics. After a decade at the helm, Gross ceded authority to Carrier Dome managing director Pete Sala in the interim.

The 11th paragraph of the email, 826 words in, revealed one of the country’s most storied college basketball programs was about to get a facelift: Boeheim, after 42 years in charge, would retire. A seismic shift in program power could change Syracuse basketball as everyone knew it, and a Boeheim-led system would cease to exist.

The planned retirement from a man who craves continuity created an unknown. No matter who was slotted to take over next — SU officially declared it would be Hopkins on June 25, 2015 — Syracuse basketball would be without Boeheim, and that was something wildly foreign.

Then began the past two years filled with one of the highest highs in program history, arguably the lowest low and the unknown whether Boeheim would actually grant authority to Hopkins following the 2017-18 season after all. In the end, after 12 hours Sunday in which the University of Washington announced Hopkins as its new head coach and Syracuse extended Boeheim’s contract (reportedly through 2021-22), we’re right back to where we started.

The man who has been Syracuse’s head coach for 41 years will be the head coach for now, for the near future, and for seemingly however long he wants to be, just as it was 732 days ago on the morning of March 18.

“I’m not going anywhere,” he told a crowd of around 700 at SU’s 2015 end-of-season banquet. Boeheim’s words on that March evening ring true today more than they ever have.

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Frankie Prijatel | Staff Photographer

Those around the program will say Boeheim would rather keep things the same on a year-to-year basis. For one, he walks out of the tunnel in the Carrier Dome with the same time on the countdown clock before every game. In a February interview with The Daily Orange, former Syracuse star and current Orange staffer Eric Devendorf said one of the things he likes most about his boss is how the Boeheim he first played for at 18 is the same Boeheim he works for now 12 years later.

Boeheim seemed willing to undergo the biggest change of all, retiring, especially when his right-hand man was named his successor. The 72-year-old has stressed on multiple occasions the benefit of having a coaching staff with all Syracuse graduates — from director of operations Kip Wellman to video coordinator Todd Blumen — and it seemed certain that Hopkins would receive the torch from his mentor after next season until it seemed increasingly uncertain as Boeheim’s responses to the “retirement” question grew increasingly vague.

After losing to North Carolina in the 2016 Final Four, Boeheim claimed to be the happiest he’d ever been in 40 years as head coach. After a 33-point loss to St. John’s at home in December, Boeheim admitted he didn’t know what he was doing with this year’s team. On a handful of occasions between then, and as recently as the morning after beating Duke this season on the Dan Patrick Show, Boeheim audibled from that plan.

“There’s a plan in place and we’ll see what happens,” Boeheim told Patrick on Feb. 23. “I might be done this year.”

Now it seems as if Boeheim was simply trolling everyone. Maybe he intended to retire after next season if Hopkins stayed, maybe he didn’t. If anything, Jim Boeheim is Syracuse and Syracuse is Jim Boeheim, no matter what has transpired during the past two seasons.

He’s not going anywhere, just like he told you. Not anytime soon.

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