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ACC Question Marks: Syracuse Recruiting

Is an uptick sustainable? And what is recruiting today anyway?

Syracuse Orange Men
A young and fashion-challenged Jim Boeheim

Syracuse basketball has had a weird stretch for the last decade or so. Let’s start with the Bernie Fine scandal, in which Fine was accused of sexually abusing young boys.

We should say first that the feds ultimately decided not to charge Fine but there was a tape where his wife allegedly said she was aware of his behavior but didn’t know how to stop it.

That got him fired.

Then allegations that his wife and another assistant coach’s wife were having sex with players came out.

We still don’t know how much of this is true but there’s no question that it was damaging to the program.

In 2013, the Orange left the Big East and joined the ACC to accommodate football, which had no natural place in the Big East, a league built around and dedicated to basketball in major northern media markets.

Then in 2015, the NCAA stripped 101 wins from Syracuse and under some pressure, Boeheim announced he would retire in 2018, and Mike Hopkins was appointed coach-in-waiting.

But Boeheim changed his mind after the pressure eased up and is of course still coaching. Hopkins is now coaching at Washington with mixed success.

The NCAA also mandated reduced scholarships in 2015, just as the ‘Case was learning to recruit against Duke, UNC and increasingly, Virginia.

This article suggests that Syracuse is now past the worst of the recruiting problems caused by its NCAA issues and is now back to getting big-timers.

Well, maybe.

Boeheim did land a commitment from 6-6 Justin Taylor, a 4-star prospect that Virginia was keenly interested in. Moreover, he’s from Charlottesville, so it’s kind of like when Duke landed Jeff Mullins and, later, Vince Taylor out of Lexington, Kentucky. That’s not an easy thing to do.

So that’s a great sign for the Orange and, as the article suggests, he may be an ideal replacement for Buddy Boeheim too.

Does that mean Syracuse recruiting is back? Well, that depends on how you define recruiting these days.

He’s a talented high school prospect. He could show up for a year and either leave for pro ball or hit the transfer portal.

No one is going to understand recruiting very well for a while and that doesn’t even count NIL stuff. Once that kicks in, a different hierarchy may as well.

But leave all that alone for now.

Jim Boeheim is now 76 and will be 77 this November. He seems healthy and looks younger than that too. Marvin Hagler once said that if you cut his head open you’d find a boxing glove. In Boehiem’s case, it might be a basketball. Maybe he wants to coach until he drops.

On the other hand, Buddy graduates next year. His brother Jimmy has transferred in from Cornell, meaning that dad will get to coach his boys for one season.

What better time to ride off into the sunset?

Either way, at 76 or 77, and more so with every year that passes, people will use his age against him in recruiting.

So the real questions are: how much longer and who’s next?

Duke and UNC are both losing long-time, iconic coaches in Mike Krzyzewski (gone after the upcoming season) and Roy Williams (who retired on April 1st) and UNC of course has done it twice in the last 24 years since Dean Smith stepped down in 1997.

Syracuse has a very different situation.

Duke has had decades of success even if you just count from 1960, and three coaches have competed for national championships with Coach K having won five.

UNC went from the Frank McGuire era and an undefeated national championship team in 1957 to the brilliant Smith era and then to Ol’ Roy’s run.

UNC has six national championships. You can quibble about McGuire cheating, which he unquestionably did, and the academic scandal which we think started at the end of Smith’s tenure and ran through much of Williams’s time as head coach, but that’s six national titles (please, just don’t start with the 1924 Helms Foundation retroactive championship. It was awarded 12 years later by people who probably never saw that team play and there wasn’t even an NCAA tournament until 1939).

Syracuse? That situation is a lot different.

It was a good regional program prior to Boeheim taking over in 1976. Dave Bing had been spectacular in the 1960’s and Roy Danforth had gotten the Orange to the Final Four in 1975, losing to Kentucky and Louisville (when there was still a third place game) which should be good for a trivia question.

Boeheim took over in 1976 and the Big East started in 1979. He caught a wave to national prominence and Syracuse, previously an Independent, became a very big deal.

Thing is, he’s been there almost non-stop since 1963. Art Heyman was playing for Vic Bubas in 1963. Dean Smith was rebuilding UNC after the McGuire scandals. And five days after Boeheim’s 19th birthday, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.

Who else has been at one school that long? Granted, he played a year or two of semi-pro ball, but basically, he left home for college and has been there ever since.

More than anyone else we can think of, including his buddy Coach K, Boeheim is his program’s identity.

So this is the real question about Syracuse basketball and recruiting, once all of the current issues are sorted out: who’s going to follow that act?