Interview with US Olympics and Syracuse Basketball Coach Jim Boeheim

By Zac Cornell

Jim Boeheim is the Hall of Fame coach for Syracuse University’s men’s basketball, having led the team for the past 44 years. Syracuse has made it to the postseason 41 times during his tenure and has entered the NCAA Tournament 34 times, with five teams making it to the Final Four. In 2003, Boeheim led Syracuse to win the national title with leading player Carmelo Anthony. He is the second most winning coach in the history of men’s college basketball. 

Boeheim has also served as assistant coach to the USA Basketball team under Duke University’s Hall of Fame coach Mike Krzyzewski. Beginning with the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the duo led the U.S. men’s basketball team to win three consecutive Olympic gold medals and two back to back FIBA World Cup titles. 

Boeheim has received extensive recognition and awards for his extraordinary coaching. In 2009-10 he was named Coach of the Year by The Associated Press, FoxSports.com, the National Association of Basketball Coaches, Naismith, The Sporting News, the United States Basketball Writers Association, and Yahoo!Sports. Boeheim was also named the Big East Conference Coach of the Year four times and the District II Coach of the Year 11 times by the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC). At the 2000 Final Four, Boeheim was presented with the Claire Bee Award in recognition of his contributions to basketball. In 2005, Boeheim was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

Boeheim was himself a walk-on to the Syracuse Basketball team in 1962 and served as co-captain of the team his senior year. In the fall of 2000, Boeheim was presented with Syracuse University’s Arents Award, the school’s highest alumni honor. On Feb. 24, 2002, Syracuse University named the Carrier Dome court “Jim Boeheim Court” in recognition of his many accomplishments. In 2020-2021, Boeheim coached his son Buddy on the Syracuse team, and for the 2021-22 season, he will have two sons playing for the Orange as his son Jimmy transferred from Cornell University.

Boeheim is one of the most respected figures in all of sports. I spoke with him about his experiences as a Hall of Fame coach at Syracuse, his coaching for the U.S. Olympic team, and his coaching of his own sons.

Zac: Sports and specifically basketball bring in a huge amount of money for Syracuse University. How much pressure is there on you and the players to do well and bring in money for the school? Do the players feel that pressure?

Coach Boeheim: “We don’t really even think about the money for the school. Not ever a thought in my mind. Players think about trying to play the best they can and be the best players they can be, that will help us be a very good team and give them a chance for a future in basketball, which they all want. We’re strictly trying to be the best team we can be and we, as coaches, want our players to be the best players that they can be. We’re trying to develop them as individual players and team players.”

Zac: A number of your players drop out of school early to go pro, which is understandable considering that they can’t currently make money during their college years. What do you think about the idea of college athletes making money through endorsements and their name and likeness? What are the Pros & Cons?

Coach Boeheim: “Well first of all, they’re kids. They’re college kids. Most college kids don’t make money. So, in comparison to coaches making money, we’re adults, we’re professionals, this is what we do for a living. Kids are in college, that’s what they should be in college for. They shouldn’t be paid. This new movement, the name, image, and likeness, that will be passed. I think players will be able to generate money off of the internet, I think they’ll be able to generate money off of autographs, some limited commercials. I think there will be some issues with it, but I think players will be able to make money. I feel more concerned for the football team, where 4 or 5 players will make money and the other 70 won’t. How will they feel?”

Zac: What was your experience like with Team USA?

Coach Boeheim: “I was with the Redeem Team when we started after 2002 when we were the world champions of the Olympics and ‘04 and ‘08 and ‘12. And that was when LeBron was young and Kobe, Carmelo, Chris Paul, Jason Kidd, we had a really good team with really good experience. We got the gold medal back. We won three gold medals in the Olympics and two in world championships. It was a great experience. The NBA players were obviously the best in the world, and to do that with them was incredible.”

Zac: Which is harder –  coaching LeBron, Kobe, and Team USA or Buddy and Jimmy?

Coach Boeheim: “Well the Olympic players are at such a high level. They know all the things that they need to know. It’s just getting them organized and getting them to play together. In college, we teach kids how to play, how to improve on their shooting, their ball handling, and their passing. NBA players have the advanced skills of the game. So it’s really two different kinds of coaching – they’re both good, they’re both rewarding.”

Zac: What is it like coaching your own son? Does it have any impact on your coaching the rest of the team?

Coach Boeheim: “Coaching my son has been good. He’s a good player and we need good players. When players play well it’s a good thing. It’s fun to be able to coach my son. That’s a good thing.”

Zac: What do you think are the most important skills to be a successful coach?

Coach Boeheim: “Knowing how to teach the game is important. Your relationships with players. Those are two really key things that you have to have in coaching.

Zac: When recruiting players, what makes a person stand out? What do you think are crucial qualities in a player?

Coach Boeheim: “We’re always looking for skill level. Athletic ability, shooters, ball handlers, instincts, basketball IQ, playstyle. Their competitive spirit and the ability to play with other players – it’s a team game.”

Zac: How much does a player’s mental strength play into their success? For example Kobe Bryant or Michael Jordan showed how important mindset and mentality impacted their success. How much success in basketball is the mental game?

Coach Boeheim: “That’s always important; the great one’s have unbelievable competitive spirit, mental toughness, and they just won’t be denied. That’s what separates the great players from the good players.”

Zac: Do you help your players get in the right frame of mind during practices and games?

Coach Boeheim: “That’s what practice is about. Preparing for tough situations every day to get prepared for the game situations that are going to come.”

Zac: When there’s about 5 minutes left in a tight game in March, what do you say in the huddle to your players? What are your final words of wisdom?

Coach Boeheim: “I tell them to make the plays you’ve made all year long. You have to be consistent, and you have to make good plays and make good decisions. And if you’ve done it all year long, hopefully it will translate to the end-game situation.”

Zac: What is your take on certain schools illegally paying athletes in order to lure them to their school? Do you think a lot of schools participate in this practice?

Coach Boeheim: “I have no idea, I mean there’s no way of knowing if schools cheat unless they’ve been brought forward. But I haven’t seen that in my career, but I’m sure it happens. We recruit straight up and were able to get kids to come here that are interested. But it is something that is out there for sure.”

Zac: Can you provide us with a little insight into Syracuse basketball next year? How will you guys fill the roles of Marek and Quincy? 
Coach Boeheim: “Well we’re fortunate that we have veterans back, our guards are back (Buddy and Joe). Jesse, our young center, is getting better. Bourama, a senior, will be back at center. We have two seniors coming in that I think are really good players – Jimmy Boeheim and Cole Swider. I think we have veterans and outstanding freshmen. I like our team; I think we’re big and experienced, and I think we’ll have a chance to be real good.

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