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Syracuse Basketball: Behind The Boeheim Biography

Noted author and reporter Jack McCallum stops by to give details on his latest work, a biography of one James Arthur Boeheim.

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I'm not sure if there is a more frightening and at the same time thrilling idea than writing a book. It's terrifying to think about all the work that goes into it -- interviews, notes, recordings, research, more research, and then you actually have to write it! I just blacked out twice while writing that last sentence.

A daunting task to write a book, no doubt. Just ask the creator of this very Website.

In fact, an old boss of mine says he once broke up with a girl because she routinely said she was going to "take a weekend" to write a book. The mere fact someone thought you could simply write literature in between grocery shopping and cleaning out the garage drove a man to leave a woman.

And yet, the thought of writing a book is exhilarating because of the off-chance you could piece together something worthwhile, memorable. When I think of writing that lasting book I think of "7 Seconds or Less" or "Unfinished Business" or "Dream Team." Books I just ripped through. Books written by Jack McCallum.

(Deadspin, by the way, recently ran an excerpt from "Unfinished Business" in its The Stacks section.)

Honestly, I want to write something like anything McCallum has produced, be it book or article form. His is work that just lingers well after you're done reading.

So when word broke that the veteran Sports Illustrated writer was going to be chronicling Syracuse's first season of hoops in the ACC, I was stunned. One of my favorite writers going all "7 Seconds" or "Unfinished Business" on the Orange? If you've read those books, you know, McCallum embeds himself with his subjects. Locker rooms? Hotels? Team buses? Check, check, and check. I couldn't wait to read this book and I just found out about it.

But my first question was, why is this happening? Why would Boeheim, who's not exactly a reporter's best friend, or a microphone's, do this?

Well, to find out, I reached out to McCallum who was gracious enough to answer my questions. The most pressing being, how did the idea for a book come about?

"I did a feature on Jim for Sports Illustrated back in 1996. For whatever reason, he liked it, thought it was fair, and we became friends. Not close friends but friends. I don't usually develop friendships with subjects, but this was an exception for a couple of reasons--We liked each other, I wasn't on the college beat so there wasn't much chance of a conflict of interest, my son was a Syracuse student at the time and that cemented the connection and I later (in 2009) did a story about 'Cuse that renewed our friendship."

(If you're wondering, here is the '96 story that McCallum did on Boeheim and here is the S.I. article from 2009. And just as an added bonus, here is an article McCallum did for S.I. ranking all of Syracuse's Final Four teams.)

There's certainly a history between the two, which should only add to the book, I would think. Which, by the way, is not going to be in the vein of McCallum's previous works.

"My original idea was to do a book about the season, much like the college version of Seven Seconds or Less. But my agent thought that it was a bigger book, i.e., a bio of sorts in his voice, because of Jim's stature in the game"

A legit Boeheim biography rather than a chronicle of 2013-14, interesting. But don't think this season won't be included.

"So though the emphasis will be on Jim's whole career, we will splice in the current season, lots of it, particularly since it's going so well."

Which means McCallum is still getting something of an inside look at not just Boeheim, but this specific collection of Orange men. (Something evidenced by his Twitter feed, by the way.)

"I decided myself that I wouldn't overreach on my insider status. I don't go into the team-only training room, for example. But to do the book I hear some pregame and postgame stuff that is normally off-limits."

And with that kind of access, you may be wondering if McCallum has learned something new about the 69 year old coach. The answer shouldn't surprise you, and even after reading this most reporters will still ignore it, I'm sure, but Boeheim loves his job.

"...not much has changed since I knew Jim so well. The most surprising part, if you can call it that, is how energized he seems doing this job. Sometimes when we're taping, he's writing out the card for that day's practice session. The fact that he has such great assistants who work on player development--Mike Hopkins, Adrian Autry and Jerry McNamara--has freed him up to look at his team, the other team, and the game in general, and that has helped him focus on what a head coach has to do--which is to coach the WHOLE team."

That may be the most interesting facet of Boeheim -- despite his disinterest in speaking to the media as a whole, or his lack of charisma in front of a camera or mic, he's still just as into coaching, into basketball as he apparently ever has been. Retirement? That surely doesn't seem likely after reading that quip from McCallum, does it?

You know, I've read and heard stories of Boeheim being late down the tunnel to the court for games because he was in the locker room watching another game, but the fact that he's so distracted by X and O possibilities he can't even concentrate on an interview is probably his most endearing quality that we're privy to.

Wait a second, Bernie the book?

"Regarding Bernie, anything that has happened, positive and negative, in Jim's career will be addressed."

That...should be interesting. (Daryl Gross, get the attorneys ready in the bullpen now.)

Obviously Fine won't be interviewed, I think anyway. But given the wealth of characters Boeheim has coached and coached against, there's likely going to be insightful takes on Boeheim from basketball heavyweights.

"It was one of my guiding principles that I had to collect anecdotes from as many people as possible, and run those anecdotes through Jim's filter. I've talked to at least a dozen former Syracuse players--I picked off a half dozen this past weekend at the reunion alone --and will continue to get to as many as possible. They've all been quite helpful."

You know someone like Pearl Washington or Derrick Coleman will have some very cool stories about Boeheim's antics or speeches. John Thompson Jr will have probably have a thing or two to say, as well.

Seriously, with McCallum leading the way, this Boeheim bio is going to be required reading for Syracuse Orange fans. Which actually leads me to what is probably your most pertinent question: when will this be available? Well, McCallum tells me it should be released just in time for...the start of next season.

Sounds like a far-off distant time for Orange fans, sure. But here's betting that will come all too quickly for the author. Maybe the biggest drawback to writing a book: time moves at warp speed.